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Friday 29 August 2014

Mansfields tight-lipped about selling Citywest

RONALD QUINLAN Special Correspondent

Published 05/01/2014 | 02:30

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MUM’S THE WORD: PJ Mansfierld arriving at Tassaggart House, Citywest last Friday but would say very little on the €27m sale of the iconic Citywest hotel. Photo: Tony Gavin.
Jim Mansfield
Jim Mansfield

'OH, you're reporters. I was relieved when I saw the cameras."

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That was the curious thing said to me when I showed up at Jim Mansfield's palatial home last Friday, looking to speak to Jimmy Jr about the recent sale of the iconic Citywest Hotel.

It was an unusual remark, but I never got the chance to ask the man who described himself as a friend of the Mansfield family what he meant by it -- or his other comment that I looked "foreign" -- owing to the arrival on the scene of Jimmy Jr's better-known brother, PJ.

Looking tanned and fit as usual, and sitting comfortably behind the wheel of a gleaming BMW 5 Series, PJ was certainly far more relaxed than the individual with whom I had just been speaking to through the electronically controlled gates of Tassaggart House.

I asked PJ through his car's driver-side window about the recent sale of the Citywest Hotel for €27m to a consortium of high rollers with links to locations as exotic and diverse as Monaco, Hong Kong, the Lebanon and Switzerland.

The laconic PJ answered: "I don't know anything about that."

The handing over of the keys to Citywest -- and its adjoining 4,000 person-capacity convention centre and golf course to the British Virgin Island based BSQ Investments -- will be deeply felt by the ailing property tycoon, Jim Mansfield.

At the height of the boom, the venue was said to be worth an estimated €100m and was the jewel in the crown of an empire that Jim Snr had built up over three decades around the west Dublin village of Saggart.

Citywest Hotel allowed Mr Mansfield to flex his considerable financial muscle but it also afforded him a special status among Ireland's political establishment.

Year after year, the hotel played host to the Ard Fheiseanna of the nation's semi-permanent powerbrokers, Fianna Fail.

The walls of the lobby leading into the hotel's massive banquet room are still bedecked with photographs of Mr Mansfield in happier times and in the company of such luminaries as the then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

However, what was once a gallery of Ireland's great and good has all the appearances today of a museum exhibit or a shrine to the Celtic Tiger.

Aside from the latest sacrifice he has had to make with the sale of his beloved Citywest Hotel, Mr Mansfield has also had to sell numerous of his and the family's valuable property assets in an effort to satisfy his creditors.

Some €300m was owed to Nama and the Bank of Scotland alone, by the time his HSS group of companies were put into voluntary liquidation in January 2011.

Only last June, the Comer brothers -- Brian and Luke -- snapped up the Mansfields' beloved Palmerstown House estate and golf course for a relatively modest €8m after Nama ordered its sale as part of its efforts to recoup the millions it is owed arising from Mr Mansfield's boom-era borrowings from Irish banks.

Four months earlier, the Mansfield family waved goodbye to Weston Executive Airport when Nama-appointed receiver Kieran Wallace of KPMG offloaded it for €3.5m to the Galway-based civil engineering firm Brian Conneely & Co Associates.

The private airport, which Mr Conneely now intends to upgrade with a view to increasing traffic, had controversially hit the headlines in 2006.

Authorities seized heroin worth an estimated €7m on board a plane which had been bound for Belgium.

In a further embarrassment for Jim Mansfield, the plane carrying the illicit drug was found to have been registered in his name.

It was understood, however, that the plane had been rented out after the jet normally used by the gang involved was grounded for repairs.

Mr Mansfield denied any involvement in the affair, saying at the time: "Weston is one of the only airports in Ireland that no drug has got through."

He said he was shocked to have found his plane being used by smugglers and said he was never implicated in any crime.

Last December, another of the Mansfield family's assets -- the Finnstown Country House Hotel in Lucan, Co Dublin, passed from their ownership when it was sold to a consortium headed up by Louth-based businessman Kevin McGeough for a sum believed to be in the region of €4m.

That Jim Mansfield has had to see everything he once owned slip through his fingers while continuing to battle against Multiple System Atrophy (MSA) must make it all the more difficult to take.

MSA is a degenerative condition which he has had for several years.

The last time I got to speak to the once powerful tycoon at any length, he described how the illness had come to dominate his life, saying: "There are times when I can't even talk right. It comes and goes, but there is no clear day now. It controls everything."

Irish Independent

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