Monday 23 April 2018

Lofty ambitions and lavish spending all in a day's work

Laura Noonan

FROM plans for 37-storey towers to brushes with suspected swine flu, one-time billionaire Sean Dunne is no stranger to notoriety.

The developer became the poster boy for Celtic Tiger excess in 2004 when he celebrated his marriage with a 14-day "wedding" on the ship Christina O, in an opulent ceremony that was a far cry from Mr Dunne's humble Tullow roots.

However, the €1.5m price tag for those lavish nuptials was to pale into insignificance over the coming years as Mr Dunne splashed out €379m on a trio of Ballsbridge hotels and another €200m on AIB's Ballsbridge headquarters between 2005 and 2006.

The deals marked some of the highest prices ever paid for commercial property, and Mr Dunne wasn't immune to the powerful lure of the residential market either.

In September 2006 his wife Gayle Killilea splashed out €57m on Shrewsbury Road's 'Walford' mansion, making her the proud owner of the most expensive house ever sold in Ireland.


Mr Dunne's high-stakes property buys may have raised eyebrows, but it was nothing compared to the furore that followed when he revealed what he was planning to do with the sites.

The developer's masterplan envisaged turning Ballsbridge into Dublin's 'Knightsbridge', with plans for a €1bn development including no less than a 37-storey tower.

The local planning authority gave the nod, but a flurry of high-powered locals including billionaire financier Dermot Desmond made their disdain known to An Bord Pleanala and the wranglings continue. With planning not forthcoming, Mr Dunne was forced to continue to trade the three hotels as a stopgap measure, but even that didn't run smoothly.

The first drama in the form of a highly publicised parting of the ways between Mr Dunne and John Brennan, the renowned hotelier who'd been brought to run the three Ballsbridge properties.

Next up came Mr Dunne's wife's controversial decision to open 'D4 Stores' at one of the hotels, leading to more planning controversy.

Mr Dunne has also been known to make waves in political circles, most notably when the developer and his wife managed to garner two much-coveted seats at Bertie Ahern's 2007 historic address to the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.

The normally publicity-shy developer hit the headlines on both sides of the Atlantic early last year when the 'New York Times' published a interview with the following hair-raising excerpt: "I grew up with nothing and I know the value of money. The Celtic Tiger may be dead and if the banking crisis continues I could be considered insolvent. But the one thing I have is my wife and children -- that they can't take away from me."

The newspaper was forced to swiftly confirm that Mr Dunne had "clarified" these remarks and had not in fact been speculating on the likelihood of his financial demise.

Six months later Mr Dunne was back in the spotlight when he tapped into the national hysteria of the day by asking for a €35m court battle between himself and estate agent CBRE to be postponed because the developer suspected he may be afflicted with swine flu.

Irish Independent

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