GOVERNMENT BLOCKING LOTTERY CONTRACT EXTENSION - The Government is refusing to allow the National Lottery to sign an extension contract with its existing technology supplier to provide cover for the potentially tricky handover to the new operator, says the Irish Times. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, which is overseeing the process, is understood to have baulked at the likely €9 million cost of extending US firm Gtech’s contract when it expires at the end of this year. As a result, there is no back-up plan if something goes wrong with the transfer to a new technology platform, scheduled for early next year. The process involves the overhaul of the franchise’s central hardware and software system as well as the installation of some 4,000 ticket terminals. It emerged three months ago that lottery operator An Post was urgently seeking an extension to its contract with Gtech. This followed a protracted privatisation process, which was delayed by a dispute over the transfer of staff to new operator Premier Lotteries Ireland, comprising An Post and UK operator Camelot. An Post is understood to have written to Gtech in late January requesting a six- month extension. The letter is understood to have said there would be an economic and reputational risk to the franchise by not having cover during the transition.
NAMA MADE UP 22% OF EUROPE'S LOAN SALES - NAMA accounted for 22% of all European loan sales made so far this year, after a sharp step-up in the pace of disposals by the agency including selling its entire Northern Ireland portfolio. So far this year, Irish assets have accounted for the majority (54%) of assets sold. That is a change from the previous trend, which had seen sales of UK assets dominate the list of NAMA's disposals, writes the Irish Independent. The latest figures are according to NAMA chief executive Brendan McDonagh, who was speaking at an event in Dublin yesterday. NAMA has around €3.5 billion of loans up for sale, having already agreed the sale of its Northern Ireland portfolio, and further sales are close to completion including a huge €1.8 billion tranche of debts connected to developer Michael O'Flynn. Additional large loan portfolios not currently on the market are in the pipeline, according to Mr McDonagh. "There are tangible signs that the Irish property market is recovering," Mr McDonagh said.
SIX OFF-SHORE LICENCES AWARDED IN FOUR MONTHS - Ireland’s off-shore oil and gas exploration "is going in the right direction" with new figures showing that more off-shore petroleum exploration licences have been awarded in the first four months of 2014 than throughout last year. According to the Minister for State at the Dept of Energy and Natural Resources, Fergus O’Dowd, the State has awarded six off-shore petroleum exploration licences in the first four months of this year. The number of licence awards for the first four months of this year is one more than was awarded throughout 2013 with no licence awards taking place in the preceding three years, reports the Irish Examiner. Mr O’Dowd said: “With new company entrants in 2013 it is evident that there is significant and growing capacity in the sector, demonstrating that exploration in the Irish offshore is moving in the right direction.” He stated that there have been no commercial discoveries of oil or gas within the territory of the State in the past five years. Mr O’Dowd also confirmed that there are 643 mineral prospecting licences currently held by 48 companies.
STOBART CHIEF HAS CONTEMPT OF COURT ALLEGATIONS THROWN OUT - The chief executive of Stobart, the logistics and property group, has had contempt of court allegations against him thrown out after seven years of legal battles fought out against internal strife at the listed group. The Court of Appeal stopped claims against Andrew Tinkler and Trevor Howarth, the company’s former legal services director, brought by Peter Elliott, a self-proclaimed whistleblower who was once Mr Tinkler’s personal pilot. The court found that Judge Pelling QC, sitting in the High Court, had been wrong to give permission last year for contempt proceedings to be pursued against the two Stobart executives. The three appeal court judges said that Mr Elliott had pursued a “relentless crusade”, representing himself in a series of hearings. They said he was “a vexatious litigant”. A barrister in the case said Mr Elliott had made “wild and unsubstantiated allegations”. Judge Pelling’s ruling that the civil contempt complaint should be allowed to go to trial was “fatally flawed” and “failed to stand back and look at the overall reality of the litigation”, the appeals court said. The Civil Aviation Authority had found there was not enough evidence to pursue Mr Elliott’s allegations. One contempt claim was based on the fact that Mr Tinkler had told a previous hearing he had been interviewed under caution but later admitted he had been mistaken.