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Ballymore boss Mulryan going for gold as Olympic city booms

WHEN Ballymore's loans from Ireland's broken banks were first taken into Nama in 2010, they amounted to a staggering €1.55bn. Less than two years on, Sean Mulryan's property group is understood to have reduced the debt it now owes to the Irish taxpayer by over 50 per cent by following through with an aggressive plan of sales, refinancing and joint ventures.

But while Mr Mulryan himself is reluctant to comment on Ballymore's progress to date, or on speculation that his business is aiming to pay off all its outstanding debts to Nama by 2016, he is optimistic about the future and determined to pass the reins of his business empire on to the next generation of Mulryans.

Fuelling the Roscommon-born developer's optimism is Ballymore's presence in London, a city he says has not only been good for his business and for Nama, but for the thousands of Irish who have been forced to emigrate of late to find work.

"There is no recession in London. I would like to say I anticipated this when I first started building in London's East side some 20 years ago. The early days were a lonely experience but today Ballymore is located where everyone else wants to be. The buoyancy of the London market is seen not just in property, thousands of Irish are getting jobs in London every month and these are good jobs in banking, insurance, research and other professions," Mr Mulryan told the Sunday Independent.

And while many will find it difficult to hear the Ballymore boss talking about emigration given the blame that has been heaped on property developers generally for Ireland's current economic woes, Mr Mulryan added that: "London emigration is not so emotionally disruptive for families as it is merely an hour home. It is sad that Irish people have to leave but we must be thankful of how welcoming the British people are, taking in all these young people."

Commenting on how Ballymore's own business is faring in the UK in the run-up to this summer's Olympic Games, he said: "The Olympics will keep London on the world map as one of the top three cities in the world. It remains the financial centre of the world and will remain in demand because it is the midpoint between business in Asia and business in America. The wealth of the world gravitates towards London. There is no shortage of money in London at present. Good investment property is selling well."

Indeed, while much of the UK property market is, like Ireland, in a moribund state, London is bucking that depressing trend with prime properties in the capital's West End currently selling for prices up to 20 per cent higher than last year.

In the case of Ballymore's portfolio, the group is planning to begin marketing its development at Nine Elms this spring. The site which is located across the River Thames from Chelsea is best known as the location for the new American embassy. Elsewhere in the UK capital, phase one of Ballymore's site at 21 Wapping Lane is understood to have achieved sales of 98 per cent and is currently under construction, while the company's Baltimore Wharf development in Canary Wharf has achieved sales of 90 per cent to date and is now 70 per cent complete. Closer to the site of the London Olympics, Ballymore holds the distinction of owning the biggest land bank of any developer regardless of nationality.

Asked how his working relations were with Nama, Mr Mulryan said: "Ballymore is working through a business plan with Nama. London, Prague and Berlin are thriving and we can be thankful that we are there, working hard and will, as we have done for 30 years, pay back our borrowings and look forward to passing on the business to the next generation, God willing."

In the case of Ballymore, that process is already well under way in London, with Mr Mulryan's son, John, now responsible for running the group's construction sites.

Sunday Independent