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Ben Dunne's ransom was paid by Patrick Gallagher

GAYLE KILLILEA Exclusive PROPERTY developer Patrick Gallagher has revealed that he paid Ben Dunne's ransom money when the supermarket chief...

PROPERTY developer Patrick Gallagher has revealed that he paid Ben Dunne's ransom money when the supermarket chief was kidnapped by the IRA in October 1981.

Mr Gallagher gave £1.5m in cash to the accountant Noel Fox at the request of former Taoiseach Charles Haughey, who had personally involved himself in securing Ben Dunne's release.

In an interview at his home in Cape Town, South Africa, last week, Mr Gallagher also said he was prepared to pay Mr Haughey's £1m tax bill.

He told the Sunday Independent: ``My brother Paul and I will give Haughey a million pounds, three million if necessary, to pay off his taxes and debts, so that he can live the rest of his years with peace of mind.

``We would hope to start the wheel turning, although I already know of other businessmen who will do the same. The way he has been treated is a disgrace he deserves his dignity. Ideally, I would like to buy Kinsealy off CJ I am a property developer, after all. I doubt he'd sell, though.''

Ben Dunne was kidnapped by the IRA in October 1981 and held captive for six days. It had never been established whether a ransom was paid.

At the time, the Dunnes Stores accounts were frozen and the family was unable to release funds for the ransom money.

However, during the hunt for the kidnappers, an executive of an accountancy firm was stopped by the security forces as he attempted to deliver more than £300,000 to the kidnappers.

Last week, Mr Gallagher said: ``I was horrified to hear that Ben Dunne was kidnapped. I had all my Northern Irish block-layers laid off the day it happened, and told them they would not work again until Ben Dunne was released. I was in a fortunate position at the time I had just completed a £16m property deal, and was very cash rich. CJ Haughey was on the phone night and day; he was very concerned about Ben Dunne and was determined to get the man released. He and Noel Fox asked me to provide the money for the ransom. I put £1.5m into a briefcase and gave it to Noel Fox. I don't know what happened from there except the transaction was carried through and all's well that ends well.''

Shortly after Ben Dunne's release, the money was paid back in full to Patrick Gallagher by Ben Dunne Snr. ``Ben Dunne Snr gave me back the money immediately after the release.

Ben Dunne refused to make a voluntary statement to gardai about money, but he is expected to give evidence in Charles Haughey's trial for alleged obstruction of the McCracken tribunal.

According to evidence given to the McCracken tribunal by Margaret Heffernan, Ben Dunne and Charles Haughey became extremely close at some stage during the Eighties, even though the relationship between her father, Ben Dunne Snr, and Charles Haughey had not been good.

Ben Dunne said that he and Haughey met 50 or 60 times, all such encounters taking place between 1987 and 1991. He said that he wept at the payments to politicians tribunal when he saw Haughey publicly humiliated. He also said that he would not rule out giving money to Haughey again if asked.

Last year, former MEP Mark Killilea told the Sunday Independent Ben Dunne was on the verge of being murdered but was suddenly released because of Charles Haughey's intervention.

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