Friday 31 October 2014

Ben Dunne: ‘I joked with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness over my kidnapping’

Published 04/05/2014 | 11:43

Ben Dunne. Picture: Gerry Mooney
Ben Dunne. Picture: Gerry Mooney

BEN DUNNE has revealed that he joked with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness over his kidnapping in 1981.

The former supermarket tycoon said he was at a charity event which he invited to by Sinn Fein’s Mary McDonald. Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were also present at event.

“I was sitting at the top table with Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams and they didn’t look comfortable at all. I wasn’t too comfortable myself. So I turned around and said, ‘Listen fellas if this is a fundraising lunch, it is a refund I’ll be looking for’. They broke their hearts laughing and we had a fantastic lunch.”

Mr Dunne was kidnapped by the IRA in October 1981 and held captive for six days, sparking a nationwide search.

In a wide ranging interview with Miriam O’Callaghan on RTE Radio, Dunne reflected extensively on his kidnapping in 1981.

He revealed that a ransom was paid to secure his freedom but he said he had no idea how much the ransom was. He also denied that property developer Patrick Gallagher and former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey had anything to do with the payment of the ransom.

“In my opinion, they had nothing to do with it and I think I would have an idea if they had.”

He also argued that the ransom paid was “far less” than the IR£1.5m that has been reported as being paid.

“I was never worth £1.5m. I was never told how much it was. I asked my father and he wouldn’t tell me.

He said that he didn’t co-operate with the guards when he was released as he was intimidated after the kidnapping.

“I was left in no uncertain terms that my kidnappers knew where my children went to school and where my wife shopped so I didn’t co-operate.”

He said he had vivid memories of the kidnapping.

“I was on the way to open a Dunnes Stores in Portadown. A car did a U-turn in front of me and I swerved past it. I stopped the car and these people got out of the other car. I thought they were coming to apologise but they had balaclavas and submachine guns and the rest is history.”

Mr Dunne was kidnapped by the IRA in October 1981 and held captive for six days, sparking a nationwide search.

He said he didn’t fear for his life after talking to his captives.

“I asked them three times whether they were going to kill me. On the fourth time, one of them turned around and said if we were going to kill, we would have have done it already. I have a fairly logically brain and that calmed me down.”

He said he reflected on the kidnapping and didn’t try to ignore it.

“Having led the life that I have led, I have to look back with enjoyment. So you have to look back at every event and try and see the funny side. On night three of the kidnapping, I asked for a beer. One of the men shouted out and said ‘the big fellow is looking for a bottle of beer’. The guy outside shouted back in ‘Give him what he wants, he’s a paying guest.’ So even with serious situations like that, you have to see the funny side.”

He said he went back to work the “following day” after he was released from the kidnapping. He said that he didn’t believe that any trauma from the kidnapping played any part in subsequent decisions he made in his life.

“I  had the right to go for counselling but I didn’t go. I did mad things after the kidnapping but I don’t blame it for that. It had nothing to do with it.”

In 1992 Mr Dunne was arrested for cocaine possession and soliciting a prostitute in Orlando, Florida, USA. He was in possession of 31.5 grams of cocaine. He admitted taking the drug but denied he was a trafficker. The court dropped trafficking charges and fined him $5,000 for possession.

Mr Dunne checked into a London drug clinic after being ordered by a Florida court to undergo a month's treatment for cocaine abuse. Those events proved to be a wake-up call, and he set about changing his lifestyle.

But his arrest led to his humiliating exit from the positions of chief executive and chairman at Dunnes Stores

“I know people who have lived through traumatic experiences and anything I have gone through is minor in comparison.

He attributed the Florida incident to “delinquency”

“There were times I didn’t want to be Ben Dunne and I wanted to forget about it for a while. It was delinquency.”

He said he stopped being a "delinquent" due to the help of a psychiatrist.

“I saw many psychiatrists afterwards. They were able to bring me back to a balanced person but I have to watch it. I can still be a delinquent.”

He also admitted he still sees a psychiatrist. “I changed myself with professional help. I still do.”

He said he had no regrets of anything in his life.

“I have learned from every experience. The most important thing when you’re in a tight corner is to hold your own nerve. You have to find it yourself.”

He said that he the biggest challenge he has ever faced was keeping his marriage together.

“That was my greatest challenge. She stood by me and brought me where I am today. We are 41 years together and hopefully we will spend the rest of our lives together.”

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