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Minister confirms changes in scheme to help SMEs

THE Government’s new Finance Bill has confirmed a €50,000 increase in maximum value of share options that can be granted under its Key Employee Engagement Programme (KEEP), to €300,000 in any period.

It had previously been subject to a limit applied in a consecutive three-year period. The scheme, introduced a year ago, was intended to help SMEs to attract and retain talent in a competitive labour market.

But it’s been woefully unsuccessful, prompting Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe to make amendments to it in this month’s Budget.

He acknowledged during his Budget speech that take-up of the scheme had been less than expected and he was “taking early action” to address it.

The new Finance Bill also confirmed that the maximum annual market value of share options that can be granted to an employee or director in any one year can now be the equivalent of up to 100pc of salary.

A €3m overall limit remains for companies on the value of share options they can allot under the KEEP programme, while employees are not restricted from entering into future KEEP arrangements with future employers.

Under the KEEP incentive, gains realised on the exercise of qualifying share options granted between January 1, 2018, and December 31, 2023, will not be subject to income tax, USC or PRSI. In order to qualify for KEEP, an option must be exercised within 10 years of grant.

Gains are subject to capital gains tax on disposal of shares, however.

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Dublin Port to speed up investment as growth exceeds all expectations

An expected 3.3pc annual growth rate at Dublin Port established just six months ago by the facility to determine its infrastructure requirements for the next two decades is already being exceeded.

The chief executive of Dublin Port Company, Eamonn O’Reilly, said the current pace of growth means the semi-state firm now needs to speed up investment.

New figures show that cargo volumes at Dublin Port have continued to rise as the economy improves, with total volumes up 4.7pc to 28.4m gross tonnes during the first nine months of the year. Imports rose 6pc and exports were 3pc higher.

Mr O’Reilly said that the facility has witnessed an “extraordinary” rate of growth, with volumes of cargo through the trade gateway having risen 36pc in the past six years.

“This rate is outstripping our long-term master plan growth rate of 3.3pc per annum and underpins the need for us to accelerate our capital investment programme to ensure that Dublin Port has sufficient capacity for future growth,” he said.

The CEO also confirmed that Dublin Port has begun construction of “primary border control infrastructure” to ensure that the facility is prepared “for whatever Brexit might throw at us”. Earlier this year, Dublin Port published a revised master plan where it based future expansion requirements based on a new 3.3pc expected rate of annual growth. It had previously forecast annual growth of 2.5pc, a figure that had been set in 2012.

Mr O’Reilly pointed out that this year, €132m is being invested in Dublin Port under its 2040 master plan.

“After decades of underinvestment in port infrastructure, we need to invest €1bn in the next 10 years,” he said.

Mr O’Reilly added that the company is continuing work on its Alexandra Basin redevelopment and will soon bring its second major strategic infrastructure project plans to An Bord Pleanala.

The latest figures for the port show that imports rose 6pc to 16.9m gross tonnes in the third quarter of 2018, while exports were 3pc higher at 11.5m tonnes.

“Having come through the worst of recessions from 2008, our volumes are already 23pc higher than they were in 2007,” said Mr O’Reilly. “In the timescale of port infrastructure projects, we need to press ahead with our infrastructure projects notwithstanding the uncertainties of Brexit.”

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Half of female bosses can’t get funding, finds new report

More than half of companies led by women have no external funding at all, compared with 30pc of male-led businesses – and three times as many female business leaders regard access to capital as their biggest challenge.

The results are from EY’s Global Growth Barometer, based on a survey of 2,766 senior business leaders.

In the report, advisory firm EY said the lack of access to funding matters in particular to high potential, early stage businesses. When such companies fail to secure funding they have a harder time scaling up, it noted.

The statistics for venture funding of early-stage companies are especially stark – in 2017 97pc of venture funding globally was invested in companies headed by men. The research also found that one in five women CEOs have no plans for raising capital, compared with just 3pc of male CEOs.

Perhaps to compensate, companies led by a woman are more likely to seek growth through collaboration with external partners.

The findings are announced in Ireland to mark National Women’s Enterprise Day, which aims to highlight the contribution of female entrepreneurs and to encourage more women to start their own businesses.

Almost three times as many women as men say funding is the most significant factor in building their company’s agility (17pc versus 6pc), while 17pc believe the cost and availability of equity finance is the greatest barrier to growth, compared with 11pc of male peers.

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Rising interest rates are expected to cool the market for wind farms

Wind farm prices may have peaked, one of Ireland’s most experienced corporate financiers has warned, despite strong overseas demand for a range of Irish assets.

IBI chief executive Tom Godfrey said wind farm assets were probably “as expensive as they’re going to be” now that the low interest rate environment had begun to change.

Rising official interest rates, so far largely in the USA, were prompting investors to rethink strategies, both because returns on relatively safe bond investments were rising to attractive levels and because a rising interest rate environment would ultimately drive up borrowing costs and therefore put downward pressure on asset prices.

The comments follow a number of big Irish sales which include last month’s deal, when IBI advised Coillte on the disposals of its stake in four wind farms to Dublin-listed Greencoat Renewables for €136m.

Meanwhile, Mr Godfrey, speaking at an event to mark a year since IBI’s management buyout from Bank of Ireland, said the Irish market for mergers and acquisitions had held up despite the uncertainties of Brexit.

Private equity buyers attracted into Ireland by the favourable economic backdrop were fuelling “unprecedented” demand for Irish assets, and there was little evidence that Brexit has dented that, he said.

The Irish market had been transformed since the crash by a wave of new debt and equity providers; giving buyers more options and greater flexibility to structure deals.

Mid-market activity (€5m to €250m) was “extremely robust” and valuation expectations among sellers remained high, he said.

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Budget picks

Budget 2019 didn’t put much money back into our pockets. Much of the focus of Finance Minister Pascal Donohue last Tuesday was on housing and health – with little left in the pot for anyone else. Many of us will only be better off to the tune of about €5 or €6 a week next year as a result – and some of us won’t be any better off at all. Here are some areas where we’re still losing out financially and which the Budget could have tackled better.


The €750 increase in the amount which people can earn before getting hit for the higher rate of income tax has not addressed the issue of high income tax rates kicking in too early “in any substantive way”, according to Pat O’Brien, tax director with Ernst & Young (EY). Budget 2019 increased the amount that a single person can earn before paying the higher rate of tax from €34,550 to €35,300 – and from €43,550 to €44,300 for married couples where only one spouse is working.

“The biggest issue for those on median incomes remains the rapid progression to the 40pc top income tax rate,” said O’Brien. “The proposed increase of €750 to €35,300 does little to address this. By comparison, a single individual in Britain would have to earn more than £46,350 (€52,845) before paying the higher tax rate when personal allowances are taken into account. Working people will still reach the highest income tax rate on relatively modest levels of income.”

Average Irish earnings stand at about €38,700, according to the latest official figures – so people on an average wage will still get hit for the higher rate of income tax next year, despite Budget 2019.


Many children will still get stung for inheritance tax bills of tens of thousands of euro or more over the next year because the only change introduced by Budget 2019 in this regard was a token one.

Last Tuesday’s Budget increased the value of gifts or inheritances which children can get tax-free from their parents over their lifetime by €10,000 – to €320,000. “This exemption could have been increased more without much damage to the State finances,” said Michael Gaffney, a tax expert with KPMG. “I think increases in house prices, combined with the passing of the baby boomer generation, means the yield from inheritance tax will be higher than expected.”

In early 2009, a child could inherit up to €542,544 from his parents over his lifetime – and the rate of inheritance tax charged back then was 22pc. On top of the dramatic reduction in the amount which can be inherited by children tax-free since then, the rate of inheritance tax charged today is 33pc.

“In early 2009, a child inheriting a family home valued at €500,000 would pay no inheritance tax – compared with an inheritance tax liability of just under €60,000 today,” said Alison McHugh, director of private clients with Deloitte. “The Government needs to make a bolder move to increase the inheritance tax threshold so they are brought more in line with where they were ten years ago. With the average asking price for a Dublin home being about €375,000, most transfers of family homes to a single child will be within the inheritance tax net.”


A raft of tax breaks, such as the reliefs on trade union subscriptions, bin charges and medical expenses, have been either abolished or curtailed since the first austerity budget. These reliefs were worth hundreds, if not thousands, of euro to taxpayers.

Given that employment is at record highs, and that Ireland is forecast to record the highest economic growth in Europe this year, surely Minister Donohoe could have found room to reverse some of the tax break cuts of recent years.

One of the most valuable tax breaks was the relief on medical expenses. Before 2009, you could claim back 41pc of the cost of certain medical expenses in tax relief.

That tax relief was chopped to 20pc in 2009 and it has remained at that rate since. The GP visit card has helped alleviate the cost of doctor visits for many elderly – and for the parents of children under the age of six. However, many people are still facing crippling medical bills. An increase in the rate of tax relief on medical expenses would help people cope with those bills – or afford quicker medical attention.

Budget 2019 changes in the Drug Payment Scheme, a Government scheme which can help curtail medical bills, will certainly help those who regularly face high medical expenses. This scheme is aimed at individuals and families who don’t have a medical card and who normally have to pay the full cost of their medication.

From this January, the cost of buying prescribed drugs or medicine under the Drug Payment Scheme will be no more than €124 a month – as under Budget 2019 the monthly cap will be cut from €134 to €124. Ten years ago however, the cap was set at €90 – so there is still much room for improvement here.

There have been plenty of other changes to our tax system in recent years which have taken money out of our pockets. The tax relief on bin charges was abolished in 2011. Given that many households have seen a substantial increase in their bin charges since, a restoration of that tax relief would help ease the pressure on households.

In 2011, the tax relief on professional subscriptions was abolished. This tax relief was available to workers whose role required them to be members of a professional body and who paid an annual subscription to retain their membership. “Restoration of the relief for professional subscriptions would have been welcome,” said O’Brien. “This issue affects a vast range of employments from human resources to finance to IT. For many workers, being in membership of a professional body is the modern equivalent of the ‘tools of the trade’.”


Workers who have been given electric cars or vans by their employers could face a tax bill next year, depending on the value of the electric vehicle. This is due to changes in the way benefit-in-kind – the tax which employees pay on non-cash benefits received from their employer – is treated for electric vehicles.

In 2018, employees did not have to pay any BIK if they had a company car which was also an electric car, regardless of the value of the vehicle – because a 0pc BIK rate was in place for electric cars or vans. In Budget 2019, Minister Donohoe extended the 0pc BIK rate for electric vehicles for a period of three years. However, he also put a cap of €50,000 on the original market value of electric vehicles which qualify for this rate. No such cap was in place in 2018. This €50,000 cap means that many employees will now face a BIK bill – unless their employer gives them an electric car worth less than €50,000.

To truly encourage the takeup of electric cars, the Minister should consider removing this cap.

From this January, buyers of new diesel cars will face a higher Vehicle Registration Tax (VRT) bill than they did previously – due to the 1pc VRT surcharge introduced under Budget 2019.

“For those workers who commute long distances, diesel cars remain the optimum choice and many are forced to upgrade their car due to high annual mileage,” said Robert Dowley, partner with KPMG. “The 1pc VRT surcharge on diesel cars will have an impact when they upgrade their car.”


The cost of sending a child to college has become one of the biggest financial challenges facing many parents. The total bill could come to more than €50,000 – if the child is living away when home and attending college for more than four years. At €3,000 a year, the student contribution charge alone accounts for about a quarter of the college bills faced by parents, according to the latest cost of student living survey by the Dublin Institution of Technology.

The student contribution charge has increased steadily over the years -with some of the biggest hikes occurring during the recession and in the early Noughties. Twenty years ago, the charge (whose name has varied over the years) was only €330. The tax relief on tuition fees allows parents to claim back up to a fifth of the cost of the student contribution charge, but only for any second or subsequent children in third-level education.

Many parents therefore lose out on the chance to claim this tax relief – particularly if the age gap between their children is wide or if they have only one child. Were it possible to claim the tax relief on the student contribution charge for the first child in third-level education, this could make this tax break more accessible to parents – and ease the burden of college bills. To prevent the tax relief becoming a runaway bill for the Government, a limit could be put on the amount of relief claimed by the same family.

Another change in recent years which has put parents at a disadvantage is the taxation of maternity pay. Since July 2013, State maternity pay has been taxed. State paternity pay, introduced in late September 2016, is also taxable.

Despite the upcoming increases in maternity and paternity pay, Irish parents would find it very hard to make ends meet if relying solely on those benefits during maternity or paternity leave. For this reason, the taxation of this benefit seems unfair – particularly for those who don’t get their State maternity pay topped up by their employer when on leave. (Employers are not obliged to pay women who are on maternity leave).

For stay-at-home parents, next year’s €300 increase in the home carer tax credit is welcome.Budget 2019 also had some good news for those families with two parents who work outside the home: more of these families are set to get childcare subsidies next year. This is due to an increase in the maximum net income a family can earn to be eligible for subsidies under the Affordable Childcare Scheme.

However, “in our view, this change does not go far enough to encourage parents back into the workforce where they are faced with expensive childcare costs”, said McHugh. “The Government should consider the introduction of a child tax credit such that all parents – whether working in or outside the home – will be treated equally.”

As the old cliché goes, a lot done, more to do…


State pension to increase by €5 a week from March 2019.

Full Christmas bonus to be paid this December.


Extension of the Jobseeker’s Benefit scheme to self-employed from late 2019.

The earned income tax credit to increase by €200 to €1,350.


Two weeks’ paid parental leave for each parent – from November 2019.

Home carer tax credit to increase from €1,200 to €1,500.


National minimum wage to rise from €9.55 an hour to €9.80 an hour from the start of next year.

Small cut in the Universal Social Charge for earnings of between €19,874 and €70,044.

An increase of €750 in the income tax standard rate band – from €34,550 to €35,300 for single individuals; and from €43,550 to €44,300 for married one-earner couples.


The price of eating out – and staying in hotels – is set to increase next year due to a 50pc rise in the Vat rate on tourism activities. Hotels and restaurants will have to charge 13.5pc Vat next year. The cost of a haircut is also likely to increase.


A 50c increase in the excise duty on a packet of 20 cigarettes.

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Irish food supplier Greencore to sell entire US business for €927m

Irish food-to-go supplier Greencore has reached an agreement to sell its entire US business to Hearthside Food Solutions for £817m (€927m).

Greencore said it will hand a large part of the proceeds to shareholders via a special dividend of £509m, or 72 pence per ordinary share.

The group said that the deal will also “support a strengthened balance sheet”, with up to £293m helping to reduce leverage.

The transaction EV / EBITDA is a multiple of 13.4x/14.2×2,3.

Hearthside is a scale US contract food manufacturer with a heritage in US food industry outsourcing.

Greencore’s CEO, Patrick Coveney, said that the proposed sale represents “compelling and immediate realisation of value” for company shareholders.

“We have always had a firm conviction on the underlying value and growth prospects of our US business and believe that this offer fully reflects that,” he said.

The intention post-transaction is that Greencore will have greater financial and strategic flexibility in its core UK market, with potential for dynamic capital management.

Looking ahead, we are confident that we can deliver further growth and returns in the dynamic UK market,” said Mr Coveney.

“The proposed transaction would enhance our strategic and financial flexibility, which would allow us to build on our industry-leading position in our core UK market whilst also taking advantage of emerging organic and inorganic growth opportunities.”

Completion of the deal is expected by late November 2018, conditional on approval of Greencore shareholders and US HSR clearance.

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Brexit the big cloud in bank’s forecasts for jobs and growth

THE Central Bank has laid out a rosy economic forecast, with continued growth and tens of thousands more people in work over the next three years.

However, it warned that a hard Brexit would damage the country – and even a soft Brexit would slow growth substantially for an economy that is more exposed to Britain than any other.

The bank said a no-deal Brexit would potentially reduce growth by 2.75pc after five years and reduce by 40,000 the number of new jobs that could be created compared with a scenario where Britain stayed in the EU. Even a “soft Brexit” would knock 1.7pc off growth.

The bank’s central forecasts upgraded this year’s growth forecast to 7.2pc and 2018 to 6.7pc, while its initial estimates for 2019 and 2020 see growth tapering to 3.7pc in the final year. Successive years of economic growth will push the unemployment rate down to 4.7pc and should boost wage growth, it said.

The numbers reflect a Brexit deal being struck and the trading relationship with Britain remaining unchanged as a result through the forecast period to 2020.

“If the worst case scenario was to evolve then you would expect significant downward revisions to the 2019 and 2020 figures,” Mark Cassidy, the bank’s head of economics and statistics, said yesterday.

The bank’s forecasts -ex-Brexit – were broadly in line with those given by Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe in this week’s Budget, although it said it had advised the Government to move faster to a budget surplus to alleviate the risk of overheating.

Mr Donohoe has said he would run a balanced budget from 2019 after a small deficit in 2018 in fiscal plans that were widely seen as paving the way for an election.

With monetary policy set in Frankfurt for the whole eurozone, Ireland has few options apart from the budget to rein in economic overheating.

The Central Bank has already put in place measures to curb the property market. Yesterday Mr Donohoe told Independent News & Media’s 2019 Budget Breakfast that his decision to raise Vat on the tourism sector showed he was not afraid of making difficult decisions.

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Iseq hits two-year low as market volatility returns

THE Iseq index of Irish shares slumped to its lowest level since November 2016, mirroring moves in European shares as investors moved to shed risk.

The market was gripped by turbulence for a second consecutive day, with sharp falls at heavily weighted stocks almost pushing the index through the 6,000 level.

Cement giant CRH – the most heavily weighted stock on the index – lost more than 3pc yesterday, while Aryzta lost almost 7pc as chairman Gary McGann pleaded with investors to back the company’s €800m capital raising plan. Bank of Ireland and Smurfit Kappa also weighed on the index, each losing more than 3pc. The Iseq closed down almost 2.2pc at 6018.81.

European stocks also fell to the lowest level since late 2016, building on sharp declines in Asia amid growing concern about whether a global sell-off was merely a market correction or the start of a deeper rout.

Europe’s Stoxx 600 dropped 2pc in a second day of losses, with declines in all sectors, as World Bank chief Jim Yong Kim warned of worsening trade tensions. Insurance as well as oil and gas shares were the benchmark’s biggest laggards, ending 3.2pc and 3.1pc lower, respectively. That mirrored trends in Ireland where Providence Resources lost more than 8pc, with the oil price being dragged lower. FBD lost almost 4pc.

Italy’s FTSE MIB, the worst performer among regional markets this year, declined 1.8pc, entering a bear market. Concerns about Italy’s debt burden and the fiscal policies of its new government are weighing on European sentiment.

A sell-off in US stocks accelerated in afternoon trading yesterday. The S&P 500 fell more than 2pc, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost as much as 600 points and the Nasdaq 100 Index was down almost 10pc from an August record.

The S&P 500 was on a six-day slide of almost 7pc in what is the longest slump of Donald Trump’s presidency.

US companies are increasingly fretting over the impact of the burgeoning trade war, while the US Fed has been raising interest rates, helping force a repricing of riskier assets like stocks as returns on bonds rise.

John Lynch, chief investment strategist for LPL Financial, told clients that “volatility is back and it may require more active strategies”, adding: “Volatility is also not to be feared, but embraced, as varying data points will cause bouts of market anxiety. But remember that fundamentals are still strong.”

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150,000 self-employed workers get big gains

THE self-employed have emerged as major gainers from the measures announced.

Those who work for themselves will be able to earn more before paying tax, will get a new entitlement to Jobseeker’s Benefit if they lose their jobs, and have escaped any increase in social insurance contributions.

The changes are set to benefit some 150,000 people, the Dáil was told.

The earned income credit will rise by €200 to €1,350. Basically, this is money a self-employed person can earn before they pay tax.

They also gain from the increase of €750 in the income tax standard rate band for all earners.

This goes from €34,550 to €35,300 for single individuals, and from €43,550 to €44,300 for married one-earner couples.

Changes to the 4.75pc universal social charge rate (USC), which is coming down to 4.5pc, will also benefit those who work for themselves.

Department of Finance figures show that a single self-employed earner on €55,000 will be €452 a year better off from the income tax and USC changes, that take effect from next year.

But tax experts said that those who work for themselves are still worse off by €300 than their PAYE counterparts.

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Multinationals hit with surprise tax on assets exiting State

Multinational companies (MNCs) moving assets offshore to another tax jurisdiction now face an exit tax of 12.5pc as a result of Budget 2019.

The new measure, which took effect from midnight last night, will tax unrealised capital gains where companies migrate residence or transfer assets offshore.

The “big surprise” from the Budget follows sweeping changes to the US tax code last year aimed at luring foreign intellectual property and services back to America.

The new exit tax regime, which is not expected to yield any revenue in its first year of operation, is a mandatory, Europe-wide measure that has been introduced by Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe a year ahead of a deadline of January 1, 2020, for member states to comply with the European Union’s Anti-Tax Avoidance Directive (ATAD).

The forthcoming Finance Bill will also provide for the introduction of a Controlled Foreign Company (CFC) regime as required by the ATAD. Together, the new rules will prevent the diversion of profits to offshore entities in low- or no-tax countries.

It had been feared that the exit tax, one of five legally-binding anti-abuse measures to prevent aggressive tax planning, could have been applied in Ireland at the current capital gains tax rate of 33pc rather than the announced 12.5pc.

“By introducing the measure from midnight