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Garda's son was living the high life

STANDING on the podium next to Formula One racing legend Michael Schumacher in September 2004 having just won the European Ferrari Challenge at Germany's famous Nurburgring, Paddy Shovlin must surely have been asking himself just where it had all gone right.

Given his humble enough beginnings as a restaurateur on Dublin's Moore Street, the then 40-year-old was at the time one of a brash new breed of Irish developers energetically tapping the highly lucrative seam of the country's property goldmine.

Even as he accepted the winner's garland for the race in which he had beaten off competitors from across the continent, Mr Shovlin's company, Landmark Enterprises, was on the cusp of the next big deal in which it would secure planning permission for the €500m development of the Beacon South Quarter at Sandyford Industrial Estate in south Dublin.

Today, responsibility and the multimillion euro cost of completing the development, which Landmark promoters once boasted would be a "world showcase nationally and internationally", rests with Nama while Paddy Shovlin bides his time in London, having been declared a bankrupt there on May 29 last.

It's a turn of events that has become all too familiar to Irish taxpayers, who once again will be called upon to pick up the hefty tab left over from the excesses of developers who have flown the country in the manner of modern-day earls.

But while Mr Shovlin may be ensconced in upmarket Chelsea in a Mathison House apartment, where rents hover in the region of €8,000 a month, and trading as a property consultant out of serviced offices at the World's End Studios nearby, it's all very much a far cry from the extravagant lifestyle he enjoyed here at the height of his powers.

With a palatial home in Foxrock and a luxurious pied-a-terre in St Tropez, Mr Shovlin was the quintessential Celtic Tiger cub.

Indeed, quite apart from his love of fast Italian sports cars, he also developed a penchant for taking to the skies, which saw him acquire both an Agusta A109S and an EC130 helicopter through Skyheli, one of the myriad companies in which he is a co-director with the Fitzpatrick brothers, Pat and Anthony.

While another of the companies, Tailside, was already beginning to display the early symptoms of Ireland's economic decline with profits for 2007 falling to €800,000 from the €11.4m it had brought in a year earlier, a detailed list of its administration costs revealed a number of new charges including €116,000 for "entertaining" and €155,000 for "motor travel and subsistence".

In the same year, the directors' fees of Mr Shovlin and the Fitzpatricks tripled to €540,000.

But those numbers were mere chicken feed compared to the hundreds of millions borrowed by Mr Shovlin and his associates during the boom.

Quite apart from the €280m in loans taken out by the Landmark Enterprises directors against the Beacon South Quarter, Landmark Developments joined in a consortium spearheaded by Derek Quinlan's Quinlan Private in 2006, to snap up Bank of Ireland's former headquarters on Baggot Street for a figure just north of €200m.

Asked in an interview in 2010 how it felt to be involved in projects worth hundreds of millions only to see them fall apart, Mr Shovlin said that while money was important, it was also just a measure of success.

In availing of the more benign bankruptcy regime offered by the UK, Mr Shovlin, could -- barring a challenge from his numerous creditors -- have his substantial financial slate wiped clean and be back rebuilding his empire just 11 months from now.

Few within the battered ranks of Ireland's property game will be surprised to learn that Mr Shovlin, the son of a garda, has chosen to declare bankruptcy in the UK following a route first taken by Cork developer John Fleming in November 2010, and last December by Glenkerrin Homes chief Ray Grehan and his brother Danny.

The Landmark chief had been under significant pressure from his creditors since the implosion of the domestic property market and the wider Irish economy.

In October 2010, matters took a serious turn for the worse when he and his co-directors at Landmark Enterprises, Pat and Anthony Fitzpatrick, achieved the unhappy distinction of being the first developers against whom Nama secured orders in the Commercial Court for the repayment of debt.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly granted Nama judgments of €25m against Mr Shovlin and €22m each against the Fitzpatrick brothers on foot of personal guarantees they had given on a €277.6m refinancing loan from the Bank of Ireland for the Beacon South Quarter development.

In an application for judgment heard immediately after the Nama case, Ulster Bank was granted orders for €6.4m against Mr Shovlin and €3.2m against each of the Fitzpatrick brothers.

But while the multimillion euro judgments were a significant blow to the Landmark chief's fortunes, he appeared determined at the time to soldier on, saying in an interview: "There's still 20 good years of work in us. I'm not going to shirk my responsibilities and I am happy to work through these guarantees over the next 20 to 30 years."

Mr Shovlin said he could understand why people might have negative views about property developers but he did not think it was logical to point the finger at any one group when looking to apportion blame for the country's economic collapse.

He was also adamant that he had not been a "property speculator or a quick-buck merchant" but someone who had built quality buildings.

Sunday Independent