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Review: Breakfast With Anglo by Simon Kelly


THERE are many reasons to dislike this book by property developer Simon Kelly but it is impossible to deny a certain charm or that it gives the best account yet of what it was like to be a developer as the "boom got boomier".

Kelly, a son of the more famous Paddy Kelly, is painfully indiscrete about just how easy it was to get the banks to lend vast sums of money. He also paints a credible picture of just how childishly competitive and downright gauche he and his rivals often were.

There is endless talk about his Porsche 911 and the cars his business rivals drive, and constant mentions of the family home on Shrewsbury Road and the exhilaration of "winning" at auction. But the tale is told with such a lack of guile that one can't help wondering what one would have done in Kelly's place with the lure of so much easy money on offer.

Kelly blames many groups for the madness but also accepts at least some of the blame himself and admits that he and the rest of the developers may have gone too far and destroyed the country.

He is at his most interesting when describing how Anglo Irish and the other banks doled out money (often on the golf course) and when he details the shortcomings of the State's planning process and tax breaks.

While the banks' mistakes are well known, it was news to this reviewer just how constrained developers feel when it comes to selecting architects.

Kelly seems to have picked his architects based solely on how popular they were with Dublin's planners or the Dublin Docklands Development Authority. No consideration is ever given to what it will mean for the city itself.

He is also open about compulsory purchase orders (CPOs), noting, not without glee, that this common device is basically a developer's dream and forces landowners into the clutches of men such as himself.

The book's best chapter is the last; a simple list of lessons learnt from the bust that may save at least some people from making his mistakes when the next boom comes.

Kelly muses that in his 20 years in the business he never encountered a foreign investor -- which is a reminder of just how homemade this crisis is.

His description of a day's golfing with a hundred other Anglo Irish-funded developers or the Anglo-funded bidding war for the Jurys' site in Ballsbridge ring particularly true.

We will probably never have a Celtic Tiger novel written by Ireland's answer to Tom Wolfe, but if we do it is a fair guess that he or she will turn to 'Breakfast With Anglo' for inspiration.

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