Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Bookmaker collapse threatens homes

A sign in the window of a branch of Celtic Bookmakers in Capel Street, Dublin, after the business was put into receivership
Celtic Bookmakers, which is run by former Government minister Ivan Yates, has been placed in receivership

The elderly mother of Government minister turned bookmaker Ivan Yates risks losing her home after his business collapsed.

The former Fine Gael TD is also battling to save his own home and part of the four-generations-old family farm put up to secure bank loans for the Celtic Bookmakers chain.

Newstalk presenter Mr Yates and his wife Deirdre owe AIB six million euro and have landlords demanding "surrender" money after they quit leases in failing shops. But the couple who have run the betting chain since 1987 vowed to honour all bets.

Mr Yates said: "I take full responsibility for this commercial disaster. There's no hiding place for me on this and the consequences are there. I was part of the Celtic Tiger thrusting forward. I gave up politics to drive this ambition to create a national brand and family business and it has ended in tears."

A receiver has been appointed to the business. Between 15 and 20 of the 47 shops are not performing and it is hoped more than 100 jobs can be saved from the 237 strong workforce as shops are sold as going concerns. The business is up for sale, either as separate shops or the chain.

Mr Yates could be facing bankruptcy, repossession of a bungalow built for his 78-year-old mother Mary on family land at Blackstoops, Enniscorthy, the ancestral family home and farm and his own home in Dublin. Mr Yates' son Andrew also works for the business. All the property was used as collateral against bank loans.

The Yateses, descendants of whiskey-maker John Jameson, had about 90 acres of farmland in Wexford at one stage. Mr Yates said he is also being pursued by landlords after quitting leases on failing shops over the last two years. Twelve shops were closed down and in some towns owners are looking for two and half times the standard charge. A number of court actions have been taken against Mr Yates by landlords to reclaim some of this money.

Celtic Bookmakers suffered a 50% fall in business in the last three years. "Like many, we did not anticipate the rapid decline in the economy, but I acknowledge that the accelerated growth of the business placed the company in a difficult position given the extent of the recession," Mr Yates said.

Mr Yates and his wife believe the company has gone bust as liabilities exceed assets. In 2007 Celtic Bookmakers had annual income of 180 million euro and an operating profit of four million euro. Since then, it has reduced costs from 17 million euro to less than 12 million euro, including closing 12 loss-making shops. At the height of its business boom Yates was told his company was worth 32 million euro and offered to borrow 16 million euro to expand. Two shops in Wales which trade under Celtic Bookmakers brand but operate as a separate business are also for sale.

Mr Yates said worsening trading conditions last year stopped the company from securing a suitable merger, refinancing or restructuring despite efforts over many months. The couple asked AIB to appoint a receiver with Neil Hughes of Hughes Blake Accountants to oversee the running of the company during the next few weeks.

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