Sunday 21 January 2018

Out now, and soon to be out of Nama

Given their expertise, could it be that Nama now needs some developers more than they need Nama, asks Ronald Quinlan

Johnny Ronan
Johnny Ronan
Gerry Gannon
Michael O'Flynn
Sean Mulryan
Ronald Quinlan

Ronald Quinlan

In the bad years of the bust, being told you or someone you knew was 'Nama'd' was not a good thing. Indeed, such was the hoo-hah surrounding the State agency and its casual association by barstool economists with builders whom they assumed to be broke, most developers did their damndest to find the exit at the first available opportunity.

The Cork-based Michael O'Flynn and former Treasury Holdings chief Johnny Ronan are just two of the high-profile developers to have come through the Nama process by following this gameplan. It's no mean feat when one considers how others such as Bernard McNamara, Sean Dunne and Ray Grehan have fared. All three declared themselves bankrupt after Nama moved to appoint receivers to certain of their assets when relations broke down.

So, six years on from its establishment and with the fortunes of the property industry once again in the ascendant, are there any big names still hanging around Nama's departure lounge? Surprisingly, there are.

Ballymore Group boss Sean Mulryan may be one of the country's most accomplished developers with a significant proportion of his companies' property interests located in the ever-lucrative London market, but his long-anticipated exit from Nama has yet to materialise.

It hasn't been for any want of effort on the Roscommon-born builder's part. Having amassed debts of some €2.4bn with 11 banks during the boom, Mulryan's Ballymore went into Nama in 2010 with what he described in his evidence to the Banking Inquiry as a "tight" business plan and a determination to come through the crash intact.

In the past five years, Mulryan - a stonemason by trade - has engaged in a series of valuable asset disposals in the UK, the proceeds of which have gone towards paying down Ballymore's debt.

Apart from these sales, the group is currently working on five mixed use and one residential development in London's docklands, the most notable of which are Embassy Gardens at Nine Elms and City Island. Here at home meanwhile, Ballymore's Irish arm is currently building houses at College Square in Terenure in Dublin and at Piper's Hill in Naas, Co Kildare.

When Gerry Gannon's loans were transferred into Nama in 2010, it was, he told the Banking Inquiry "a difficult process". Before the crash came, the Fedora-sporting developer and the tightly-knit team at Gannon Homes had been masters of their own destiny and as such "unaccustomed" Gannon said "to providing such a high volume of information and to have every decision scrutinised in minute detail".

But while relations were "challenging at the outset", the Howth-based developer and Nama persevered with each other and continue to do so to this day.

Currently, the Gannon Homes chief is involved in building several of the largest housing schemes in the greater Dublin area. These include the construction of the initial phase of the 2,500-unit Miller's Glen in Swords and the ongoing development of over 3,500 units at a new residential quarter and town centre at Grange Road in Clongriffin.

The Cosgrave brothers - Joe, Peter, Michael and Willy - have been acknowledged as major players in the supply of Dublin housing for several decades now. Prior to the crash and the consequent collapse in cash, confidence and credit, the Cosgrave Group had been building upwards of 600 homes a year.

Since going into Nama, the brothers have been working assiduously to pay down their companies' debt and were one of the first developers on the agency's books to go back onsite.

Indeed, within months of Ireland's entry into the infamous bailout agreement with the EU/IMF/ECB troika, the Cosgraves commenced construction with funding from Nama of the 880-unit Honeypark residential scheme on the site of the former Dun Laoghaire Golf Club.

More recently, the Cosgrave Group has been involved in the development of high-end houses and apartments at Bracken Park in Castleknock, again with the assistance of funding from Nama.

Sunday Independent

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