Opening Bell: Rents rise 10%, NAMA hit back, MEPs on Vestager's "bravery"

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NAMA has said it fundamentally rejects the findings of a damning report from the Comptroller & Auditor General on the sale of its Northern Ireland portfolio.

The agency insists it wrote down the value of the Project Eagle loans at the correct rate.

Seamus McCarthy had concluded that the decision to sell the portfolio at a minimum price of £1.3 billion (€1.53bn) involved a significant probable loss of value to the State.

NAMA chief executive Brendan McDonagh argued:

"His calculation is based on an accounting value of the portfolio as opposed to the market standard value of the portfolio that any bidder would bid for the portfolio.

"So we do not except that there was any money lost for the tax payer..."

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Retail Ireland has called on unions to end the Dublin Bus strike and for all parties to return to the talks table.

Director Thomas Burke made the case that trade is down, footfall is down, and the timing of the action on key shopping days is particularly damaging.

He said:

"It's a crucial part of Dublin's transport infrastructure and cutting off such a vital service, not just last week but over a number of days now, will have an undoubted impact upon the city. It's very difficult to put a figure on it at this stage...

"The consensus seems to be that revenues and sales were down somewhere in the region of 20% to 30% on average on the days of the strike. We need to bear in mind that these are crucial days in Dublin city centre. Thursday evening and Friday evening are big shopping days."

Up to 400,000 commuters across the capital are facing travel disruption as the company holds its third day of strike action.

The drivers are striking in pursuit of a 15% pay increase.

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Private rents are up nearly 10% across the country.

The latest information from the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) says Dublin rents are at a new peak – which is 3.9% higher than their previous highest level in 2007.

RTB director Rosalind Carroll says that significant increases are not confined to the Dublin region, but also occurring in other parts of the country.

"Population is increasing but also migration in terms of people coming into the country for the first time since 2009," Carroll said.

"We've continued to undersupply in the market. But we also think there's seasonal factors involved such as short term lets and things like that which, in a market that's volatile and there is undersupply, it can have a huge impact on the overall market."

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EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has defended her finding that Ireland granted illegal state aid to Apple.

Vestager told the European Parliament at a debate on the ruling in Strasbourg:

"If taxes are not being paid by some, then they have to be paid by others, and that is why it is not fair competition when some member states hand out selective tax benefits."

The commissioner noted that Apple had only paid 0.005% tax in 2014, meaning they handed over a mere €50 from every €1 million profit made in Ireland.

MEPs overwhelmingly voiced their support for the finding, with a number praising Vestager's "courage" and "bravery".

Fine Gael's Seán Kelly and Brian Hayes were among the few MEPs criticising the decision, while Sinn Féin's Matt Carthy took aim at Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil for opting to appeal the ruling.