Opening Bell: Irish Life closing staff pensions, Noonan defends AIB float, Irish competitiveness praised

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Irish Life is closing its staff pension scheme, prompting fears that traditional defined benefit plans will now disappear from the private sector.

The Irish Independent reports that unions at the State's largest pension provider want the law urgently changed in a bid to stop the company closing the plan for 1,200 staff.

It comes despite the scheme having a €150 million surplus, a rare occurrence for a private sector scheme.

The scheme provides a pension of two-thirds of employees' salary at retirement at age 65, for those with 40 years' service.

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Michael Noonan has said that selling off our shares in AIB will make it easier to encourage more banking competition.

The Finance Minister told the Seanad last night that the flotation of a 25% stake will be a signal to outsiders that the Government won't interfere with the market.

He's been defending plans to return the bank to the stock market, which is set to raise around €3bn in the process.

The Dáil recently passed a Labour party motion to prevent the sale, until the earnings could be used on capital investment.

Noonan said:

"These disposals will also help reduce our elevated national debt and can foster further competition in the Irish banking market by removing any perception of state interference that might dissuade new entrants.

"The fact is that the fiscal rules are enshrined in Irish law in the Fiscal Responsibility Act 20212, which followed on the referendum where this question was put to the Irish people who decided, by a majority of 60-40, that the Fiscal Responsibility Act was an appropriate way to control expenditure in the future.

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The IDA has revealed that construction work is about to get underway at Takeda Ireland's site at Grange Castle in Dublin.

IDA spokesperson Kevin Sammon says  the pharma research giant is on track to create 40 new jobs over the next two years, as it makes good on a €40m investment pledged last December.

Sammon also noted that Ireland is getting the balance right when it comes to providing talent and innovation for major investors.

"Pharmaceutical companies are looking for exactly that and Ireland continues to offer a very good propositions in terms of companies being able to innovate and conduct their research and development...

"[Takeda is] yet another pharmaceutical that's voting with millions of euro of investment for Ireland.

"We've had a number of excellent investments over the last couple of weeks and it shows that Ireland continues to offer the right balance of talent, track record and innovation.

"Talent is one of the most important and scarcest resources in the world at the moment and research and development talent is very strong in Ireland."

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Ireland has had its best showing in IMD's world competitive rankings since the turn of the century.

The Swiss business school placed the country in sixth position this year, up a spot from 2016. It was ranked 17th just four years ago.

The positive 2017 placing was attributed to Ireland's recent economic performance, strong and consistent inward investment and a high level of business efficiency.

Ireland ranked third in overall business efficiency. It also ranked first in investment incentives and real growth of gross fixed capital formations.

The survey of 63 countries is seen as one of the most reputable barometers of international competitiveness. Ireland's highest ranking was fifth in 2000.

Hong Kong and Switzerland topped the rankings once again in 2017, with Switzerland and Singapore coming second and third respectively.

The US, the Netherlands, Ireland, Denmark, Luxembourg, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) completed the top 10.