Thursday 22 March 2018

Dynamic duo's dead cert turned out to be a dead loss

Donal O'Donovan

Donal O'Donovan

THE Treasury story will forever be associated with the chalk and cheese dynamic between cerebral Richard Barrett and earthy Johnny Ronan, but as a business duo for years they were highly complementary.

They teamed up in 1989 in time to ride the wave of modernisation that saw masses of Irish workers move from the factories of the multinationals to the corporate offices of multinationals. In many cases Treasury built those offices.

The occupants of Treasury buildings read like a roster of corporate success -- Google, accountancy giant PWC, Vodafone, Bank of America. The list runs to more than 100.

The end of Treasury has nothing to do with half-built estates.

For a period it even looked like the Treasury boys might emerge as the great survivors of the bust -- they lined up potential backers, big global property firms that Messrs Ronan and Barrett hoped would pay off NAMA and sponsor putting Treasury back on track.

US investors CIM and Hines and Australia's Macquarie all put together serious proposals to take control of Treasury, but NAMA was not convinced the offers did much more than shift future profits to the new investors while taxpayers kept the risks.

NAMA, owed €1.7bn, grew increasingly sceptical about the investment plans. Johnny Ronan's lifestyle was hitting the headlines at the same time as NAMA was desperate to kill the idea it was a bailout for developers.

More importantly, says NAMA, was the infamous "Tail" transaction. NAMA has taken a case against Treasury in relation to the deal, which involved selling €20m of shares in Treasury Asian Investment Ltd (Tail) to Mr Ronan and Mr Barrett for just €100,000 and an IOU.

Messrs Barrett and Ronan have always insisted the sale was above board and the IOU is well secured for taxpayers, but there is little doubt the trade damaged relations between both sides.

The Treasury owners fought NAMA and KBC as long as they could, but ultimately that hand was over-played. Treasury bought lots of property and sold little. As the boom raged it looked a winner, but it was a one-way bet doomed to fail.

Irish Independent

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