€450m BANK LEVY MAY BREACH EU RULES ON AID, SAYS LEGAL ADVICE TO BANKS - The Government’s €450 million bank levy could breach EU state aid rules, according to legal advice given to the Irish Banking Federation (IBF), writes the Irish Times. The opinion, supplied to the IBF by Irish law firm Mason Hayes & Curran in early January, states that the levy could be challenged on the basis that it is not being applied to credit unions or State-owned An Post, which offers a range of deposit and savings products to consumers. This results in a loss of tax revenue and would amount to the Government conferring an advantage on the credit unions and An Post. The legal opinion also found that it confers an advantage on new entrants to the market as the levy applies to Deposit Interest Retention Tax (Dirt) paid in 2011. To be considered as state aid, any measure must also affect intra-community trade. Mason Hayes & Curran said this criterion is likely to be met on the basis that banks here are in “direct competition” with financial institutions in other EU member states. The levy applies to Irish banks and building societies - or their EU equivalents who have branches here - who collected Dirt tax in 2011.
BRUSSELS WILL FORCE 3 TO MAKE CONCESSIONS OVER O2 DEAL - EU competition regulators will say this week that 3 Ireland's attempt to buy O2's Irish unit might be problematic unless 3 offers concessions, sources said yesterday according to today's Irish Independent. Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa said last year that it would pay around $1 billion (€780m) for O2 Ireland. The European Commission opened an in-depth investigation into the Hutchison bid two months ago and will send a statement of objections laying out its concerns to Hutchison this week, the sources said. "It shows the Commission getting tough on three to four deals," one of the people said. "Hutchison will be offering concrete remedies once it receives the statement of objections," they added. The acquisition of Telefonica's mobile business in Ireland would quadruple Hutchison's share of the Irish market to 37%, behind market leader Vodafone's 39.4% but ahead of rival Meteor's 19.7%.
QUALITY OF IRISH START-UPS 'IMPROVING' - The quality of start-up companies being founded in Ireland is improving every year according to influential investor Richard Moran, writes today's Irish Examiner. Mr Moran, CEO of Accretive Solutions, a venture capitalist firm, heard pitches from a number of Irish companies in the Hartnett Enterprise Centre in LIT as part of the Irish Technology Leadership Group. Mr Moran, who has taken part in the ITLG pitch camp for the last six years, said the work that the colleges and Enterprise Ireland are doing in supporting the growth of entrepreneurship in Ireland is paying off. “Not all but one or two of the companies that I saw today could go in front of any American venture capital firm and have the potential to get funding. Over the last six years, the level of sophistication has expanded and I think that is due to the infrastructure, the universities, the banks and the Government. I think they are all starting to collaborate and build some companies.” Mr Moran believes Ireland is developing expertise in the payments sector, with firms like Trustev and Stripe being founded by Irish entrepreneurs. He believes that these could be a “silver bullet,” for the Irish economy. At least two of the companies pitching were in bioscience and were looking for funding to cure cancer.
CAMPAIGNERS WARN AGAINST RECORD NUMBER OF LONDON SKYSCRAPER PLANS - A record number of London skyscrapers are in the pipeline. The Financial Times says this has prompted campaigners to warn that the capital’s skyline could be ruined by a “wall of glass” as property developers seek to capitalise on foreign investor demand for homes in the capital. More than 200 towers of at least 20 storeys are either under construction or being planned, of which three-quarters are residential, according to data from New London Architecture, a discussion and education forum. The “pretty phenomenal” figures are unprecedented in the city’s history and will “make the skyline look very different”, according to Peter Murray, NLA chairman. The government sponsored conservation group English Heritage is calling on the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to tighten development rules in order to make it harder for such a volume of towers to be built. Nigel Barker, English Heritage’s London planning and conservation director, said: “We are not against tall buildings, they have always played a part in London’s history - for example, the Tower of London, the Palace of Westminster and St Paul’s Cathedral. But this is a very significant amount of new development that most people are not aware is coming through the system.” Mr Murray said that high-rise homes were particularly popular with foreign buyers.