| 14°C Dublin

Riches of the Nama wives who hold the purse strings

THERE was a time when their names featured only in the society pages. Pictured alongside every successful developer at the latest black-tie affair or charity ball was his devoted wife, decked from head to toe in the style to which her husband's mastery of the universe had allowed her to become accustomed.

These days, if you're looking for a mention of the ladies who used to lunch, dining out on the eye-watering profits of bricks and mortar, you might be better served paying a visit to the Registry of Deeds.

It's there that you'll find the names of the developers' significant others, attached to the deeds of conveyance drawn up to variously transfer family homes, bundles of apartments and tracts of development land into their names prior to the establishment of the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) -- and all for 'natural love and affection', as the legalese so eloquently puts it.

Take the case of the so-called 'man in the hat', Gerry Gannon. According to records held at the Property Registration Authority, the Malahide-based developer assigned a house believed to be the family home on St Fintan's Road in Sutton, and 52 acres of land on nearby Carrickbrack Road, to his wife, Margaret, on May 21, 2009 and December 10, 2009 respectively.

The records also show that a substantial three-storey over-basement redbrick property on Elgin Road in Ballsbridge was assigned to Mrs Gannon on May 21, 2009, as were two apartments in Malahide Marina Village, as well as a number of houses in Cabinteely, Templeogue, Artane, Clontarf and a commercial premises in Sutton. Outside the capital, Gannon also transferred a 74-hectare site in Loughlynn in north Roscommon into his wife's name.

Interestingly, the transfers were completed before Nama was officially established by law in December 2009.

Not that the creation of the State's so-called 'bad bank' brought an end to the Gannons' visits to their solicitors, Smith Foy (a firm also retained by Nama).

As the Sunday Independent reported only last month, solicitors for Margaret Gannon lodged applications for the first registration of 11 apartments -- all located in Dublin -- in her name on eight separate dates between July 14 and November 3 last.

That the 11 apartments in question are being registered for the first time, and in Mrs Gannon's name, could potentially place them beyond the reach of Nama as it seeks to recover monies owed by Gerry Gannon. For although Section 211 of the Nama Act gives the High Court the power to declare void the disposal or transfer by borrowers of assets into their partner's or spouse's names in certain circumstances, it is not equipped to deal with cases where those assets or properties were registered in the partner or spouse's name solely in the first place.

Little wonder then that Mr and Mrs Gannon still have the inclination and wherewithal to indulge their appetite for high-end retail therapy at Brown Thomas.

The Gannons, it should be said, are by no means an exceptional case when it comes to making preparations for a future where the woman of the house -- or houses, as the case may be -- is the one holding the purse strings.

Sean Dunne, the man the media dubbed the 'Baron of Ballsbridge' over his audacious €1bn plan to redevelop the site of the former Jurys and Berkeley Court hotels, would seem to be a case in point, judging by the transfer of his share of a 20-acre site in the south Dublin suburb of Goatstown to his wife, former social diarist Gayle Killilea, in December 2008.

The Goatstown site -- of which Sean Mulryan's Ballymore Properties is the joint owner -- isn't the only property asset to which Gayle's name has been linked in the media since the Dunnes' recent departure from their Shrewsbury Road home for the uber-elite enclave of Greenwich, Connecticut, in the United States. So feverish has the speculation been, in fact, the Carlow-born developer's wife has gone as far as issuing a formal statement through her solicitors, declaring that her "marital affairs, place of residence and finances are not legitimate matter of public interest".

Such a bald statement doesn't preclude Nama from making inquiries in relation to Gayle's Goatstown lands, however.

Former Redquartz chief Paddy Kelly's wife, Maureen, for her part, should be able to bat away any queries coming from the State's bad bank bosses without too much difficulty, given the fact that their Shrewsbury Road home, Clonmore, had been in her name solely long before anyone had ever even dreamt of Nama, let alone planned for its establishment.

Having already diced with bankruptcy in 1990, when he and Maureen were called in as Lloyds Names to underwrite the bank's massive losses, the Laois-born developer, in a prescient move, decided to insulate his wife from any future financial disaster that might befall him, putting their Shrewsbury Road home in her name alone. That decision is already paying a handsome dividend through Mr and Mrs Kelly's move to let Clonmore out to the Chinese Embassy on a long-term lease. The healthy rental income has allowed Maureen and her heavily indebted husband to downsize to a luxurious apartment on nearby Morehampton Road.

Dundalk-born developer Liam Carroll is another man who has his wife to thank for keeping a roof over his head since the implosion of his empire. According to records held at the Registry of Deeds, the so-called 'shycoon' transferred the ownership of both his and his wife Roisin's present and former family homes in Mount Merrion to her name solely on March 18, 2009, and March 26, 2009, respectively -- four months before Dutch-owned ACC Bank came calling for the €136m owed by his Zoe Group of companies, and a full nine months before Nama's formal establishment.

Taken together, Mrs Carroll's houses are estimated to have a combined worth of €2.5m notwithstanding the ongoing depressed condition of the residential property market.

The 'shycoon' and his wife are only trotting after Seamus and Moira Ross, however. Records held at the Registry of Deeds show how the Menolly Homes chief and member of the Anglo Golden Circle transferred three properties in Dublin as well as lands in his native Drumlish in Co Longford into his wife's name in the months before Nama came into being.

In the heart of the capital, Mrs Ross is now listed as the legal owner of a three-storey over-basement Georgian property on Harrington Street, valued in the region of €1m. The records further show how the Menolly chief put two commercial premises -- one on the Lower Rathmines Road and the other in Lucan -- into his wife's name on February 13 and February 20, 2009.

Outside Ireland, meanwhile, Mrs Ross is joint owner with her husband of a sprawling 5,700 sq ft villa and 800 sq ft guest residence in the ultra-wealthy gated community of Las Parcelas de Golf in Nueva Andalucia, just outside the Spanish town of Puerto Banus.

Notably, documents held at the Spanish Land Registry show how the Longford-born builder -- best known for his development of the exclusive Farmleigh Woods and the five-star Dylan Hotel -- and his wife took out a mortgage for €5.1m against the property with Barclays Bank in July 2008. Effectively, that mortgage, a first charge on the property, puts it beyond the reach of Nama as Barclays is a UK bank outside of Nama's control.

Back at home, another of the Nama top 10 developers and Anglo Golden Circle members, Chartered Land chief Joe O'Reilly, transferred his substantial family home to his wife, Deirdre, last year.

The transfer of the O'Reilly mansion, which is located on the exclusive Kerrymount Avenue in Foxrock, was registered on March 5, 2009, according to filings held at the Registry of Deeds. A further examination of the official records shows how the developer of the hugely successful Dundrum Town Centre and the less successful Adamstown transferred a number of apartments at Riverhall in Castleknock into his wife's name in November of last year.

While some developers may -- in the event of a default on the repayment of their loans -- see property transfers to their spouses overturned by Nama either through gentle persuasion or an application to the High Court, there are those where the question will simply never arise.

Bernard McNamara is a case in point. While the Clare-born developer has already come out with his hands up, admitting that he owes an incredible €1.5bn, his wife, Moira, is still a long way from penury. For, just as the storm clouds were gathering around her husband's development empire in 2008, Moira McNamara went shopping for a pied-a-terre in the US.

According to official records held at the New York Land Registry, Mrs McNamara snapped up a $2.58m apartment in the exclusive Warren Street Condominium on September 12 that year. The records further show how Moira, a nurse by profession, acquired her condo in the Big Apple in her name solely, and without availing of a mortgage.

Moira McNamara's independent wealth is borne out further by her sole ownership from February 2007 to September of this year of a 4,050 sq ft villa in the Urbanizacion Ancion Playa in the Spanish resort town of Marbella.

Situated almost directly opposite the Saudi royal family's holiday home, Mrs McNamara's Spanish retreat was sold three months ago for a sum believed to be in the region of €3.15m, or some €300,000 more than the €2.835m mortgage she had taken against the property with Barclays Bank in December 2007.

The sale of Moira McNamara's villa leaves her and her husband as the joint owners of two properties in Marbella to which they can retreat.

Not that the McNamaras look like uprooting to the US or Spain anytime soon to live out the autumn of their years.

Indeed, even with Nama breathing down Bernard's neck, he and his wife still seem to be enjoying all the comforts of their 10,000 sq ft pile on Dublin's Ailesbury Road, with a household staff and a visiting team of gardeners.

Sunday Independent