ICG chief paid €2.9m as ferry group defends chair’s 19-year tenure

Some 23% of shareholders voted against the re-election of chairman John B McGuckian, who was on the board for 35 years

Irish Continental Group (ICG) chief executive Eamonn Rothwell’s pay package jumped almost 250 per cent to €2.9 million last year as the parent of Irish Ferries returned to profit after the pandemic and expanded its fledgling Dover-Calais route in the wake of Brexit.

Mr Rothwell also collected €4.28 million of dividends on his 17.7 per cent stake last year as the company handed out €24.2 million of such payments to shareholders, including an interim dividend for 2022.

ICG’s annual report, published on Wednesday, showed Mr Rothwell received a 20 per cent rise in basic pay last year – to €700,000 – and secured a €1.38 million bonus by way of restricted shares, which have a five-year disposal restriction. Share options awarded under a performance share plan were valued at €814,000, while other benefits amounted to €35,000.

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The company earlier this month reported an operating profit of €66.7 million for 2022, a year in which revenues soared almost 75 per cent compared to pandemic-stricken 2021. It had made losses at both operating and net earnings level in 2020 and 2021. Revenues increased by €250.4 million to €584.9 million last year.


As well as benefiting from the easing of travel restrictions, ICG expanded its Dover-Calais service in 2022 with the introduction of its Isle of Inisheer ferry, its third vessel on the route, which it said had made Irish Ferries “a genuine alternative” for all customers on the Channel route. These two factors more than outweighed the drag on costs posed by higher fuel prices and increased activity.

ICG used the annual report to defend chairman John B McGuckian (83) continuing in his role, even though he has held the position for 19 years. The UK Corporate Governance Code, recognised by Euronext Dublin as a standard for good governance, says that non-executive directors should serve no longer than nine years. Mr McGuckian has been on the ICG board for 35 years.

“The board assessed Mr McGuckian to possess an independent mindset with which he carries out his role. The board also considered the knowledge, skills and experience that he contributes and considered him to be both independent in character and judgment and to be of continued significant benefit to the board,” it said.

“While conscious of the recommendations of the UK Code, the board – through the nomination committee – considered it in the best interests of the company and its stakeholders for the chair to continue for 2023. Mr McGuckian’s extensive knowledge of the business ensures appropriate challenge and leadership of the board during this time of strategic expansion of activities.”

Some 23 per cent of shareholders polled at the company’s annual general meeting last year voted against Mr McGuckian’s re-election as chairman – above the 20 per cent threshold that requires it to engage with shareholders under the code.

“The general consensus was that, notwithstanding Mr McGuckian’s tenure, that shareholders were supportive of Mr McGuckian continuing as a director and chairman of the board in the circumstances where the group faced significant challenges relating to Covid-19 and was undertaking major strategic initiatives,” ICG said.

“The [nomination] committee was aware that a minority of shareholders had expressed a dissatisfaction with the board’s progress on achieving greater gender diversity on the board and voted against the re-election of Mr McGuckian in his role as chair of the nominations committee.”

ICG appointed Éimear Moloney, a former investment manager with Zurich Life, to its board last August, doubling the percentage of women on the board to 33 per cent.

Joe Brennan

Joe Brennan

Joe Brennan is Markets Correspondent of The Irish Times