There is considerable speculation in the Irish industry about the direction of the family owned Ward Anderson Group, the country's largest exhibitor.

Last Friday, the staff associated with the Ward family's side of the business moved out of Ward Anderson Group headquarters, Filmhouse, on Dublin's Abbey Street.

On Monday morning, the Ward staff were all re-housed in offices at the IMC cinema in the southern suburb of Dun Laoghaire and there was some uncertainty in the distribution trade about where to call to arrange print bookings for the week ahead.

The Ward family's move from Filmhouse may have been prompted by Dublin's infamous inner-city congestion. However, some industry figures believe, quoting the long association with Abbey Street, that the sudden nature of the move may herald a further separation of the Ward and Anderson family interests.

Abbey Street in Dublin's city centre has for many years been the hub of the Irish film trade, much as Wardour Street is in London. For the past thirty years, Filmhouse has been the headquarters for the many interconnected Ward Anderson Group companies, established by Leo Ward and Kevin Anderson fifty years ago.

Both men are now in their eighties and retain an active interest in the business. In addition to substantial cinema and real estate holdings there is also a distribution company, Abbey Films, and associated companies which furnish and equip cinemas. There is no reliable independent valuation of the companies' worth but it would be into hundreds of millions of Euros if property holdings are taken into account.

Until the arrival of UCI in 1991 heralded the beginning of the multiplex era, Ward Anderson's collective cinema holdings accounted for approximately 80% of the total Irish exhibition business.

The competition encouraged renewed investment in the trade by the Ward Anderson Group and they are estimated to have retained approximately 50% of the business on the island of Ireland through a period of extraordinary growth in the trade.

As the businesses have come increasingly under the control of Ward and Anderson's sons in recent years there had been a gradual separation of elements of the exhibition business between Irish Multiplex Cinemas, run by Paul Ward, and Omniplex Holdings, run by Paul Anderson.

Neither Paul Ward nor Paul Anderson were available for comment.