2017 in review: Donald Trump and Brexit stoke fears as rents soar

As we look back at 2017, Brexit and Trump are two words that came to define many of the year’s headlines, says John Daly

2017 in review: Donald Trump and Brexit stoke fears as rents soar

JANUARY

The year began and ended with two words that would define much of the business and political headlines of the intervening 12 months — Brexit and Trump. Brexit was a huge issue that placed Ireland squarely in the firing between the UK and Europe.

The inauguration of US president Donald Trump put the focus on his campaign pledge to cut corporation tax and repatriate the offshore billions from American companies in “places like Ireland”. As the year gathered momentum, businesses large and small cast a weather eye to the 2017 horizon with an uneasy caution on what the coming months might bring.

The Irish economy was predicted to outperform the EU for the fifth year in a row. Investec Ireland named its favoured stock for 2017, indicating CRH, Bank of Ireland, PaddyPower, Betfair, Ryanair, and Smurfit Kappa to be the best placed of the large listed companies. Among the SMEs, CPL, Dalata, Irish Continental Group, Grafton, and Greencore were its top picks.

Plans to unveil direct flights to the US from Cork came under fire as the biggest labour union in America called on president Barack Obama to stop plans by Norwegian Air International before his term in the White House came to an end. Labour leader Edward Wytkind called on the president to reverse the decision granting the airline a licence to begin transatlantic flights from Cork and Dublin, claiming that Norwegian Air engaged in unfair work practices and paid lower wages for its workers.

Many Irish businesses have been victims of increased cyber attacks over the past two years, according to EY’s Global Information Security Survey, with the main forms of attack aimed at stealing data and disrupting systems.

The worldwide survey found almost three out of four Irish organisations had been targeted. Poor employee awareness, inadequate knowledge of information security at board level and insufficient budgets were seen as the main contributory factors.

Hugh Callaghan, cybersecurity leader of EY Ireland, said: “Our research shows while Irish businesses are now more focused than ever on managing cyber risk, they are still playing catch-up with cybercriminals, who continue to find ways around organisations’ security controls and exploit their employees lack of awareness to steal money and data.”

FEBRUARY

Each year the Super Bowl adverts offer a frozen-in-time snapshot of US culture, and the Budweiser television slot featuring an immigrant’s travel to the US became suddenly more topical than parent company, Anheuser-Busch, might have expected. Released just days after President Trump’s executive order temporarily banning citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, the ‘Born the Hard Way’ ad showed Adolphus Busch meeting fellow immigrant Eberhard Anheuser as newly arrived entrepreneurs in the New World. “Of course it would be foolish to think the current context is not putting additional eyeballs on the ad, but that was absolutely not the intent and not what makes it as special as it is,” said Ricardo Marques, vice- president of Budweiser.

Pre-tax profits at the UK arm of the Co Sligo sports group that counts Real Madrid and Barcelona among its clients increased fourfold. Support In Sport manufactures pitch surfaces for some of the world’s highest-profile sporting venues and events, including Barcelona’s Nou Camp stadium and Real Madrid’s Bernabeu ground.

Aviation concerns must be at the forefront of Ireland’s Brexit negotiations, with resulting regulation changes potentially hampering Irish airport growth in the coming years, the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) warned. The authority reported growth at Dublin, Cork, and Shannon airports. Ryanair warned that Brexit will significantly lessen the number of UK tourists visiting Ireland, while the IAA said the terms of the UK’s exit deal could be damaging. “It looks like we are heading for a hard Brexit so it’s really vital that aviation is at the forefront of the negotiations from an Irish perspective,” said IAA chief Eamonn Brennan.

Wicklow’s Ashford Studios, where the hit series Vikings is produced, made a fresh bid for a €90m expansion to create 1,500 movie-related jobs. The expansion included four film studios, a TV studio and a visitor centre in a bid to underpin the development of a TV and film-skills cluster in the county. The promoters, who hope the centre will attract 100,000 visitors each year, were seeking a 10-year permission on a 100-acre site that includes 60 acres of backlots used for filming.

MARCH

Tourism representatives called for a €12m injection from the Government to help minimise the adverse effects of Brexit. The Irish Tourist Industry Confederation warned Irish companies will struggle and jobs will be lost if the State doesn’t help. Confederation chairman Paul Gallagher said that a 10% drop in UK visitors would result in 6,000 job losses. Three-quarters of the €12m should go to marketing Ireland, he pitched, to consolidate market share in the UK and increase business further afield, with the aim of making the tourism industry “battle ready” for Brexit.

Rents, home insurance and health premiums continued to rise in February, according to the CSO’s Consumer Price Index. Prices on average were up only 0.5% in the year, with the most notable changes in transport, hotels and restaurants and health. The costs of private rents climbed in the month, and soared in the year. The slump in the value of sterling against the euro meant good news for consumers with the costs of the grocery shopping falling from last year’s levels due to lower prices across a range of products such as meat, jam, confectionery, bread and vegetables.

Many products on Irish supermarket shelves are imported from across the Irish Sea. Many experts wondered if grocery prices should not have fallen even more — given the 15% slump in the value of sterling since the UK’s Brexit vote.

Efforts to boost the house building industry could end up ultimately overheating if the Government were to fail to rein in spending, the Economic and Social Research Institute warned. In its quarterly economic outlook, the think-tank said the conditions that ended in the disastrous property crash of a decade ago could start fermenting again as the economy sucks in more jobs to build houses. Research professor Kieran McQuinn said the fast-growing construction industry could place the economy “on the horns of a dilemma” as new homes are needed to meet current shortages, but the economy could not risk a significant degree of resources on construction. “It is more than likely that the construction sector will assume a growing importance in the domestic economy over the medium term. While this reflects the fact that housing supply is still somewhat below estimated levels of demand in the economy, it is important to remember the imbalances which emerged in the Irish economy prior to 2007,” it cautioned.

Irish exporters must prepare for further currency fluctuations should the EU-UK talks end in a no-trade deal and tough controls over workers. Sterling could fall below 90p against the euro, on fears there may be no trade deal in the next two years, according to Davy Stockbrokers, while accountancy adviser PwC said it was likely that no agreement over a transitional trade deal would be struck by late March, 2019. The UK would, therefore, revert to arrangements under the World Trade Organisation, a result which would most likely impact on EU workers in the UK, as the UK seeks to control immigration.

APRIL

Executive pay levels at Kerry Group fell by over 16% in 2016, despite further solid revenue and profit growth. The Tralee, Co Kerry-based group’s latest annual report showed its executive director team was paid a combined €8.25m in the year, down from just over €10.5m in 2015. Kerry had earlier reported a 7.1% rise in trading profit to €750m for 2016 and a 3.6% increase in group revenues, to €6.1bn. The company said it could spend up to €1bn on acquisitions this year without hurting its balance sheet.

Huge demand for housing is even greater than imagined due to homeowners being stuck in houses unsuitable for their families, a KBC Bank Ireland survey suggested. It was likely that pent-up demand means that sales transactions should be up to 80,000 houses, instead of the current level of 48,000.

“To properly understand what’s happening in the Irish property market today, we need to look at what is happening to demand as well as clearly inadequate supply,” said KBC chief economist Austin Hughes.

“The survey suggests a pipeline of unsatisfied demand is building both because of new entrants to the property market and because many existing households face a significant mismatch between their current accommodation and the housing they need. In turn, this suggests the current pressures on housing may be even greater than is often suggested,” he said.

British shoppers could face an average tariff of 22% on food from the EU if British prime minister Theresa May fails to reach a trade deal with Brussels before the UK leaves in two years, UK retailers warned. Nearly 80% of British food imports come from EU states, and if no trade agreement is struck, the UK and the EU would have to treat each other as WTO members. “Such a scenario would put upward pressure on consumer food prices,” said the British Retail Consortium, which represents major supermarkets and chain stores. UK food prices have risen at their fastest rate in three years, as sterling’s fall since the Brexit vote has pushed up import costs.

President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to slash corporate tax sparked concern for the possible future plans of Ireland’s multinationals. The tax cut plans threatened Ireland’s business model built around the low headline rate of 12.5% since the early 1990s. The threat for major employers like pharmaceutical giants Johnson & Johnson, Actavis and Pfizer was clear.

President Trump pledged to lure the €2.4tn held by US companies offshore through a “territorial system” with direct impact on Ireland. Edgar Morgenroth, an associate research professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute, said the high cost of the US tax cut would raise doubts about the Trump White House’s plans.

“It is not the case that the US is swimming in money. Reducing your tax rates and, presumably, the amount of tax revenues does not match that reality. And then what is in the interest of US corporations? A lot of Congressional representatives will get calls on this. That is the reason that Obama did not get his reforms through,” he said.

MAY

Irish ports predicted their busiest ever cruise ship season in 2017 with over 300 vessels scheduled to visit ports and harbours around the country.

This further extended the success of the past three years, which has seen a 50% increase in the number of cruise calls to Ireland. Cruise Ireland, an all-island marketing co-operative, believes that there is scope for even greater increases in the number of cruise ship visits. “In the past 10 years the island of Ireland has outperformed the European marketplace, recording average annual growth in cruise passenger numbers of 13% against the European average across the same period of 9%,” said its chairman Joe O’Neill. “Feedback from cruise lines is very positive, and encouragingly the cruise industry is projecting the demand for Ireland as a cruise destination will continue with a 14% growth forecast to 2020,” he said.

Mr O’Neill cited Titanic Belfast, recently voted as the world’s leading tourist attraction, as well as the Guinness Storehouse, Blarney Castle, Giant’s Causeway and the Cliffs of Moher, as contributing to an awareness of Ireland as a cruise destination and its growth in recent years.

SuperValu kept its lead in the supermarket wars over the key Easter period when shoppers spent €2.4bn on groceries despite a sales surge by rival Dunnes. However, the Kantar Worldpanel Ireland figures showed a sharp rise in the value of the euro against sterling since the UK’s Brexit vote almost a year earlier continued to weigh on grocers, as prices have fallen. Deflation also meant there were fewer promotions on offer and the currency-driven price declines were likely to continue for some time.

“With the rate of deflation in the grocery market falling even further, we expect to see this trend stick around,” said Kantar director David Berry.

Increasing its market share from a year earlier, SuperValu kept its No 1 spot as the largest grocer, at least for the Easter period. Dunnes posted a significant rise in sales in the year to secure second place, in this survey. Tesco was the only large multiple to post a decline in sales by value in the year and was in third place, while Lidl fought off competition from Aldi in the key 12-week period over Easter.

The new owner of Sam McCauley Chemists, which operates 30 chemists and an online store, plans to aggressively expand the chain after paying an estimated €50m for a significant majority stake in the firm. Equity fund, The Carlyle Cardinal Ireland, indicated it aims to double the sales of the group, which posted a turnover of over €74.78m in 2015, by growth and acquisitions. Samuel McCauley, the main shareholder in the Co Wexford-based retailer, has retained a sizeable minority stake in the firm. The chain has most of its outlets in Munster and runs a number of stores in Cork and Dublin, and employs around 600 people across the chain. It paid out €3m in dividends to its shareholders in 2015.

Diageo secured the go-ahead to construct a €25m distillery at its St James’s Gate base in Dublin for its new premium blended Irish whiskey, Roe & Co. The maker of Guinness also received planning permission for a visitor experience at the new facility at the former Guinness Power House on Thomas Street. Diageo said that the visitor experience will celebrate the Roe & Co whiskey brand and the revival of craft brewing in Dublin, and aims to attract 50,000 visitors a year.

Production on the site is expected to begin in the first half of 2019 and will be named in honour whiskey maker George Roe, credited with helping to usher in the golden era of Irish whiskey in the 19th century. The new distillery will have the capacity to produce 500,000 litres each year. The whiskey is to be matured and bottled off-site.

Head of the Irish Whiskey Association Miriam Mooney, said the development of the new distillery was “a hugely significant chapter in the evolving Irish whiskey story”. From having only four distilleries four years ago, there are 16 in production and a further 13 at an advanced planning stage.

JUNE

Rents rose over 7% in the first quarter of the year, but the Residential Tenancy Board said it was still too early to say if the slowdown was linked to the introduction by the Government last year of rent pressure zones which capped hikes in high-rent areas.

The figures show that while the pace of rents rises in Dublin dropped slightly in the first quarter of the year compared to the same period last year, the capital’s rental rates were still running at 8% above their late 2007 peak. Private renters in other major cities, including parts of Cork and Galway, were also paying above the average national rent which stood at €987 a month. However, while rents nationally continued to trend upwards, the data showed that quarterly growth was flat. Board director Rosalind Carroll, said the findings for the first quarter of 2017 suggested the rate of increase in private rents was moderating.

The Irish animation industry is worth an estimated €100m, with 23 member studios in Animation Ireland, the trade association for the industry. An industry that began in the early 1990s through the American Sullivan Bluth and Murakami Wolf studios, its operations have changed over the intervening 25 years, said Paul Young, who co-founded Cartoon Saloon, with Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey, in 2000. The big challenge in animation is around funding, with studios now needing to go to the international market to raise money for television series and feature films.

Economic data pointed to solid growth in the eurozone in the second quarter of the year and indicated a rebound in global growth after a rough patch, the ECB said in a regular economic bulletin. Predicting that inflation will hover near the current level in the coming months and while there is still no convincing upswing in consumer prices, there were early signs of pipeline price pressures in the production and pricing chain, the central bank said. “Domestic demand is expected to be buoyed by a number of favourable factors,” it said. “Very favourable financing conditions and low-interest rates continue to promote a recovery in investment in the context of rising profits and lower de-leveraging needs,” the ECB said.

German business confidence rose to a record high, as strong domestic consumption and robust exports combined to make company executives increasingly upbeat about the growth outlook for Europe’s largest economy. The Munich-based Ifo economic institute said its business climate index, based on a monthly survey of some 7,000 firms, climbed in the month.

“Sentiment among German businesses is jubilant,” Ifo chief Clemens Fuest said.

“Companies were significantly more satisfied with their current business situation this month. They also expect business to improve. Germany’s economy is performing very strongly,” according to the institute. While Germany’s central bank and leading economic institutes raised their estimates for German GDP growth for this year and next, the German government stuck to more cautious forecasts.

JULY

A “pronounced switch” by customers away from face-to-face engagement in favour of phone and online was blamed for the closure of more than 40% of Axa’s branches in the Republic. The decision means at least 100 staff will lose their jobs, although the company says those affected will be invited to participate in a redundancy scheme or consider redeployment options.

Apple announced it was establishing its first data centre in China to speed up services such as iCloud for local users, and abide by laws that require global companies to store information within the country. The new facility, which will be entirely driven by renewable energy, will be built and run in partnership with Guizhou on the Cloud Big Data. Apple aims to migrate Chinese users’ information, now stored elsewhere, to the new facility which is part of a €876m investment by the iPhone maker in the province. Meanwhile, doubts surfaced about Apple’s plans for a data centre in Athenry.

Hoteliers defended the €626m-a-year cost to the exchequer of retaining the 9% Vat level for hospitality, saying the buoyancy in tax revenues from the additional jobs and business is making up for the lost tax revenue. The 9% Vat tax for hoteliers and restaurants, which former Finance Minister Michael Noonan cut from 13.5% to help boost jobs at the depth of the financial crisis, has come under the spotlight, because of its high cost and the prices of hotel accommodation in Dublin and other cities tapping into a tourism boom. The Department of Finance said the Revenue estimated that reverting back to the 13.5% rate would bring in extra revenue of €626m. Joe Dolan, president of the Irish Hotels Federation, said the rate was “realigned” to compete with other European countries and marks an investment by Government in an indigenous industry that has created 50,000 jobs in the last five years.

“We believe, over the next four years, we will generate 40,000 jobs,” Mr Dolan said, adding that the 9% tax has kept Irish businesses outside the cities open.

Drinks giant Diageo reported that net sales in Ireland were flat during its last financial year, but has increased medium-term group profit targets and announced a €1.7bn share buyback programme. Guinness sales were up 2%, mainly driven by continued success and increased market share of the Hop House 13 lager brand. The lager, which only launched in early 2015, grew net sales by 31% in the last financial year and has amassed a 3.2% share of the Irish market, in terms of pub sales. Diageo performed better in Ireland in the spirits segment, with that portfolio seeing sales growth of 10% - mainly driven by strong sales of Gordon’s gin and Smirnoff vodka. Baileys Irish Cream also remained strong with a 7% sales rise noted. Globally, Baileys sales grew 5%, with performance strongest in mainland Europe.

AUGUST

A possible project which could safeguard Ireland’s energy requirements for many years to come emerged in the form of a €338m pact between NextDecade, Flex, and the Port of Cork to import natural gas and could be completed as soon as 2019 through a new terminal to be constructed in Whitegate. A number of factors, including “an almost unlimited” supply of natural gas on the Texas-Mexico border, the closure of the rapidly-dying Kinsale Gas Fields in 2021 and an existing gas supply infrastructure in Cork harbour have made it an opportunity “not to be missed”. Energy Cork, which speaks for a number of major industries located around the harbour, said the project would provide the Irish market with strategically important direct access to alternative sources of natural gas.

The euro gained ground against the dollar, boosted by the impressive eurozone economic growth, which had picked up appreciably in the early part of the year. But financial markets kept their bets that the ECB would nor increase interest rates before 2019, even as it winds down its bond-buying or quantitative easing programme next year.

Carrigaline had the lowest level of commercial vacant buildings among Cork towns while Youghal had the highest, according to research from economic consultants DKM and GeoDirectory. The national commercial vacancy rate in the second quarter of 2017 was 13.5%, an increase from 13.1% in the last 12 months. Cork has just over 19,800 buildings classified as for commercial use, with services accounting for just under half. Distribution premises accounted for just under a quarter of Cork commercial buildings, and health just over 10%.

Irish hotels enjoyed the sixth year of turnover growth with occupancy levels back to pre-recession levels - but have been warned they must remain competitive or risk losing out to other European cities. The annual Crowe Horwath hotel industry survey, compiled from Irish hotels’ 2016 accounts, found that the national room occupancy level for 2016 was 74%, up from 71.1% on the previous year. The average room rate charged across all hotels was €104.11, up from €92.15 in 2015, the survey found. Dublin continued to outperform other regions with average room rates climbing by 14.7%, almost twice the level of western hotels which saw a growth in average nightly room rates of 7.5%. Room rates in the capital have now surpassed 2006 peak prices of €120.38, by €7.89.

SEPTEMBER

Ireland has been ranked as the country best able to feed its inhabitants in a global food security index. The US, for the first time, dropped from the top spot in the annual Global Food Security Index - compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit. Ireland is the world’s most “food-secure” nation, improving its food affordability, availability, quality, and safety, while the US has stagnated, according to the sixth annual edition of the index. The number of people suffering from hunger rose by about 38 million to 815 million in 2016, the UN said.

The Society of Chartered Surveyors has called for a zero Vat rate for building “affordable” homes, as it warned pent-up demand could mean the housing crisis will last almost 10 years. The society referred to its research, called the Real Cost of New House Delivery, showing that over half of the €330,000 costs in constructing a three-bed home were accounted for by Vat, levies, infrastructure, finance costs, and a profit margin.

In a pre-budget submission, the surveyors said Vat cuts on building affordable homes, along with other “radical measures”, would help boost the supply. On current trends, the market demands of 35,000 new homes a year would not be met until 2026, it said.

CRH announced plans to buy US cement manufacturer Ash Grove Cement for €2.93bn. It had a profit before tax of $215m (€181m) at the end of 2016.

OCTOBER

House prices will continue to climb strongly over the next three years bringing closer the time when the Government may have to consider raising taxes to cool a potentially overheating economy, the Economic and Social Research Institute warned. In a pre-budget report, it said the economy was not yet overheating but that the Government may have to start planning as soon as this time next year to take money out of the economy by raising taxes.

“Given the pace of growth over the past number of years, there is certainly no case for the Government to stimulate economic activity with the budgetary package,” it said.

In the budget, Finance Minister reduced USC rates and bands at a cost to the exchequer of €206m and increased income tax bands at a cost of €152m. To pay for the cuts, the centre-piece of his revenue-raising measures was a hike in stamp duty for commercial property transactions to 6% from 2%, raising €376m. Meanwhile, tobacco price increases raised €64m for the exchequer.

More slack in the labour force as people put in longer hours may be a factor in depressing wages, a new study claimed. Central Bank researchers set out to understand why wages have risen slowly despite the rapid fall in unemployment and the number of people in employment approaching the levels recorded before the onset of the economic crisis 10 years ago. Unemployment had fallen from 15% at the height of the financial crisis in early 2012.

Sales at the Irish arm of the Odeon cinema chain fell last year, despite movie draws that included Bridget Jones’s Baby, Finding Dory and The Secret Life of Pets. However, United Cinemas International (Ireland) Ltd said its market share of the 15.9 million cinema attendances increased by 1.2 percentage points to 18.4%. Cinema attendances in Ireland last year increased by 4.6% to 15.9 million, according to the company. Describing itself as a market leader, operating 11 cinemas and 77 screens, the Odeon and UCI Cinemas were acquired by AMC Entertainment last year. AMC is the largest cinema group in the world, with 636 cinemas and 7,623 screens in eight countries.

For the first time, Bank of Ireland said it may have to put aside more money to meet the costs of the tracker mortgage scandal, but that any additional amount will be “manageable”.

Nonetheless, the shares - which, alongside many European banking stocks, got a boost from ECB’s stimulus announcement - climbed as investors interpreted the bank as being still on course to pay out a dividend in 2018. The resumption of a dividend had already been delayed on at least one occasion. “We take the comments to mean that any provision ultimately required will not constrain the ability to pay a dividend next year,” said Investec Ireland analyst Owen Callan.

NOVEMBER

US House of Representatives Republicans unveiled the long-delayed legislation to deliver deep tax cuts that President Donald Trump had pledged during the US election campaign.

The bill, which was passed in December represented the largest overhaul of the US tax system since the 1980s The legislation will cut US corporation tax from January 1 and will “modernise” taxes for America’s global businesses, making “it easier and far less costly for American businesses to bring home foreign earnings” and to prevent “American jobs, headquarters, and research from moving overseas by eliminating incentives that now reward companies for shifting jobs, profits, and manufacturing plants abroad,” Republican lawmakers say.

Ireland is expected to benefit from another strong rise in spending levels from inbound tourists this year.

A new survey of European cities, by the World Travel and Tourism Council, has ranked Dublin seventh out of 17 locations, in terms of tourist spend income in 2016. According to the survey, overseas visitors spent a combined €9.2bn in Dublin last year, roughly 10% up on 2015.

With the double-digit percentage growth in North American visitors this year, tourist spend across the country should continue to show impressive growth this year. London is also expected to weather the storms of terrorist threats. “Our data suggest that London is well-placed to be resilient against these challenges. We expect international tourism spend to increase by 7% every year over the next 10 years,” it said.

Hundreds of new jobs were announced by a number of firms across the country, including 200 in a €41m investment by Silicon Valley-founded global payments company YapStone at its international headquarters in Drogheda, where it employs 125.

In Cork, outsourcing sales firm Zevas Communications said it would hire 50 people immediately after securing two new contracts with international global digital technology companies, while independent pharmacy chain CarePlus announced plans to create 70 new jobs through 12 pharmacies it is adding to the franchise in Dublin, Cork, Kerry and Tipperary over the coming months.

World markets were irked by the failure of German coalition talks which sent the euro and the price of oil lower. The withdrawal of the small centre-right FDP from the German talks amid disagreements with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU and the Green Party over issues ranging from asylum to tax and environment put coalition talks in deadlock.

DECEMBER

The unemployment rate fell to 6.1%, according to figures from the CSO. There were 138,100 people unemployed in November, down 3,400 on the previous month, and down 29,000 over the last 12 months. The global recruitment site Indeed said the continued improvement in unemployment figures in Ireland compared favourably with other countries that had gone through the debt crisis and recession in the last decade.

The jobless rate in Portugal has also fallen, to 8.5%; and stands at 16.7% in Spain, 11.1% in Italy, and at 21% in Greece. Mariano Mamertino, an economist at Indeed, said the improving unemployment rates were running alongside improving consumer confidence and higher retail sales. “Notwithstanding the decline in national unemployment, the recovery is not benefiting all the country equally,” he cautioned.

Bitcoin surged to $19,666, before plunging back below $11,000. This year’s surge prompted further concerns about the bubble nature of the cryptocurrency.

A number of institutional investors said they avoid trading in Bitcoin, after seeing it surge since the start of the year.

Lilian Chovin, an investment strategist at Coutts, said Bitcoin has been “all over the place”, adding that its sharp rise has “brought back memories of the dotcom bubble back at the turn of the century”. The UK Treasury has announced plans for closer scrutiny of the cryptocurrency as part of EU-wide plans that will require online platforms that trade in Bitcoin to carry out due diligence on customers and report suspicious transactions.

Tourism Ireland’s new publicity drive based around Star Wars: The Last Jedi, went into space. As part of the marketing wheeze, the tourism body launched a billboard into space using a weather balloon, reaching peak altitude at 33,390 metres, where a short film of the ad was recorded.

A brief clip shows the video screen billboard hovering above the earth in what Tourism Ireland called “Planet Earth’s first interstellar tourism campaign”. The billboard ad was promoting “Earth’s Wild Atlantic Way” with an image of Skellig Michael, which in the movie is the planet Ahch-to, home to hermetical Jedi Luke Skywalker.

Ireland’s corporate tax regime faces unprecedented challenges, due to EU finance ministers seeking to advance the cause of a common digital tax, allied to President Trump’s overhaul of US tax code.

The Government has strongly objected to the plans for a European digital tax because it could in time undermine the tax regime that has lured so many US multinationals such as Google and Apple to set up huge bases here.

Over a dozen years, Irish policy has focused on fighting off proposals from the European Commission for a common consolidated corporate tax base that would weaken the incentives of the 12.5% headline rate and a whole range of special tax incentives for companies under Ireland’s corporate tax regime. Joe Tynan, head of tax at PwC, said that the big EU countries, including Germany and France, will be looking to push their vision of a European digital tax to tap the huge revenues generated by the huge US online technology companies in Europe.

He said that the cut in corporate taxes in the US could increase “the tug of love” between the US and the EU over the €13bn in back taxes Apple is due to repay the State.

The Central Bank reported a dramatic rise in the number of customers ensared by the tracker mortgage scandal, saying that it forced the banks to identify 13,600 more cases which brings the number so far to 33,700 wronged customers.

It said the compensation and redress by the mortgage banks have to date reached almost €300m. However, financial consultant and consumer advocate Padraic Kissane who had fought the banks for the last eight years said the new figures mean the total compensation bill for the scandal will reach €1bn, while the follow-on from the investigation will mean that fines for the banks “will be off the charts”. Central Bank governor Philip Lane said: “Many lenders publicly state they put customers first.

The evidence of the examination that we have suggests otherwise.” Its report said all of the main lenders will likely face enforcement investigations. In previous reports, the Central Bank said it had engaged with gardaí and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.

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