Monday 19 February 2018

When going gets tough, Ireland's former high-flyers get going

Far away fields are greener for some of our globetrotting ex-Tigers, write Ronald Quinlan and Maeve Sheehan

DURING the boom, they were the ones with the inside track. Now the country is bust, they're ahead of the curve again. For while the ordinary people of Ireland huddle together in fear of the damage the Government's ludicrously titled 'National Recovery Plan' will do to their pockets and their way of life, many of our former 'risk takers' won't be around to help us pick up the pieces, or the multi-billion euro bill.

Take the case of former investment adviser to Ireland's great and good, Derek Quinlan. Having played the role of property Midas to our wealthy elite for nearly two decades, the former Revenue Commissioner took his leave of Shrewsbury Road and emigrated to Switzerland for "tax and personal reasons" in July of last year.

Tracked to his Swiss address by the Sunday Independent last November, Quinlan reacted angrily in a letter through his Zurich-based lawyers and claimed we had invaded his privacy and harassed him. The attentions of an inquisitive reporter are arguably lower down Quinlan's list of priorities now that his estimated €600m in personal borrowings have been transferred to the books of Nama. While Quinlan's decision to emigrate made headlines in the business pages at the time, the departure of former Anglo Irish Bank chief executive David Drumm for the idyllic Cape Cod in Massachusetts some months earlier scarcely received a mention in the media before the Government handed the bill for its bailout to the taxpayer.

Despite Drumm's insistence in an exclusive interview with the Sunday Independent last month that his move to the US was merely a case of returning to a place he and his family had called home in the years he had headed up Anglo's US operations, the former banker's defence of his tenure as the bank's chief executive was met with outrage from both the media and political establishment.

While Messrs Drumm and Quinlan are unlikely to settle down in Ireland again any time soon, a number of their former developer clients and business partners are still resident here, some of the time at least. Take the case of the Clare-born developer Bernard McNamara for example. Mr McNamara, whose construction company Michael McNamara & Co was placed into receivership two weeks ago by Nama, continues to call Ailesbury Road home in between regular stints working as a consultant on projects in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Another developer scouting for opportunities outside of Ireland while still maintaining residency here is Mountbrook Homes chief Sean Dunne. The man the media dubbed the 'Baron of Ballsbridge' over his ambitious €1bn plan to redevelop the Jury's hotel site there has been spending much of his time and energy pursuing opportunities in the US. The Carlow-born developer has strenuously denied media reports that he and his wife, Gayle Killilea, and their three children have taken up or are even planning to take up residence in Belle Haven -- an exclusive gated community in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Ballymore Properties chief Sean Mulryan, for his part, is dividing his time between his home at the Ardenode Stud in Ballymore Eustace, Co Kildare, and London where his company is heavily involved in development in the lead up to the 2012 Olympic Games.

The Sunday Independent understands the Roscommon-born builder travelled further afield last week to India to take part in a marketing and sales drive of apartments in two of Ballymore's major London projects, the Pan Peninsula and Baltimore Wharf.

Former Redquartz chief Paddy Kelly is another developer clocking up the air miles now that the opportunities in Ireland have dried up.

Commenting on his extensive overseas travels in an interview earlier this year, Kelly, who has seen his personal fortune drop by a whopping €700m, said: "I can use what I'm doing in Toronto, in Atlanta. I'm off to Malta and then down to Libya.

"I think there are big opportunities there if I can get the right connections."

Johnny Ronan and his business partner Richard Barrett of Treasury Holdings, meanwhile, were already making connections outside of Ireland long before the bubble burst. From London to Shanghai, Treasury's chiefs are still very much in the game despite having seen a massive €896m of development loans transferred into Nama recently. While Ronan hovers close to home, Barrett spends much of his time in Shanghai, where he oversees Treasury's Chinese operations.

Another -- albeit far more controversial -- developer globetrotter is Howard Holdings founder Greg Coughlan. The Cork developer has taken refuge in Portugal since his since his creditors started pursuing him for debts of €28m.

Having been told to reveal his assets by the High Court, the developer took flight for the Iberian Peninsula instead, where he has been living with relatives. Coughlan's €7.5m home in Kinsale, Co Cork, is now being rented and not even a bench warrant for contempt of court can bring him home.

Sunday Independent

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