Entrepreneur to compete with BT in Ireland

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The Independent Online

The entrepreneur who sold an Irish phone company to British Telecom for £1.5bn last January has left the group he founded and is now planning to buy BT's biggest competitor in Ireland.

The entrepreneur who sold an Irish phone company to British Telecom for £1.5bn last January has left the group he founded and is now planning to buy BT's biggest competitor in Ireland.

Stockbrokers in the Republic have been surprised that the UK company did not require Denis O'Brien to make a commitment not to compete in the country's telecommunications market following the sale of his company.

Mr O'Brien was chief executive and founder of Esat Telecom, the Republic's second largest phone group, which had mobile, internet and fixed-line businesses. The entrepreneur received in excess of £160m personally when he sold the company to BT.

Over the past two weeks it has emerged that he has tabled a £1.4bn bid for the fixed-line business of Eircom, the former state telephone company. Mr O'Brien has formed a consortium called e-Island, with six other former Esat directors and funding from Chase Manhattan bank in the US. Analysts acknowledge that if Mr O'Brien succeeds in acquiring Eircom he will be a significant threat to BT's operation in Ireland.

The outspoken entrepreneur is often described as Ireland's answer to Sir Richard Branson as the Dubliner has a plethora of investments, including radio stations, internet companies, a power station, a golf course and a recruitment firm.

"It would be unusual not to get a non-compete clause, and he knows the market better than most people," said Scott Rankin, an analyst with Davy Stockbrokers.

At a recent press conference to announce his bid, Mr O'Brien said: "BT never asked if I would go into business again. At 42 years of age there are a few years left on the clock."

Last week there was extensive media speculation in Dublin that Dr AJF O'Reilly, executive chairman of Independent News and Media, which publishes The Independent and The Independent on Sunday, may personally form a consortium to bid for Eircom's fixed-line and multi-media businesses.

Eircom is already engaged in exclusive negotiations with Vodafone to sell its mobile business for £3.19bn.

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