Tuesday 28 January 2020

Tough but fair, O'Flynn will go 'back to work'

Michael O'Flynn in The Elysian gardens
Michael O'Flynn in The Elysian gardens

Peter Flanagan

Michael O'Flynn was understandably pleased when he came out on top in his battle with the US giant Blackstone yesterday but he acknowledged that there is still a long way to go in the dispute.

Known for being tough but decent, Mr O'Flynn has been building properties in Cork for nearly 40 years.

The High Court overturned the appointment of an interim examiner to a number of O'Flynn companies, and reinstated Mr O'Flynn's management as directors of O'Flynn group companies. Speaking exclusively to the Irish Independent after the High Court ruling, Mr O'Flynn acknowledged there was still some way to go in the fight for his businesses.

"It's not over yet, I don't see it as a win as such," he said.

"I'm going back to running my business. We were servicing all our loans, and we had exited NAMA having spent four years doing the right thing with them. Of course we've been hit by the crash and suffered huge valuation write-downs but we are serious people who are trying to do the right thing in the business," he said.

When Blackstone moved to take control of the O'Flynn group a fortnight ago, it moved with lightning speed. The US firm demanded Mr O'Flynn immediately repay personal loans worth €16m on the morning of July 29 and by that afternoon had gone to court to have an examiner appointed to the business and the O'Flynn directors removed. The move, and the speed of it left him shocked.

"I was doing my utmost to be a good borrower, recognising Blackstone's position, and hoping they would recognise mine. I did not expect such a series of events and it took us a number of days to understand what they had done, and where they had done it.

"After today though, I am getting on with my business. That involves interacting with Blackstone. I've always worked with my lenders and there will be no exception to that," Mr O'Flynn claimed.

While he made his name in Ireland, Mr O'Flynn expanded overseas, building massive student housing developments across the UK and large developments in Germany.

But it's Cork apartment block the Elysian Tower - Ireland's tallest building - for which he remains best known. The attendees at its opening night, who included rugby star Ronan O'Gara and then foreign affairs minister Michael Martin, show just how well-connected he is.

A racing enthusiast and a regular at the Galway Races, he has owned several prize-
winning studs over the years. But he is also a philanthropist, giving generously to worthy causes.

The Kilcrea native has a reputation as a scrupulous businessman, one of the few developers to refuse to sign personal guarantees for corporate loans. Insiders say he was highly cooperative with NAMA, contributing constructively to the process of selling his loans.

The State bad bank even paid him a salary of €200,000 a year while his loans were under its control, one of only three borrowers granted such salaries. The developer said NAMA was "not an easy place for anyone to be but it was set up for a particular purpose".

"But we navigated that position and exited to Blackstone. The Blackstone relationship has been a very short one and anybody who has been in court will have heard a lot of the fundamental difference interpretation of certain documents as the root cause for the position we are in now. Those [interpretations] will have to be decided and [once that is done we can] create a platform for a proper working relationship with Blackstone in the future."

Irish Independent

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