GOVERNMENT EXPECTS TO SELL IRISH LIFE BEFORE THE END OF NEXT MONTH - The Government expects to sell Irish Life to a Canadian firm before the end of February, as negotiations on the deal accelerate, writes the Irish Independent. Speaking yesterday, Minister of State for Finance Brian Hayes said he believed a deal to sell the pensions and assurance business to the Canadian firm Great West - which owns Canada Life - could be completed "within the next month". "Those negotiations are ongoing but we hope to bring them to a conclusion in the coming weeks," he said. When pressed for a specific timeframe, he added it would be "within the next month". Mr Hayes's comments are the first time a government representative has given a concrete timeframe for when it expects the sale to go through. On Sunday, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said he expected a deal "in the coming weeks". Getting Irish Life back in private hands is considered a key test of international confidence in Ireland. The State paid Permanent TSB €1.3 billion for Irish Life in November 2011 after a deal to sell the company to Canada Life fell through at the 11th hour as the euro crisis worsened. The Government's decision to nationalise the country's largest pension company worried troika officials at the time. They were already concerned about the State's dominance within the financial services sector. Since then the immediate future of the euro has become less of a concern and international markets have been relatively calm, raising hopes that Irish Life could leave state ownership sooner rather than later. Earlier this month it emerged that company chief executive Kevin Murphy had postponed his planned retirement until after a deal is done to sell the company.
COMREG MOVES TO COUNTER MOBILE SCAM - The communications watchdog moved swiftly yesterday to ensure those behind a scam which targeted tens of thousands of mobile phone users in Ireland over the weekend do not get paid, reports the Irish Times. Throughout Saturday night and Sunday morning, thousands of people received missed calls from a number which started with the prefix 386. Many called the number back under the assumption that it came from an Irish 086 number - which would appear on a mobile phone as 35386. However, they were then connected to a premium rate service based in Slovenia; while some had their calls cut off as soon as a connection was made, others were diverted to telephone sex lines. The communications regulator ComReg was unable to say how much the connection charges were or how much money the scam had cost consumers, but the connection charge is believed to have been in excess of €2, with similar charges for each additional minute callers spent on the line. Consumers are, however, likely to be reimbursed by their providers for any charges incurred after ComReg stepped in to ensure the company behind the calls would not get paid. “If those responsible do not get paid by their provider, then the Irish networks will not have to pay any money and consumers will have all call charges reimbursed,” an industry source said.
CENTRE FOR ENTREPRENEURSHIP ESTABLISHED AT CIT - A new centre for entrepreneurship - the Hincks Centre - has been established at Cork Institute of Technology aiming to inform national policy and education in the entrepreneurial sector, says the Irish Examiner. The immediate focus of the Hincks Centre will be on teaching the staff in financial institutions how best to support entrepreneurs across start-ups and existing SMEs. The centre will also carry out research into why emerging Irish businesses fail, as well as working on training lecturers and teachers in entrepreneurship. CIT’s head of School of Business, Gerard O’Donovan, said: “The establishment of the Hincks Centre for Entrepreneurship Excellence demonstrates CIT’s commitment to the national job creation agenda. We believe this centre will be a significant support to growing entrepreneurship to a new level in Ireland and ensuring our entrepreneurship infrastructure can optimally support the growing level of entrepreneurs in Ireland.” The new centre is named after the Rev Thomas Hincks, who proposed a society in Cork that would “contribute to and promote industry, economy and philanthropy”. The launch came as 10 new companies emerged from CIT’s new frontiers programme. The programme, which is based in the Rubicon centre and funded by Enterprise Ireland, replaced the Genesis enterprise programme.
FRENCH CITY SELLS PRIZED WINES - Times must really be getting hard in France. The city of Dijon has just sold off half of its prized municipal wine cellar to help fund local social spending - including a bottle of 1999 Burgundy knocked down at auction for €4,800 to a Chinese buyer, says the Financial Times. In total, the capital of the Burgundy region raised €151,620 from the “historic sale” of 3,500 bottles that were part of a collection built up since the 1960s, it announced in a statement on Monday. François Rebsamen, the Socialist mayor who ordered the auction, explained: “We have overall a good budget this year, but the social action spending of the city just keeps going up. There are more and more of our co-citizens who are appealing for social aid.” The auction, held in a grand salon in a former palace of the Dukes of Burgundy, drew hundreds of people, some from across Europe and Asia, according to the local website, Infos-Dijon. The top attraction was a bottle of Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux, premier cru de 1999. Placed on a reserve of €1,000, it sold for almost five times that price.