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Vaccine debacle raises questions about credibility of Beacon chief

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The Beacon private hospital is at the centre of a storm for providing coronavirus vaccines to teachers at a private school attended by the children of Michael Cullen, the Beacon’s chief executive. Taoiseach Micheál Martin summed up the public mood on Monday by saying the move was “repugnant”.

Although Mr Cullen has survived the first onslaught of demands for his resignation, he now faces the prospect of a review of the debacle by Eugene McCague, a former managing partner of Arthur Cox solicitors and former member of the board of the Health Service Executive (HSE).

His conduct has already led to severe criticism of the south Dublin hospital, owned by businessman Denis O’Brien, after it supplied the excess vaccines to teachers at St Gerard’s school near Bray. With Covid-19 vaccines in short supply and the rate of infection with the virus still high, the sight of one private institution favouring another with a scarce public commodity was toxic.

“The vaccines belong to the people of Ireland and prioritisation to date has been give to the most vulnerable,” the Taoiseach said.

The Government has already suspended the operation of the vaccination centre at the Beacon as a result of the controversy. The hospital had vaccinated more than 9,000 frontline healthcare workers against Covid-19 to date, and was being run as a vaccination centre on behalf of the HSE.

Previous issues

This was not the first point of conflict with the Beacon over the response to the coronavirus pandemic. As a virulent new Covid-19 strain surged in January, the hospital’s initial refusal to provide additional capacity to the State was heavily criticised by Paul Reid, chief executive of the HSE. “It wouldn’t have been a very popular position to have taken,” said one official of the Beacon’s stance, which it ultimately reversed.

The latest accounts for Beacon Medical Group Sandyford Ltd, operator of the hospital, show that it had annual revenues of €142.5 million in 2019 and €17.1 million in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, a key measure of underlying profit. The pretax profit was €1.8 million. The business had rapidly expanded before the pandemic struck a year ago, having grown revenues from €91.7 million in 2016.

The operating company describes the Beacon as “one of the most advanced hospitals in Europe” with “world-class acute care services” and more than 130,000 patient visits in 2019. But now the vaccination debacle has raised glaring questions over the credibility of the hospital’s top executive, Mr Cullen. He has apologised, but that did not deter calls for his removal in advance of a meeting on Monday of the hospital board.

“Upon completion of the [McCague] review, the non-executive members of the board will consider its findings and will at that time take any necessary actions required,” the Beacon said in a statement.

Mr O’Brien’s stance remains pivotal, although he is not himself on the board. But the directors would have to be conscious of his wishes over a question that has disgorged a cascade of negative publicity on the hospital.

Directors

The directors of Beacon Medical Group Sandyford are: Mr Cullen; Colm Doherty, formerly a top executive at AIB; Dermot Hayes, a close business associate of Mr O’Brien; and John Delaney, an accountant whose interests include a directorship with the Fallon & Byrne food retailer.

A subsidiary company – Beacon Hospital Sandyford Ltd – has a bigger board and its directors include Brian Cowen, the former taoiseach who served as minister for health earlier in his political career.

In addition to Mr Cullen, Mr Doherty and Mr Hayes, the other directors are: Barbara Cotter, a solicitor who was a partner with A&L Goodbody and is chairwoman of the State-owned Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland; Brian Fitzgerald, deputy hospital chief executive; Darragh Kavanagh, chief financial officer for the hospital; Niall Devereux, an associate of Mr O’Brien who formerly worked with his Topaz fuel business as well as with health insurer Bupa; Prof Mark Redmond, medical director of the hospital; and Suzanne Garvey, director of clinical hospital operations.

Yet the dominant figure is Mr O’Brien, who bought the hospital in 2014 after the departure of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre, a US private hospital operator.

At the time the purchase was executed by Linkbey, a Jersey company controlled by Mr O’Brien. These days ownership of the hospital is vested in Mr O’Brien’s Isle of Man company Sayum Holdings Corporation, which owns 80 per cent of Beacon Medical Group Sandyford, according to filings. The remaining 20 per cent is held by Beacon Medical Holdings Ltd, whose shareholders include Mr Cullen and Prof Redmond. Other shareholders of this entity include Lucy Gaffney, a close business associate of Mr O’Brien for decades.

At the end of 2019, the Beacon group of hospital companies owed €131 million to Sayum and Beacon Medical Holdings. The group also rents various properties from Mr Cullen and Prof Redmond or their companies and car park spaces from an entity in which they are shareholders.

All eyes now are on Mr McCague.

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Hotel Indigo debuts in Austria

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Hotel Indigo opened its first hotel in Austria, Hotel Indigo Vienna – Naschmarkt. Located a short walk from the city’s historic center, the hotel offers 158 guest rooms, a rooftop garden resembling an urban jungle, a restaurant, and a lobby bar.

 

Taking inspiration from a famed local architect, Otto Wagner, a key member of the Secessionist movement, guests will find touches of gold used throughout the fixtures in the bathrooms as well as intricate patterns, made famous by Otto, woven into the carpet design in the hallway, and the tiles behind reception. Otto’s love for gold, Art Nouveau design, and ornate patterns can also be seen at famous local buildings such as the Majolikahaus, a short walk from the hotel. From ground level, the building looks innocuous, but as guests look skywards, they will see the top floors are decorated with exquisitely sumptuous floral motifs in brightly colored porcelain and gold leaf, a hallmark of the new style.

 

Stefanie Augustin, General Manager, Hotel Indigo Vienna – Naschmarkt, commented: “We are pleased to open our doors and accept our first guests into the first Hotel Indigo in Austria. We sit in the heart of the surrounding neighbourhood and strive to make all the locals proud, by helping to bring a bit of that external story in so guests can truly experience what Vienna has to offer.”

 

 

 

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Tolent secures Newcastle resi project (GB)

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Tolent will put up 135 ‘ultra-modern’ system-build homes, with designs selected from an architectural competition. Sunderland’s new Vaux neighborhood, being built on the site of an old brewery, will eventually have 1,000 homes, according to the plans, as part of a drive to double the number of people living in the city centre. The homes will stand alongside The Beam and City Hall – the latest development to rise from the ground at Riverside Sunderland. Construction work on the scheme is expected to start within weeks, forming the first of the new distinct neighbourhoods that will create city centre housing for up to 2,500 residents.

 

The properties are based on the winning designs in the Homes of 2030 competition, which was launched in March 2020, and managed by the Royal Institute of British Architects, to encourage the design of environmentally-friendly homes that support people in leading independent, fulfilling lives as society ages.? Construction work on the development is due to start this summer and the first tranche of homes should be completed by the end of 2023.

 

Sunderland City Council leader Graeme Miller said: “We’re absolutely thrilled to have taken this final step to get work started on our flagship residential scheme at Riverside Sunderland. The housing developments on Riverside Sunderland will be world-class, and Tolent is an ideal partner to deliver them, based locally and capable of building these aspirational homes.”

 

Tolent chief executive Paul Webster said: “Vaux neighbourhood is an amazing project that showcases the strides being taken in Sunderland to modernise the city centre. The world-class houses being built will provide a community fit for the future and an archetype for sustainable housing. As a truly local business, we are proud to be involved in the project and to showcase our ability to meet and exceed the capabilities of national contractors on a local level. The project will complement a number of local landmarks that we have constructed including The Beam, Beacon of Light and Echo Building. We have been working closely with the entire team since being appointed preferred bidder back in September and we can’t wait to get started.”

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BlackRock acquires Dagenham urban logistics development (GB)

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A joint venture (JV) between Chancerygatea fund managed by Credit Suisse Asset Management, and Hines has forward sold a 172,000ft² urban logistics development in Dagenham to a fund managed by BlackRock for an undisclosed sum. Dagenham Council has approved plans to speculatively build 15 Grade A urban logistics and industrial units at the development which is called Zephyr Park. The units range from 5,490ft² to 34,670ft² and are available leasehold and freehold. Construction is due to commence in August this year. The six-acre site was previously owned by wholesale electrical distributor Rexel UKSituated on Rainham Road between the A12 and A13, Zephyr Park is located less than half a mile from Hackman Capital Partners and Dagenham Council’s proposed €348.5m (£300m) film and TV studios.

 

Chancerygate managing director, Richard Bains, said: “Zephyr Park will be an outstanding urban logistics development which will generate continued investment and job creation for Dagenham. Forward selling Zephyr Park to BlackRock shows the strength in urban logistics as an asset class. It is also a testament to the high specification, a sustainable product we build as it attracts businesses to locate to our developments ensuring they are best placed to continue to grow. We look forward to working with Hines and BlackRock to deliver Zephyr Park and expect to achieve practical completion in summer 2023.”

 

Greg Cooper, Hines managing director, industrial and logistics, added: “We are pleased to have executed this opportunity to recycle this asset, with the value generated illustrating the unabating demand for high-quality logistics developments. It is an asset class which remains a key focus for Hines in the UK, and we are continuing to explore opportunities to grow our portfolio of both big box and urban facilities.”

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