Wednesday 22 November 2017

Banking inquiry: Developer insists close friendship with former Taoiseach Cowen and former Finance Minister McCreevy did not benefit his business

Sean Mulryan, Founder, Ballymore Homes during the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry at Leinster House, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Sean Mulryan, Founder, Ballymore Homes during the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry at Leinster House, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Clodagh Sheehy

A close friendship with former Taoiseach Brian Cowen and former Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy had not benefited his business, developer Sean Mulryan has insisted.

The founder of Ballymore Homes said he had a close friendship with both men through football and horse racing for more than 20 years but it did not impact his business.

Mr Mulryan said he had paid a huge price for the financial crash but he was paying back his debt and that was the most important thing of all.

He told the Banking Inquiry that most of his property business was outside Ireland he did not see how he could be helped by the friendship.

Questioned by Senator Susan O’Keeffe he said had not availed of property tax incentives here for the same reason.

Mr Mulryan described how during the financial boom there was “too much money chasing a small number of trophy sites”.

“There was a lot of madness in the system” he added saying that at the time London sites were five times cheaper. Land here was “overpriced by enormous amounts”.

He cited Ballymore’s bid for the Irish Glass Bottle site as an example where their bid was 35pc short of the winning one.

Mr Mulryan said his company had spotted the huge oversupply of houses here from early on through their own research and through comparisons with Britain.

In the early 90’s they had spread their risk by buying property in London and when the crash came 85pc of their assets were in London but 90pc of their loans were with Irish banks.

In hindsight they should have spread their loans to other banks but they had had no issues with the Irish banks going back 20 years.

He said they did not  get any special treatment from Irish banks but the model was working so they kept it up.

The company turnover rose from €11.7m in 2001 to €114.5 in 2008.

At the time of the crash they owed €2.3bn to 11 Irish banks €1.8bn of which was owed to Anglo Bank.

Ballymore  needed time and a mechanism to get through the period between the collapse and recovery and NAMA provided that.

Mr Mulryan said they went to NAMA with a very detailed plan and cooperated fully. 

It took four months for Baltimore’s loans to be transferred into NAMA and this was “a very difficult period”.

“The reputational damage that Ballymore endured during this period was compounded by the fact that NAMA took over everything related to Ballymore -all loans, not just the poorer performing loans but the good loans and unencumbered assets as well,” he added.

He said that the effectiveness of the NAMA process for Ballymore was “one of realism”.

Ballymore’s primary objective, as is the same for all business, was to survive the crisis, preserve jobs where possible and recover.

Mr Mulryan is still in NAMA and was one of the agency's top ten developers.  He said Ballymore was looking forward to repaying all its debts and returning to a normal working model.

He also told the Inquiry his company had donated €128,000 to political parties from 2001-2008 and 55pc of this went to Fianna Fáil.

This was because Fianna Fáil was the biggest party and had the biggest fundraising campaign.

He felt he had been a “victim” of the crash. He and his executives had made sacrifices, taking pay cuts of 25-30pc.

“They rolled up their sleeves for seven years and sacrificed everything in time to get through this. To get our mountain of debt taken down and paid back, which was huge at €2.2 billion.

“We all sacrificed our lives. No social lives, no holidays. We just worked around the clock for the last seven years.”

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