Irish company reputedly owned by parent body in the British Virgin Islands to establish a base in Sligo

Abtran ‘has at least ten government and public contracts’ according to TD.

Allegations of lobbying raised during Leaders’ Questions in Dail.

The company is said to have received ‘over €14.4m in fees for operating the Local Property Tax service since March 2013.’

‘Tremendous day for Sligo and the North West,’ says Minister

Sligo News File.

Abtran, an Irish company reputedly owned by a parent body in the British Virgin Islands, is to establish a base in Sligo where it says that it plans to create 350 jobs over the next few years.

It’s understood that the Business Process Outsourcing provider, with Irish headquarters based in Cork, holds contracts for the Local Property Tax, Irish Water, HSE, the ESB, An Post, the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland and other services, including the processing of the country’s NDLS driving licence applications.

The use of Abtran has come under attack from the Civil and Public Service Union which claimed that monies being paid to Abtran is an inefficient use of public funds and represents a very poor return for money for the taxpayer as there is no skill base being built up.

“In our view,” says the Union, “there is absolutely no reason why this service cannot be delivered both effectively and efficiently by permanent civil servants.”

Commenting further in 2015, the Union stated: “While Revenue has argued that it is necessary to renew the Abtran contract to meet the peaks and troughs in call volumes, CPSU has not heard any argument to date as to why civil servants cannot meet those same demands.”

The Irish Examiner reports that the company has received over €14.4m in fees for operating the Local Property Tax service since March 2013.

In January 2016, Catherine Murphy, TD, said that Abtran “has at least ten government and public contracts.”

Speaking during Leaders’ Questions in the Dail, she also claimed that former Environment Minister Phil Hogan lobbied for a company that won an Irish Water contract after he received an e-mail referring to him as ‘Phil’.

Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy.

The Dail report quotes Deputy Murphy as saying:

“Over the lifetime of the Government, a number of serious concerns have been raised about probity and accountability. Today I want to discuss yet another which I believe merits scrutiny. This is the awarding of the call centre work for Irish Water to the Cork-based company Abtran. The Tánaiste will recall that Abtran got the contract for the Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, grant system, and came under serious criticism, and rightly so, for its failings. It cost an additional almost €6 million. Despite this, it
went on to be awarded the property tax contract and Revenue had to step in because initially it failed to cope. After both of these high-profile failings it was awarded the call centre work for Irish Water. We know that Abtran has at least ten other Government and public contracts. One of the criteria for the tendering process for the Irish Water contract was the company had to have a turnover of €20 million for the preceding three years. Given that Abtran had a number of lucrative State contracts prior to the Irish Water contract, the State certainly improved Abtran’s ability to meet the criteria laid down in the process. What is interesting is how the contract was awarded and the obvious questions it raises about probity and the awarding of the contract.

“Through freedom of information I have established that on 15 February 2012 the private secretary of the then Minister, Phil Hogan, received a fairly informal e-mail seeking a meeting with “Phil” to lobby on behalf of Abtran. On the same day at 5 p.m. an e-mail was sent stating the Minister had agreed to meet the company. On 27 February of the same year we know from Gavin Sheridan’s publication of the Minister’s diary that the Minister met the person who sent the original lobbying e-mail, Mr. O’Byrnes, and the
co-owner of Abtran. In March 2013 the company was awarded the contract.

“The Irish Water call centre contract is lucrative. It is worth approximately €50 million over four years. We know through freedom of information that one of the key criteria for the firm to which the contract would be awarded was to have a proven track record. I presume this means a good proven track record. Given the criteria, is the Tánaiste satisfied that despite the very public failings of Abtran on SUSI and the property tax that it was still awarded an extremely lucrative contract by the State? Is she aware that in
late 2015, a State investment vehicle invested an undisclosed sum of money in Abtran? Does she know what the money was for and how much it was? Is she concerned about what appears to be the favouring of Abtran for Government funds?”

Welcoming Abtran to Sligo, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys T.D., said, “This is a tremendous day for Abtran, for Sligo and for the North West. One of the Government’s big priorities is ensuring we have the right conditions and supports in place to encourage job creation in the regions.

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation,
Heather Humphreys.

“That’s why I’m delighted to announce this significant investment by Abtran in a new regional hub, which will create 350 jobs in Sligo. The company’s continuous innovation, market leadership and investment in high-quality resources have made this indigenous Irish business deeply competitive.

“The fact that they have chosen to invest in the North West to serve their business markets both at home and abroad is a testament to the confidence they have in the region and its talented workforce. Ireland will continue to be an acknowledged leader in this sector driven by initiatives like this by Abtran.”

Abtran, which provides outsourcing services to government sectors utilities clients, and financial services, said its new Sligo centre would be operational by the end of the third quarter this year.

The company was established in Cork in 1997, and employs more than 2,000 people in Cork, Dublin and India.

Chief executive Pat Ryan said: “We believe it is very important to support national and regional economic development wherever possible through the growth of our operations.”

Enterprise Ireland chief executive Julie Sinnamon said Abtran was “a great example of how an Irish business, with a blueprint for services innovation, can successfully accelerate and rapidly scale its business in international markets.”