EXXONMOBIL 'NOT LEAVING IRISH WATERS' - Oil giant ExxonMobil has said it has no intention of pulling out of Irish waters, despite disappointing early drilling results from the highly-anticipated Dunquin prospect off the Kerry coast - in which it is a senior partner - last month, says the Irish Examiner. The recent findings of the ‘Dunquin North’ exploration well being mainly water-based and having no commercially recoverable hydrocarbons, leading to its abandonment, dented the share price of the asset’s Irish stakeholder, Providence Resources, and led to speculation that Exxon was finished with Ireland. However, a spokesperson for Exxon said, yesterday, that this is “certainly not the case” and the Texas-headquartered company - the world’s largest oil firm - remains a major partner in its two Irish interests in the Porcupine Basin, namely Dunquin and the Cuchulainn field. However, they did add that Exxon currently has no plans for further drilling in Irish waters and would not be speculating on its future plans, at this time. Exxon currently owns a 36% stake in the Cuchulainn field and a 25.5% holding in Dunquin, where it is also listed as operator. Other shareholders at Dunquin include Italian energy giant, Eni; Spanish company, Repsol; Ireland’s Providence with a 16% stake and London-based explorer, Sosina with a 4% holding.
DEVELOPERS MAY BE FORCED TO SELL VACANT SITES - Developers engaged in "land hoarding" could be forced to sell up under Dublin City Council plans to rid the capital of vacant sites. The council is seeking Government sanction to impose a levy on vacant sites in the city to "encourage" developers to bring their land back into use, writes the Irish Times. Development firms who fail to pay the levy could be forced into liquidation, with lands sold to pay what they owe. The council has in recent days made a pre-budget submission seeking enabling legislation to impose the levy on sites which have been left unused, sometimes for decades, in prime city centre locations. The council has the power to impose a tax on sites with derelict structures on them, and does so at a rate of 3% of the market value. It also charges rates on empty commercial buildings, with owners paying half the commercial rate. However, owners of vacant sites are not subject to any tax or charge. In its submission the council makes the case that the lack of any disincentive to putting a "lock" on land banks was damaging to the city and national economy, with companies unwilling to locate in areas with a preponderance of vacant land. Lord Mayor of Dublin Oisín Quinn said keeping prime sites out of use was depriving Dublin of the ability to grow.
BANKS' ARREARS CLAMPDOWN TO SWELL HOUSE WAITING LISTS - Tens of thousands of families are caught in a housing crisis as councils struggle to provide homes, the Irish Independent can reveal. The numbers on social housing waiting lists have soared in just two years, with more than 110,000 people now seeking a home. And experts have warned that the numbers will swell over the coming years as banks adopt a get-tough policy for those in mortgage arrears. New figures show a national increase of 13% since 2011, with more than 23,000 families now waiting for a house or apartment. A survey of the State's 114 city, county, town and borough councils shows that some counties have recorded a five-fold increase in their waiting lists since 2011. And the overall figures have doubled over the past five years, as the recession forced thousands of families to the financial brink. But experts warned that the numbers would increase as banks began dealing with the mortgage arrears crisis, which would result in people losing their homes. "There will be an increasing problem if significant numbers of households are repossessed by their lenders because they cannot afford to meet payments," head of policy at the Cluid Housing Association, Simon Brooke, said.
UK TAX EVASION PROSECUTIONS DOUBLE AFTER SURGE IN SMALL-TIME OFFENDERS - The number of criminal prosecutions for tax evasion more than doubled in the UK during the last tax year, amid claims that the exchequer has increased its hit-rate by targeting "small time" offenders suspected of defrauding the taxpayer. HM Revenue & Customs successfully prosecuted 617 people for tax evasion during 2012/13, up from 302 in 2011/12, according to figures obtained by the law firm Pinsent Masons. The figures were well in excess of HMRC's target of 565 prosecutions for the year, but come after missing what critics said was an artificially low target of 365 in 2011/12 writes today's Guardian. Jason Collins, a partner at the law firm, said: "In the space of just one year, HMRC has massively ramped up the numbers of cases it takes to the criminal courts in order to clamp down on tax evasion. However, to hit that target and maximise the deterrent effect, HMRC is now taking criminal cases against the kind of tax evaders it would have previously seen as small time. This means criminal cases against 'middle class' professionals and trades people who are evading what are relatively small sums of money." He added that buy-to-let investors are increasingly in HMRC's sights, as are those seen to be in positions of trust or responsibility, such as lawyers, doctors or financial consultants. Last month an unnamed 63-year-old London banker was arrested on suspicion of tax fraud relating to a personal tax return.