The 'Dunner' hasn't given up on Ireland as he reopens hotel
Published 04/12/2011 | 05:00
HE famously paid €379m at the height of the boom for his dream of bringing Knightsbridge to Ballsbridge -- and ended up losing all of it.
But Sean Dunne insists that he doesn't regret the massive price he paid for the former Jurys and Berkeley Court Hotels in Dublin 4, refuses to dwell on the past and is adamant that he will not play the blame game.
Back in Dublin for the eleventh time this year to oversee the completion of repairs and renovations on the Ballsbridge Inn in the wake of last October's flooding, the Carlow-born developer is determined to maintain a positive outlook both for himself and for his country.
Referring to the success of the construction workers and the hotel's own staff in getting everything back up and running by last Friday's target date, he says: "Everybody rowed in. It was great. It was positive. We were very fortunate to have three very good insurance policies with Ace, Chubb and Zurich, who were more than helpful in ensuring there was cash flow to see the hotel reopened on time."
But while that kind of enthusiasm might go down well in America, where he says he now lives "practically full-time", Mr Dunne understands that right now it's a harder sell in Ireland.
So is the US a better place to be when you're a developer who has tried and failed, but would like to try again?
"It is refreshing because in America failed business people don't get tarnished. They are encouraged to reinvent themselves and come back again.
"We all took risks and that's what entrepreneurs do; that's what ordinary business people do every day of the week."
Addressing the criticism of his decision to leave for the US, he insists that he had already "predominantly left" Ireland in 2007.
"It's probably fair to point out that in 2007 I had predominately left Ireland for no particular reason -- certainly not to do with paying my taxes, but to explore other opportunities overseas because of the fallout here.
"To get any work in the building industry it is necessary to be overseas because there is no building work taking place in Ireland. I also felt that I had achieved as much as I could development- and construction-wise in Ireland.
"I'd laid the foundations for the planning application for D4 hotels, which, as we all know, was consigned to the scrap heap."
Asked if he ever regretted buying the Jurys and Berkeley Court hotels, Mr Dunne says: "No, it would be fair to say I don't regret it. But if we all knew then what everybody knows now, we would have all retired and there wouldn't be enough chalets in Switzerland for us all to retire to.
"Hindsight is a fool's foresight. I'm a believer that we can't dwell on the past or account for other peoples' actions and I don't believe in the blame game.
"If I did, I wouldn't get out of bed in the morning."
Given the amount of money he says he has lost personally, it's a wonder he can sleep at all.
"I lost €120m of equity in the D4 hotels. The banks have also lost their money, but neither of us were led up the garden path, we are all big boys."
Quite apart from that financial hit, Mr Dunne points to the taxes he paid here prior to the crash, saying: "In 2007 my personal tax bill amounted to €42m and was paid in full. Everything I earned in Ireland I reinvested in Ireland and in its economic future. Like lots of other people, I was proven wrong but I can live with that."
Asked if he will ever come back to Ireland to live and work full-time, he says: "I'd love to be able to pursue development opportunities in Ireland and believe that the day may not be too far away when people will be back building in Dublin."
For now though, he seems content to be a hotelier. Indeed, even as he walks towards the lift in the freshly-restored lobby of the D4 Ballsbridge Inn, the 'Dunner' is making his sales pitch for the Christmas market.
"People, when they return here, are going to see a brand new lobby, a brand-new Dubliner bar and a brand-new library lounge. Even the old Coffee Dock has been replaced with a piano lounge. And there's a brand-new ballroom. We've refurbished the D4 hotel to a Four Seasons standard but will retain the D4 rate."