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Sean Mulryan, moaning

The Kildare developer complains about the planning system which generated him hundreds of millions of euro, entry into NAMA, and controversy.

Sean Mulryan has been on something of a publicity blitz recently, bemoaning the bureaucracy of the planning system, the housing crisis, and the shortage of skilled workers leading to inevitably higher labour costs and property prices, among other issues in a Q&A piece in the Sunday Business Post on 1 October. It was more interesting, however, for what he did not say, as journalist Tom Lyons made it clear that the questions permitted by the developer had been limited.

Unfortunately, the Kildare developer was not probed on issues which have perplexed Village for several years, in particular the manner in which he and his company Zapi Ltd managed to acquire valuable public lands for little or no apparent consideration in contracts he agreed with then Wicklow County Manager Eddie Sheehy, and Fianna Fáil councillor Pat Vance, in 2003.

Zapi was a joint venture with developer Sean Dunne and their acquisition of the public land allowed hugely valuable road access to their 1800-home development at Charlesland, near Greystones, county Wicklow.

Judge Marie Baker said Zapi was “in the ether” of the defamation case brought by Councillor Tommy Cullen and former councillor Barry Nevin, against Sheehy and Wicklow County Council, from which they emerged victorious and vindicated when she ruled in their favour a number of weeks ago.

In the course of her judgment, Judge Baker, said that Sheehy had acted with malice against the councillors when he issued a press release in 2013 blaming them for wasting council resources by objecting to a compulsory purchase order (CPO) on other lands close to Charlesland which prompted an inquiry led by Seamus Woulfe SC. The Fine Gael-linked lawyer concluded that there was nothing inappropriate about the CPO in two reports he completed into the Council land purchase.

Woulfe is now attorney general and it did not go unnoticed in legal circles, whatever about media or political ones, that Judge Baker made an implicit criticism of his inquiry reports and findings, which she described as ‘opinion’ rather than ‘fact’. She also noted that Woulfe had been provided with important documents, including the controversial 2003 contracts between the Council and Zapi, as well as OPW and other records showing that the lands which were the subject of the CPO orders, ostensibly for social housing, were on a flood plain. It was evident that she was not impressed by the thoroughness of his investigation.

The issue has not gone away, however, and it is very possible that Woulfe will come under pressure to provide some sort of public explanation as to how he came to his conclusions given that he had, as Judge Baker concluded, access to far more detailed material and records than either of the defamed councillors. At one point during his evidence to the court last year, which went largely unreported, Woulfe disputed a claim by Sheehy that he had been given access to all relevant material pertaining to the flooding and other issues concerning the lands at Three Trout Stream near Charlesland.

Returning to Mulryan, he was asked about some of these matters, including the ‘secret’ contracts, as they are now referred to by the Wicklow Councillors, when he appeared at the Banking Inquiry in 2015. He said he could not recall the contracts and that the questions, posed by former TD Joe Higgins, should be referred to the County Manager, Sheehy.

Now, in another rare media outing, Mulryan has announced that he is hoping to get up to €150m for No. 1 Dublin Landings, an office complex he is constructing with his Singapore partner, Oxley, and NAMA, in the city docklands. According to the developer the 10-storey, 13,300 square metre office block will be completed early next year and has already been let to the National Treasury Management Agency, which of course hosts NAMA’s operation in the Treasury Building on Grand Canal Street across the river. The Treasury building is owned by Johnny Ronan who developed it years ago with Paddy McKillen, both of whom have been in dispute with NAMA over the past number of years in relation to the agency’s handling of their multi-million-euro distressed loan-books and other assets.

In contrast, Mulryan has emerged as a favoured developer partnering NAMA in other residential projects in Dublin and Kildare and getting back to his favourite pastime of buying and racing horses. He expects that any wellfunded purchaser of the Dublin Landings office block, the first of five he, Oxley and NAMA are building on and around North Wall Quay, will make an initial return of 4.5% on the investment.

As well as the offices, retail and restaurant facilities, the plans for Dublin Landings include 288 apartments which will provide accommodation for those working in the glass buildings. In the same week when it emerged that just 7% of the land offloaded to various funds, at huge discounts, by NAMA over recent years, have actually been built on, Mulryan’s latest venture with the agency is unlikely to make a dent on the housing shortage, other than for those with very deep pockets. Then again, as he moaned in the Business Post article, it’s not his fault the country and the housing market is in such a mess.