Wednesday 13 December 2017

McNamara faces music and Nama calls the tune

Other developers have entered 'war cabinet' mode as State's 'bad bank' claims its latest scalp, writes Ronald Quinlan

STAGGERING LOSS: Bernard McNamara leaving Nama's office in Dublin's Treasury Buildings last Thursday. Photo: Tony Gavin
STAGGERING LOSS: Bernard McNamara leaving Nama's office in Dublin's Treasury Buildings last Thursday. Photo: Tony Gavin

'I COULD be fined €5m or get five years in jail if I talk to you. You know I can't talk to you for the same reason I couldn't talk to you yesterday."

That's all Bernard McNamara had to say when he answered his mobile at 12:05pm last Friday afternoon.

The news that Michael McNamara & Co had been placed into receivership by Nama had just been broadcast on the radio news bulletins, effectively answering the very question that the Sunday Independent had put to McNamara a full 24 hours earlier.

For it was just on the stroke of noon last Thursday when the Clare-born developer sat into his Mercedes S350 in the company of four of his associates and drove the short distance from his office on Pembroke Road in Ballsbridge to the headquarters of Nama at the Treasury Building on Grand Canal Street.

After dropping his passengers off at the kerbside, McNamara parked his car and steeled himself for a meeting with the Nama officials who had, for several months, been running the rule over his company's business plans.

Approached by the Sunday Independent as he made his way into the imposing building, McNamara gave off the air of someone arriving at a funeral.

"Bernard, Nama has put you into receivership," I said, looking to elicit a comment from the developer on the fate which at that moment had yet to officially befall him.

"Don't you record me! You know I can't say anything," he said.

When it was put to him again that McNamara & Co had been put into receivership, the 60-year-old developer snapped, saying: "Why don't you bloody-well ask Nama that?"

McNamara's meeting with Nama barely lasted that lunchtime.

It was just after 1pm when he emerged from the Treasury Building, having been given the news that his efforts to save the company his father had founded in Lisdoonvarna in 1948 had come to nought.

Spotting our photographer, the 60-year-old developer left his Mercedes S350 outside the Treasury Building -- despite the fact that the parking ticket on its dashboard was due to expire -- and left in a taxi, holding his briefcase up to his face in a futile effort to avoid having his picture taken.

It made for both a sad and a bizarre spectacle.

For anyone who knows Bernard McNamara will tell you that he is a member of the old school when it comes to doing business. He is hard-working, tough and as fair a man as you could hope to find. He also does his level-best to pay his way.

And perhaps that's the real reason why he looked and might have felt, albeit wrongly, like an accused man leaving the Four Courts, as opposed to a businessman on his way from being told by a bunch of civil service suits that his number -- whether he liked it or not -- was up.

It was late last Thursday evening when McNamara's people started putting out the word to the various sub-contractors on the company's sites at Letterkenny General Hospital, the Tallaght Institute of Technology and NUI Galway that all work was coming to a halt as McNamara & Co had gone into receivership.

While it remains unclear whether the receiver, Pearse Farrell of Farrell Grant Sparks, will be able to raise sufficient funds to pay McNamara's sub-contractors all that they are owed, somewhat surreally, the routine at Bernard McNamara's palatial home on Ailesbury Road appeared -- outwardly at least -- to be undisturbed last Thursday afternoon.

As darkness fell, two gardeners busied themselves at the front of the McNamaras' 10,000 sq ft home, with one man raking the gravel in the driveway while the other employed a leaf blower in seeming defiance of the storm-force wind howling through the near-bare branches of the trees above him.

A call by the Sunday Independent on the intercom at the gates of the house was answered by a member of the McNamaras' domestic staff.

Asked if Mr McNamara was home, the woman responded in heavily-accented English that she would check to see.

It was hardly surprising when she did not come back with an answer. All the answers are in short supply when it comes to the Clare-born developer right now.

Only time will tell if the collapse of Michael McNamara & Co comes to represent the penultimate act in the total destruction of Bernard McNamara's business empire.

Given the construction firm's inextricable links through inter-company loans with many of the Clare-born developer's other ventures, Nama's decision to appoint a receiver over the Michael McNamara & Co firm could yet have a devastating domino effect on his entire empire.

It also holds far-reaching implications for other developers who are currently in negotiations with Nama on their business plans.

The Sunday Independent understands that several of the country's leading developers went into what one informed source described as "war cabinet" discussions once the news that Michael McNamara & Co had been placed into receivership by Nama broke.

Commenting on Nama's decision to move on McNamara, the source said: "This is a shot across the bows of the other developers who are still negotiating their business plans. They're being told in no uncertain terms by Nama that they'll be taken out if they don't play ball the Nama way."

While Nama will no doubt disagree with such a bald assertion, its move on 'Mac' has most certainly concentrated the minds of all developers as they seek to navigate their way towards a solution that satisfies the seemingly all-powerful agency while allowing them to survive.

If Bernard McNamara can be brought to heel, there are few others who can avoid the same fate, given the dire state and outlook for the property market, both here and abroad.

It was just after 1:30pm last Friday afternoon when he emerged from his Ballsbridge office to go for a walk. Strolling past the US embassy, McNamara was met by several of his employees, who engaged him in light-hearted conversation, before breaking off to go for their lunch in a nearby pub.

Whatever they could have said to their boss, they could hardly say he hadn't tried to keep Michael McNamara & Co going, and keep them working.

For while others from the ranks of Ireland's former high-fliers took flight as the storm clouds gathered around them, McNamara -- to be fair to him -- did exactly what he said he would do when the wealthy investors who had backed his stake in the former Irish Glass Bottle site dealt him the first of several potentially fatal blows last January by securing a record €62.5m judgement against him.

"I am personally going to take all the consequences. My head will be on the plate for that. I'm not running anywhere. I'm going to stand here and face whatever the music is," he said at the time.

Given the events of the last week, it's clear the music for Bernard McNamara is now in full swing. Only this time it's different, now that Nama is calling the tune.

Sunday Independent

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