Saturday 27 December 2014

As Sean Dunne files as a bankrupt, the younger wife Gayle I remember

Published 04/04/2013 | 05:00

Gayle Killilea and her husband Sean Dunne

WHEN Gayle Killilea linked her fortunes to Sean Dunne, it's unlikely she, as any other bride, anticipated any downside. Here was a man - like so many others in Celtic Tiger Ireland - who shared her taste for fine living, and could afford to indulge it.

Nine years later, she finds herself married to a bankrupt property developer who may be engaged in multiple legal actions for some time to come.

Who could have guessed that marrying one of the Celtic Tiger's big beasts could have so many disadvantages clinging to its tail?

Today, she's living in the US, in affluent circumstances still, but not exactly occupying the social position one would haved expected she once aspired. When she features in media reports, it's no longer in the context of rubbing shoulders with heavy-hitters, but of court actions relating to her and Dunne.

Never in her wildest dreams – and she certainly dreamed big – can she have imagined signing up to that when they married in Italy, afterwards cruising the Mediterranean with a curious assortment of friends, Michael Fingleton a noteworthy inclusion among them.

Everyone has a talent, and when I worked with her, it appeared to me that Gayle's was an understanding of how the world operates.

Most of us take a stab at projecting who we want to be in life, but she projects in my opinion, a remarkable combination of drive, persistence and wiliness, with occasional flashes of charm.

For almost a year, I worked with her: we had jobs in the same newspaper office, and what I remember best is how her radar installation was set to fasten on the most powerful or most interesting person in the room. She was after all a social journalist with a requirement to file interesting copy for the Sunday Independent. Once identified, they received the full Gayleforce treatment.

Understandably, few could withstand it.

She was always purposeful.

Her confidence for her age was exceptional, if not downright bullish: at 27, she was never shy about telling a property magnate more than 20 years her senior that he was lucky to have her.

At 37, I doubt if anything has changed in the Killilea-Dunne household.

Somehow, they have managed to retain many of the trappings of prosperity with which to cushion their new life in Greenwich, Connecticut.

The palatial scale of their lifestyle does not reflect Dunne's declared insolvency – no wonder the time-lines around asset transfers from husband to wife are generating such interest among their creditors, who are owed up to €760m.

Gayle could be seen by some as having hitched her wagon to the wrong star. But that would be to underestimate her. Loyalty is an attractive quality, it must be acknowledged. Dunne may be among the highest-profile of the bust era bankrupts, but he's not destitute. Indeed, he's gearing up to start again thanks to that quickie US bankruptcy.

Meanwhile, the mother of three young sons has found time to take over as the property developer in the family. With help from Dunne, according to NAMA. Which makes her a key component in the story, rather than the private individual she claims to be.

Gayle has been involved in a series of lucrative property deals, in Switzerland and Stateside, amid hotly contested suggestions that Dunne financed them and is using his wife as a shield. Her lawyers insist she is independently wealthy following asset transfers made in 2005 – crucially, before NAMA was set up.

No doubt, this will play out in the courts. That won't floor Gayle. Street-smart and sharp, confrontation holds no fears for her.

In the workplace, from my experience, she never flinched from rows with colleagues, or with people who rang up to take issue over her stories.

It was when we were work colleagues that she started dating Dunne and her excitement was conspicuous.

He had the ear of the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern. He had access to a helicopter and a Gulfstream jet. He had a period home in Shrewsbury Road.

He made money and enjoyed spending it, including on her.

She'd arrive into the office after the weekend, describing trips to Paris where they stayed at the Ritz, ordering bottles of Dom Perignon ("Dom P", she called it).

Then, I remember she'd tell how he'd bring her shopping for designer clothes, picking up the bill. It never embarrassed Gayle to recount these stories.

Even before she married Dunne, her tastes were expensive. I remember offering to buy a round of drinks at a work do. People ordered pints or glasses of wine – Gayle asked me for champagne. My jaw dropped.

Was she a source of envy?

Not as much as you might imagine.

Many regarded Dunne as a litigious man and a rough diamond. Some conjectured the presumed trade-off was that she would polish him.

Right now Dunne is focused on a new start.

He seems, by all accounts, to be taking misfortune in his stride judging by that 'Sunday Independent' mea-not-culpa. But I suspect the Gayle I knew as a fellow scribe misses what's been lost.

But we haven't heard of the end of this story, by a long shot.

Irish Independent

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