Belfast Telegraph

It's certainly a year to remember... and forget

By Margaret Canning

It's time say goodbye to a tough but nonetheless gripping year for business and the economy in Northern Ireland, the UK and around the world.

Homegrown heavy hitters old and new like Almac and Chain Reaction Cycles are gladly firing on all cylinders, but the economy and depressed consumer confidence is still dragging down many others (hopefully this column doesn't make matters worse).

Unemployment surpassed the 60,000 mark in August. There have been at least 200 company insolvencies and up to 2,000 bankruptcies.

This year will be remembered as the year when some big players in property collapsed, such as The Carvill Group, while others watched with weary resignation as a cumulative £3.35bn in loans on Northern Ireland assets were absorbed by Nama. Two years into its life-span and now a lively toddler, Nama's actions in Northern Ireland are getting more interesting.

Individuals like Mervyn McAlister in Ballycastle and Sam Thompson in Dromore became the poster boys for the downward cycle in the property market as their names entered the bankruptcy list.

Yet the interest in those one-time tycoons was nothing compared to the global fascination with Fermanagh's Sean Quinn, formerly Ireland's richest man, when he out-manoeuvred his creditor Anglo Irish Bank by declaring himself bankrupt in Belfast.

That bankruptcy will be short-lived, if Anglo wins the day in court in Belfast this week.

There was another reversal of fortune in Co Fermanagh this year for Jim Treacy, the owner and creator of Lough Erne Resort and Golf Spa. His beloved creation was taken over by administrators at the instigation of Bank of Scotland (Ireland) as it prepared to exit Ireland.

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson also deserves recognition. The former economics teacher developed a Robin Hood tax to charge big retailers extra rates and use that rate increase to fund an extension of the small business rate relief. He locked horns with the mighty Tesco, accusing them of trying to "bluster and blow and bully" - leading to his Clubcard being forever marked.

Another strong contender for business headline-maker of the year is Secretary of State Owen Paterson for his tireless championing of a lower corporation tax for Northern Ireland.

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