By Frank Connolly
As Village was going to print a writ threatening defamation proceedings against Gabriel Dooley was lodged in the High Court by Simon McAleese Solicitors acting for former Wicklow county manager, Eddie Sheehy.
During the same week the editor of the Wicklow Times, Shay Fitzmaurice received a letter from solicitors McGuire McNeice acting for Councillor Pat Vance in which the politician is seeking an apology and damages and a written undertaking not to repeat any further defamatory statements such as those he claimed were published in the newspaper in April 2014.
In the articles concerned, Fitzmaurice wrote about numerous allegations circulated to all elected members of Wicklow County Council by Dooley concerning named councillors and officials.
The plenary summons lodged by Ray Ryan BL for Sheehy with the court seeks punitive and aggravated damages against Dooley for malicious falsehood and conspiracy and the costs of any action that might follow.
Just days after Sheehy announced his decision to retire earlier this year Dooley, a prominent auctioneer, circulated another detailed set of questions and complaints concerning the involvement of named officials and councillors in major property developments in Bray and Greystones.
The forty-four questions submitted by Dooley centred on the manner in which two of Ireland’s leading developers, Sean Dunne and Sean Mulryan, acquired council lands (through an exchange of easements) to gain road access to a major residential and retail scheme at Charlesland near Greystones in the early 2000s. (see pages 10-11)
Dooley had assembled the mainly landlocked private properties at Charlesland for the developers and was a partner with Mulryan in the Florentine development in Bray town centre before they fell out over an outstanding €4m debt which the auctioneer claims he is owed by the developer.
Dooley’s questions also relate to the manner in which the council acquired lands under compulsory purchase (CPO) orders to provide access to Charlesland from the N11 motorway, the main route from Dublin to the south-east, among other issues.
He has asked the environment minister, Alan Kelly, whether he is satisfied with the manner in which the Greystones Southern Access route (SAR) and the Kilpedder Interchange on the N11 were financed and what monies the developers contributed for the roads, a roundabout at Charlesland and for other services provided for the scheme.
Over the 14 years that Sheehy was at the helm, the council was embroiled in a succession of embarrassing episodes, and legal actions, from the illegal dumping of waste to planning and re-zoning disputes involving some of the country’s leading, and wealthiest, developers.
Sheehy featured in the national newspapers a few years ago after they exposed a holiday junket by current and former council staff to Florida in which he was photographed with a fistful of dollars. He was at the losing end of a High Court action taken by three councillors whom he wrongly barred from the council chamber after they lost a defamation action against the county manager.
He also featured in another controversial High Court outing when the council sought to have companies involved in widespread illegal dumping pay for the remediation of polluted landfills in west Wicklow. The court action was suspended in late 2011 after it heard evidence that the council itself was involved in illegal dumping of waste at the huge Whitestown dump while one of its authorised officers had sought to obtain the contract to remediate the site and reap millions in profit from the clean-up.
Dooley’s bitter antagonism with Mulryan centres on an arrangement which the pair had to purchase and develop the Florentine site in Bray town centre, where Dooley has one of his auctioneering offices. Between 1996 and 2002 he assembled the properties of dozens of landowners for Mulryan’s company, the Ballymore Group on which they planned to build a major retail centre. They formed a consortium, Florentine Properties Ltd. (FPL) with Ballymore and Dooley each holding 50% shares and negotiated a loan from Bank of Scotland which took the title deeds from all of Dooley’s commercial assets as security. In June 2005, Ballymore acquired Dooley’s shareholding for €5m with a down payment of €1m and the balance to be paid when the 100,000 sq. ft. shopping centre and 85 apartments were completed, or on the sale of the site.
In 2007, Wicklow County Council placed a CPO on the site which was enforced in 2009. By this time, some €2.75bn of distressed Ballymore loans from a range of institutions including Anglo Irish Bank, Irish Nationwide, Allied Irish Banks and the Bank of Ireland were in the National Assets Management Agency (NAMA). •