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'What hurts him most is not being able to pay bills'

"The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in . . ."

From The Guest House

By Jelalludin Rumi

These lines were given to Bernard McNamara by a friend some time ago. And last week he took them out and looked at them afresh, musing wryly that he little thought they would so soon have such personal significance for him.

He was back behind his desk last Thursday morning.

It was a little later than usual for him, but given the events of the day before, one could have forgiven Bernard McNamara for not racing into the office.

The fresh-faced reporter buzzing the intercom at the entrance to his home on Ailesbury Road in Dublin 4 in the midst of the morning rush hour had merely served as a reminder -- if any were needed -- that the way of life he had come to know after 40 years in business was over.

There was time enough to make the short drive to Pembroke Road, but not in his Mercedes S Class -- that was in for its regular service.

As it turned out, the Volkswagen Golf he opted for in its place was perfectly comfortable, and allowed him at least to get to the office without attracting the unwelcome attention of the press, or inquisitive looks from curious commuters.

It was just after two the previous afternoon when the Commercial Court heard McNamara had finally given up the ghost on efforts to come to an agreement with the investors who had loaned him €62.5m in 2007 to buy into the former Irish Glass Bottle site in Ringsend.

While that money was to have been repayable in 2014, lawyers for the high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) assembled by Davy Stockbrokers at the height of the boom claimed the Clare-born developer had failed to meet the planning deadlines set down for the 27-acre site. It was game over as far as they were concerned. They wanted their money back and they wanted it now. McNamara tried to reason with them, offering to make instalment payments of €100,000 a month but to no avail. The figure simply paled in comparison to the €5m to €10m the investors were looking for to settle the matter.

Informed that the negotiations had come to an end, Mr Justice Peter Kelly granted an order for personal judgment against the developer for €62.5m and an additional order for €98m against his company, Donatex.

Apart from a smattering of lawyers, reporters and the brothers, Simon and Christian Stokes, who were there on some pressing business of their own, courtroom number one was empty as the judge casually recited the effective end to McNamara's career. The bad news spread quickly out into the rotunda of the Four Courts and beyond, as all bad news is wont to do.

"He's gone," they informed each other in hushed tones.

"You should have stayed in Doolin."

That's what his friends had told him as the storm clouds began to gather around his development business back in May of 2008.

Doolin: that he had ever gone back there at all was more down to an accident of birth. For whatever notions he might have had about his university education, as the eldest son, it was always going to fall to Bernard McNamara to return to Clare to take up the reins of his father Michael's building business.

From the beginning, the workload and the hours he imposed on himself were brutal.

Those who worked with McNamara in the early years recall how on one contract alone, he had driven from Clare to Swinford in Co Mayo every day, arriving in time to clock in ahead of his men who started on site at 7.30am.

"I don't know how he did it. This was in the days before there was even a decent stretch of road in Dublin, let alone in the west. Every car he had, he got the garage to weld a steel plate underneath it to stop the sump from getting burst off the humps in the road in Mayo, he was going that fast," one lifelong friend of the developer remembers.

Clocking 60,000 miles a year, there had been plenty of time as he drove for Bernard McNamara to take stock of the direction in which both he and his business were going.

For much of the Nineties and the Noughties, the only way was up. As Ireland's fortunes soared on the back of easy credit, so too did McNamara's. Before everything came undone, he had amassed a portfolio that included the Shelbourne and Burlington hotels in Dublin, as well as a brace of prime real estate in London's Canary Wharf and Knightsbridge.

With such an array of blue chip real estate under his belt, it shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone that he reacted so angrily to the front page headline of the Sunday Independent on May 25, 2008

"McNamara: I don't owe €1.5bn", it declared.

Breaking from his breakfast in his own Parknasilla Hotel in Kerry, and his near-legendary silence, the former Fianna Fail councillor went on the Marian Finucane Show on RTE Radio One to defend his ailing empire from the perceived attack, decrying the story as being tantamount to sabotage.

Unfortunately for Bernard McNamara and for those who worked for him, the damning figure was accurate, a fact which he readily admitted in an emotional interview on RTE Radio One's Drivetime last Wednesday evening.

Making his way from the Montrose studios afterwards, the developer paused to deliver a piece to camera for that night's nine o'clock television news. In the course of that brief appearance, the embattled tycoon visibly fought off tears as he again admitted that he was broke.

"My head is on the plate and that's where it has to be, but I don't want collateral damage to people whom I've worked with for over 40 years, whom I've a huge amount of respect for, and who have given loyalty and hard work and a whole lot of other things," he said.

Asked what the future held for him, he said simply: "Well, it could be very short."

That rather dramatic summation gave a few people pause for thought. How short will depend now on the whim of the wealthy investors assembled by Davy Stockbrokers to provide the €62.5m in mezzanine finance for McNamara's stake in the Irish Glass Bottle site back in 2007.

Had he come up with his own equity as Carlow-born developer Sean Dunne did in the case of his own Ballsbridge acquisitions, or even borrowed the money from a bank, McNamara would never have been as openly at the mercy of individuals who could come looking for their money back at any time, and with such devastating consequences.

As viewers of RTE's Nine O'Clock News watched last Wednesday night, many with their mouths agape at the sight of Bernard McNamara's implosion being beamed into their living rooms, the developer had his family around him in their palatial home on Ailesbury Road.

Taking in their magnificent surrounds as they comforted each other, they ruminated on what had been and what yet could come. The whole family knew full well that their residency on this most exclusive of Dublin thoroughfares might soon be coming to an end.

As with so many other members of the country's business elite, McNamara had given personal guarantees on his borrowings to keep what had been one of Ireland's most spectacular boom-time property shows on the road.

In the particular case of the McNamara family home, records held at the Registry of Deeds show how the developer took a fresh mortgage out on the property with Anglo Irish Bank as recently as last year, with a view to providing financial support to his business.

Clearly aware that the details of those records would emerge sooner rather than later, the developer pre-empted the headlines, saying: "There are people who say 'You live in a fancy house'. I'm willing to get out of my house, or whatever it takes."

His creditors may well come looking for the keys and if they do, few would bet against their chances of getting them.

For unlike so many of his peers in the development business, there was never any legal manoeuvring to move any of his substantial assets to his wife Moira or his children, or to shield them from view in offshore companies or trusts.

"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 last Wednesday, breaking ranks with the time-honoured tradition of Ireland's elite that one need never be accountable.

To be fair to him, Bernard McNamara doesn't run and he doesn't hide.

Having approached him outside his home for an interview in May of last year, I can attest to the fact that the developer has no difficulty in meeting anyone head on, albeit in the most unfailingly polite manner. Standing on the side of the road for the best part of an hour, McNamara explained all the reasons why he could never give an interview to a newspaper.

The most important reason for him was the potential damage such an interview could cause for his business and his relationship with his bankers, and the threat that that in turn would pose for the jobs of the hundreds of people who worked for him.

McNamara also wanted to protect his family from the fallout from events in the outside world at all costs, and if that meant meeting the enemy at the gates of his home, he did it.

Indeed, a close friend of the McNamara family told me how the developer explained away my presence to his wife that day, claiming that I was canvassing for Fine Gael for the then-imminent European and local elections.

Back in his Ballsbridge office last Thursday, Bernard McNamara was said by colleagues to be putting a brave face on his very public execution of the day before, fielding phone calls from friends and associates on his mobile, while dealing with the paperwork that will effectively sever his links with Michael McNamara Construction, the company his father founded, and that he had built over four decades.

"It is very difficult for all of us, but Bernard is getting on with things. He put the team in place years ago to carry on after his retirement. The retirement has just come sooner than anybody expected, least of all Bernard," one source within the McNamara team said.

"The thing that hurts him right now is the thought that he won't be able to pay his bills. Sixty years old and 40 years of that in business; the shame of not being able to pay the bills at the end of it all is very hard for him to take. In Bernard's mind, if you don't pay your bills, you don't have any integrity," the same source added.

Sunday Independent