Examinerships were introduced in the 1990 Companies Act to bail out Goodman International, the beef company whose imminent collapse would have affected the economy.

The legislation was intended to give large businesses protection from their creditors to allow them restructure their financial affairs and trade through difficulties that could have made them insolvent.

A petition to the High Court is made and the court must satisfy itself that the company has a reasonable prospect of survival before appointing an examiner.

Friday afternoons in particular tend to be a time of gossip in the Four Courts as speculation mounts about whether a company is going to apply for an examinership.

The petition for an examiner­ship must include an independent accountant's report, stating the company's current financial position and whether it truly has a prospect for survival. Otherwise, an application for court protection is required.

Many of the companies seeking the appointment of an examiner need fresh investment and therefore it's common for the court to be told of the number of investors showing interest in the company to help it out of its difficulties. Earlier this year, Mr Justice Peter Kelly said such investors were now "as rare as hen's teeth".

If an examinership is granted, then a company has protection from creditors for up to 100 days, allowing it time to draft a rescue plan. Another 21 days can be added to allow a scheme of arrangement to be implemented. The scheme of arrangement must be endorsed by creditors.

Critics of the process say that the 100-day period is often not enough to attract the kind of investment needed to secure a company's future.

At one stage, as many as 93% of companies that went into examinership emerged successfully and continued to trade. However the number of successes has dropped in recent years as the economy tailed off.

Research released by accounting firm Grant Thornton showed that, in the first half of 2008, for every one company that had a success­ful outcome to the process, three-and-a-half companies failed and ceased trading.