By Frank Connolly
The various controversies surrounding planning and re-zoning irregularities in county Wicklow are mounting not least on the spacious desk of the environment minister, Alan Kelly, who is to decide very soon on the precise nature of an inquiry into all or any of them.
Among those against whom serious allegations have been made in the Wicklow saga is property developer, Sean Mulryan, whose name cropped up during the first, lengthy and light interrogation of Brian Cowen at the banking inquiry on 2nd July.
Cowen was asked whether he had met with any developers in advance of his appearance and he confirmed that he had recent contact with Mulryan at a social occasion. The developer is due before the inquiry in the coming weeks and may throw some light on his contacts with senior politicians, and his contributions to political parties, as well as his multi-billion contribution to the property collapse.
Mulryan is at the centre of claims made by Wicklow auctioneer, Gabriel Dooley, who maintains that the developer owes him an outstanding debt of €4m. Readers will recall that Dooley helped Mulryan assemble lands at Florentine in Bray town centre in 2004 for a retail and residential development, and was a shareholder in the company that acquired the sites and was promised the €4m in the event that the development was completed or sold off.
The lands were acquired for €1.9m under a Compulsory Purchase Order by Bray Town Council last year but Mulryan has resisted all attempts by the auctioneer to recoup any of the monies he claims to be owed.
Meanwhile Mulryan, along with Sean Dunne his former partner in the 1,400-unit residential scheme at Charlesland outside Greystones, is facing other allegations from Dooley in relation to the manner in which valuable land rights were provided to them, without any apparent payment, through secret contracts agreed between the developers and Wicklow County Council in 2003.
The exchange of easements signed by the two poster boys for the property boom was co-signed by recently retired Wicklow County Manager, Eddie Sheehy, and Fianna Fáil councillor, Pat Vance. The controversial nature of these agreements was raised in the Dáil in May by Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley, while his party leader Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald have also discomfited the government by their persistence in raising the irregularities in County Wicklow.
Mulryan’s appearance before the Banking Inquiry will provide its members with the opportunity to explore his involvement with multi-million property developments, including those funded by Anglo Irish Bank and their relations with the main parties and its key finance and environment ministers over the bubble years.
Dunne, of course, was mentioned in dispatches during the appearance by Charlie McCreevy on 1st July although the former minister was less than forthcoming about his relationship with the US-based, now-bankrupt, developer.
It would have been particularly interesting to explore the commercial details surrounding the construction by Dunne of McCreevy’s elaborate mansion outside Sallins in Kildare in the 1990s which the former minister and EU Commissioner declined to discuss with the media at the time.
Both were keen members of the K Club in the same county and had ample opportunities to discuss Dunner’s rapid rise to the top rank of developers before his equally dramatic fall from grace and self-enforced exile including from the home he once owned at the exclusive golfing range. •
Following the revelations in Village last month concerning the various property assets of Wicklow councillor and Bray cobbler, Pat Vance, the Fianna Fáil politician and his family have clearly decided to move matters on.
It was reported in May that Vance, his wife and his son have a number of properties and mortgages listed in the Registry of Deeds including two houses in the McInerney-built Saran Wood and Briar Wood estates in Bray.
It was also mentioned that auctioneer Gabriel Dooley had made a complaint to Wicklow County Council that 15 Saran Wood was not listed in the declaration of interests by Councillor Vance since its purchase in 2004 and 2014. Vance insisted that it was not necessary to list it as it belonged to his son, Peter.
It then emerged from the pages of property website, Myhome.ie, in early June, that an agreement for the sale of 15 Saran Wood was made after it went up for sale in May. There was no ‘for sale’ or ‘sale agreed’ sign on the three-bedroomed property but that did not prevent some eager buyer from identifying and purchasing the ‘des res’ in double-quick time.
An inquiry into Dooley’s allegation is being pursued by the Council, the auctioneer has been informed.
Council official assured McDonagh lands would be rezoned and his own downzoned
Any official inquiry into Wicklow will first and foremost have to examine how certain people were allowed to play fast and loose with normal planning and re-zoning guidelines including the manner in which lands at Newtownmountkennedy were apparently the subject of assurances between council officials and developers before any motion for their re-zoning from agricultural use were discussed by the elected councillors.
According to businessman, Brian McDonagh, in July 2008 he was offered 68 acres of land near the N11 which DLTM Taxation & Business Solutions said were worth €1.5m per acre while they were still zoned for agriculture.
“Needless to say, once planning approval is received, this value will increase substantially”, a letter on 30th July 2008 from Ray Murphy of DLTM to McDonagh stated.
According to the letter, a link road through the site “has been included in the Local Area Plan (LAP) for Co Wicklow and there is considerable support within the Council for the proposed (mixed commercial/light industrial) development”.
It continued: “Our clients have been informed by the Council that there is unprecedented interest in the site due to its proximity to the N11 and unique access to the county’s arterial corridors. The Council itself has a vested interest in promoting development because of the much needed revenue it can generate for the county”.
In early August 2008, the McDonaghs were offered the agriculture-zoned lands by an agent for developer, David Agar, and when they queried how zoning for industrial use could be guaranteed they were invited to meet a senior executive of the council. Council official, Tony O’Neill, met McDonagh and his brother a few days later at the Marriott Hotel at Druid’s Glen and gave them an absolute “99.5%” assurance that the Agar lands would be re-zoned for local employment at the September meeting of the council a couple of weeks later.
What is peculiar in all this is that the DLTM letter pre-dates the making of the LAP for Wicklow and that commitments appeared to have been provided by council officials before any decision by elected members to re-zone the lands controlled by developers Agar and Jim Wood among others, including nine acres owned by the council.
The meeting to make these decisions was not due until 1st September 2008 when the lands were indeed re-zoned ‘E’ for employment use.
What has infuriated McDonagh and his family is that industrial-zoned lands they had purchased across the road were de-zoned from industrial to agriculture at the same council meeting. It was clear when he was approached with the offer from DLTM to buy the Agar owned lands the people behind the offer, and indeed the council executives, were not aware that he and his family already owned zoned lands in the immediate area.
When McDonagh kicked up a fuss about this blatant abuse of his rights after the de-zoning of his lands he was contacted by Fianna Fáil Councillor, Pat Vance, then chairman of the special planning committee of the council and at a hastily organised meeting in the Ramada Hotel in Bray was offered a re-zoning on his lands as long as it did not conflict with the zoning on the Agar lands.
The McDonagh lands were subsequently zoned exclusively for a data centre, a project which the family pursued before meeting even more obstruction from the council and other state agencies and ending up in financial ruin.