herald

Sunday 17 December 2017

Ireland Inc for sale as State bids to net billions from assets

SOME of our national treasures were put up for sale today.

ESB, Bord Gais and the National Lottery were the big victims of the Government's firesale.

The Cabinet has agreed to dispose of the "asset rich" companies as they seek to plug our massive debt burden.

Plans to sell a "significant" amount of State assets were revealed today - but under threat Aer Lingus will not be sold.

The Government will look to sell energy, trees, peat, overseas assets and even lottery luck in an effort to raise hundreds of million of euro.

Power

A Cabinet source indicated that no target figure had been set but that "serious valuations" had already begun. It is understood that officials hope to raise more than €1bn from the Bord Gais sale alone, while the lottery licence could come with a price tag of up to €50m a year.

"The essential parts of ESB and An Bord Gais -- the networks and infrastructure -- are being kept under our control while the non strategic parts are being sold off," explained a source.

The Herald understands that large sections of ESB's energy supply business will be sold off along with its consulting and engineering arms.

This could include the sell-off of several of the country's major power stations. However, the State will retain the transmission with large parts of ESB's responsibility likely to be moved over to Eirgrid.

ESB will also dispose of much of its overseas investments and will not seek further expansion in the short term. A similar approach will be taken with Bord Gais where Brendan Howlin intends to get rid of part of the company but retain the network in State ownership.

Barclays Capital has been hired by the National Treasury Management Agency to advise on the best options for Bord Gais.

While a full valuation of the company is under way, the government believes it could net up to €1.5bn from the sale of a number of the company's assets.

Its businesses in Northern Ireland and Cork, its wind farm assets, and its overseas assets are all on the block.

A source told the Herald that there was a "strong emphasis" at last night's Cabinet meeting that there was a focus on flogging those deemed as "asset rich". "There is no point in selling our stake in Aer Lingus at this point, we don't believe we'd make the kind of money that we would if we held on," they said.

The sell-off of plantations owned by Coillte - which does not include the forest land - will be a thorny subject for the coalition parties.

Peat extraction rights belonging to Bord na Mona are also up for grabs, but not the ownership of the lands.

dan white, P14

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