I am going to write at length about the Aughinish Alumina plant in a moment. But first, I want to say thanks. Last week, I said that we would donate all new membership income to the UNICEF Ukraine Crisis Appeal. We have been overwhelmed by the number of new members that have signed up. Our appeal runs until midnight, so there is still time. As I said last week, all new membership money goes entirely to UNICEF.

I also want to thank our existing members, whose support has allowed The Currency to donate a further €10,000 to the appeal. Sincerely, thank you.


The Aughinish Alumina plant is one of the largest employers in the midwest. The Limerick operation has more than 400 people on its payroll, and in 2020 had a wages and salaries bill of $46 million. It is a vitally important part of the local economy, providing sustainable employment in an area of the country with a high unemployment rate.

And it is a significant operation. Aughinish Alumina’s extraction plant on a 1,000-acre site on Aughinish island is the largest of its kind in Europe and it accounts for approximately one third of the total alumina production in western Europe. In 2020, it had revenues of $525 million. Despite a loss-making year in 2020, the business was still sitting on $300 million accumulated profits, according to its latest accounts.

However, the plant’s largest ultimate shareholder is Oleg Derispaska, one of a number of Russian billionaires sanctioned by the UK government last week as a result of their close ties to the Kremlin. The sanctions do not have any immediate impact on the Limerick plant – for a variety of reasons that I will deal with later. But that is not to say that Ireland needs not consider its links with Derispaska.

Let’s deal with his role in the company. Aughinish is owned by Rusal, which itself is 56.88 per cent owned by EN+. Both are both Russian companies – Rusal listed in Hong Kong while EN+ is listed in London.

Thomas has tracked Derispaska’s holdings in relation to various entities. Essentially, the oligarch owns 44.9 per cent of EN+ and 35 per cent of its voting rights. He used to own more but sold down after he was sanctioned by the US a number of years ago – the sale was a massive relief to the government at the time as it was fast becoming a political and economic problem given the huge employment at the plant.

Deripaska sold down his majority stake in EN+ and left the boards of EN+ and Rusal in 2019 so that US sanctions also imposed on those companies in 2018 were lifted. Life moved on.

Until last week, when the UK imposed sanctions on him again. Trade unions at the plant are understandably concerned due to the link with the oligarch.

However, for Aughinish to be sanctioned, it would take one of the following:

  • sanctions against EN+ or Rusal as private Russian companies;
  • sanctions against the Russian aluminium industry as a whole;
  • sanctions against Deripaska extending to businesses in which he is a minority shareholder (e.g. above a certain threshold).

As things stand, the future of the plant seems secure. While the UK has imposed sanctions against the man behind the companies, there have been no EU sanctions on Deripaska, EN+ or Rusal. It is in a strange limbo and highlights the vagaries of both international law and the impact of Brexit.

So for the time being, the Irish government can have the best of both worlds. It can back the EU sanctions that curb the flow of capital by Russian special-purpose vehicles through the IFSC, while allowing a trading company, largely owned by an oligarch being sanctioned by the UK, to continue to operate. We are essentially shutting down the shell companies but keeping meaningful jobs.

How long can this continue?

Take the intervention by Niall Collins, Minister of State for Skills and Further Education Niall and a Limerick TD. He told RTÉ that he does not believe recent sanctions will affect operations at the Limerick plant. “We are designing sanctions to impact Russia and not impact jobs here,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Enterprise went on record as saying the government was keen that the Limerick-based facility continues to operate.

The West has waged an economic war against Russia following its illegal and horrendous invasion of Ukraine, rather than a military way. But we have to remember that economic wars have consequences also.

So far, Ireland has followed the EU lead and stopped a number of Russian firms and individuals from funnelling their money through the IFSC – something that should have happened years before. Bar the fees being earned by professional services firms, this has impacted no one on the ground in Ireland. (A number of professional service advisers have culled their relationships with Russian firms, something Thomas explored last week).

But this country seems unprepared to deal with the more unpalatable aspects of economic wars – jobs losses.

No one wants to see 450 people lose their jobs in Limerick. But the state needs to ask itself some hard questions if it allows an oligarch to operate here while also standing with the people of Ukraine. Wars – whether economic or military – have consequences.

The government needs to start planning to ensure that the plant can still maintain employment while cutting off its links with an unseemly investor. As I have written before, we need to revalue our relationship with the Russian regime – even if there are consequences.

It was a topic that many of our columnists dealt with last week. Sinead, for example, asked a simple question: How did we get there? The answer, however, was far more complex:

“We marginalized the people who dedicate their lives to understanding and working towards resolving the complexity of our world. We chose to read 360 characters at a time instead of 360 pages. We engaged in activities that lead to shorter attention spans with higher highs. We cancelled before we tried to understand. We made, and lost, a quick buck instead of investing in long-term change.”

Stephen, meanwhile, stated that the economy is about to endure yet another shock, and asked what we are going to do about it.

He wrote:

“January 2022 saw an economy deeply scarred by Covid. Those scars are still there, we still need to deal with them. January 2022 saw a rebounding private sector experiencing a burst of inflation. Those tendencies are still there. The difference is the international context. We have to adapt to it. Small states are generally characterised as successful or not, depending on their speed of adaptation. Ireland can and will adapt. If we do so without being cruel, without harming those most vulnerable — especially our new Ukrainian guests — we will be on the right track.”

These are all topics we will be returning to over the coming days and weeks.


In other coverage last week, we carried a large number of interviews and features on domestic businesses. Francesca wrote about the Galway-headquartered firm Bio-Medical Research, which has blamed its current woes on everything from Brexit to Apple to being not so big in Japan.

Six months after the first American Eagle shop opened in Dublin, the US clothing brand terminated the European franchise, leaving an Irish company facing multi-million debts and liquidation. In a surprise move, the publicly traded Pittsburgh firm then tried to save the business through examinership – but not everyone was happy, according to our report.

Bruno Candès is a partner at the French private equity firm that owns the Mater Private Hospital, a group of 14 nursing homes and has just agreed to buy half of eir’s fibre network. He told Thomas why Irish infrastructure fits Infravia’s strategy.

Ronan wrote about how Irish housing policy had created a “forgotten middle’’. Essentially, some people have the financial means to cover their housing needs, while others qualify for state support. Ronan argued that there is a forgotten middle made up of people who are outside either group. And the demographic trends reveal this will get much worse.

Roadbridge is one of Ireland’s largest construction firms. And last week, it fell into receivership. Sean unpicked the the structural flaws in its business model?