VODAFONE PIPS RIVAL FOR DUBS DEAL - The Irish Times reports that the Dublin GAA team is set to score one of the biggest sports sponsorship deals in the country with mobile giant Vodafone.

The paper understands that Vodafone will become the Dubs' title sponsor for the next six years in a deal worth an initial €800,000 a year, rising to about €1m annually over the life of the agreement. Bonuses will also be paid based on success.

The Irish Times says the deal is thought to be about four times more than mobile rival O2 pays to back the Cork GAA teams, while sponsorship of the Tyrone football team is available for about €120,000.

The paper says Vodafone moved into pole position after mobile rival Meteor, which is owned by Eircom, withdrew its interest on Thursday. The pair had initially gone head-to-head for the sponsorship rights, which will cover Dublin's senior football and hurling teams.

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DARLING DISSUADED ON VAT RISE - The Guardian quotes British government sources as saying that Chancellor Alistair Darling wanted to impose a UK VAT rise above 17.5% in his pre-budget report to raise extra revenue but was persuaded by Prime Minister Gordon Brown to opt for an increase in national insurance instead.

The paper quotes Cabinet sources as saying that the discussion at the top of the government was over whether to opt for a VAT rise or a 0.5 point hike in national insurance to raise the funds necessary to protect frontline services, and start to plug the deficit.

Mr Darling confirmed in the pre-budget report that he was restoring VAT to its previous 17.5% level from 15% on 1 January, so restoring £12 billion in revenues. But it is understood that Treasury officials favoured taking the VAT rise further.

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FORMER OWNER BUYS BACK TALLAGHT ECHO - The Irish Independent quotes Johnston Press as insisting that it has 'absolutely no plans' to revive efforts to sell its entire portfolio of Irish papers despite successfully off-loading the Tallaght Echo to its former owner.

The paper says the UK plc is understood to have been paid well under €1m for the Tallaght paper, which will be formally passed to David Kennedy on January 4. Mr Kennedy sold the title for close to €5m in 2005.

Talks between Johnston Press and Mr Kennedy kicked off almost a year ago but were halted last February, when Johnston decided to try to find a single buyer for its 15 Irish titles.

The Indo says that sales process was abandoned in May, when Johnston admitted it had failed to attract sufficiently high bids, clearing the way for the resumption of talks with Mr Kennedy.

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UK BANK BONUS TAX LOOPHOLE? - The Daily Telegraph reports that some of London's best paid investment bankers may be exempt from Alistair Darling's bonus tax because the advisory businesses they work for may not count as banks.

The paper says investment banking firms - such as Lazard, NM Rothschild, Greenhill and Perella Weinberg - are expected to claim that they are not technically banks because they do not take deposits, lend money or trade.

The Telegraph says advisory houses employ star dealmakers such as Ken Costa, Robert Leitao, James Lupton, and Philip Yates, who pull off deals that are just as big - and as lucrative - as the integrated banks.

The new 50% tax will be levied on all bonus payments over £25,000. The tax will be paid by the bank rather than the employee and the banker will then be subject to the usual income tax.