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Villager – April 2016.

Auctioneer Christies will sell paintings from the Alfred Beit Foundation’s collection, mostly based in Russborough House, Co Wicklow

Old masters – of bad practice.

Russborough-HouseChristies is the agent for the export and proposed sale by auction of nine paintings and a drawing – including paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, David Teniers II and Francesco Guardi – from the Alfred Beit Foundation’s collection, mostly based in Russborough House, Co Wicklow. Scandalously, and in breach of established good practice internationally, the sale is intended to meet ongoing upkeep costs at the Blessington mansion, one of the finest historic houses in Ireland. Two items have already been sold and, while a controversy erupted last year that averted the sale of the remainder, the Foundation stubbornly intends to auction four more over the summer. The Judith Woodward-headed foundation considers that it would have to pay Christies a penalty if it doesn’t go ahead with the auction. The problem is that Kildare-based Christies, whose website says it “maintains offices in the UK and Ireland” doesn’t have a licence from Ireland’s Property Services (Regulation) Authority to provide “property services” (defined as service for the auction of property whether land or otherwise) as required under ss 28 and 29 of the 2011 Property Services (Regulation) Act. It seems to be a criminal offence to hold yourself as able to auction goods in Ireland without such a licence. So the Foundation need have no fear of the consequences of doing the right thing…

Not Allsops

Ordinary folk will be celebrating the return to Ireland of whit-shoe auctioneer Sothebys which took a break from Éire during the country’s recent economic difficulty. According to the Sunday Business Post it is once again “to roll out its high-end property business to Ireland, offering ‘exceptional’ and ‘exotic’ homes only”.

Intellectuals utterly and terribly abroad


If anyone quotes “changed utterly”, Villager will spit. All. Changed. Utterly. Terrible. Beauty. Born. Nothing but cliché.

Though he’s never written anything that bad, Michael D Higgins is famously Ireland’s worst poet but leading public intellectual, even if his only original idea about the Rising seems to have been that imperialist triumphalism hasn’t been adequately interrogated. And Villager thought the sixties and seventies were about little else.

In fact Michael D seems to be Ireland’s only stayathome public intellectual. And he is thoughtful about, and as President appropriately immersed in, Ireland in 2016. Colm Tóibin, Roy Foster, Bob Geldof – all tourists with their fingers off the pulse of Ireland 2016 serve as mouthpieces for a nation, externally and increasingly internally too.

Rooted in an era when they though the country irreformable they now seem uncomfortable in gauging the extent of its modernisation. They nod vituperatively, as they should, at the homelessness crisis, and suchlike, but really they don’t have a feel for the country now. While they have been admirable forces for progress in civil liberties it is not clear what view they take on contemporary issues of equality of social and economic rights. Fintan O’Toole spends much of the year in Princeton, New Jersey but, Villager thinks, keeps his feet on the ground enough to still know what it makes sense to get angry about.


Of Pearse and Connolly I admire the latter the most. Connolly was a realist, Pearse the direct opposite. I would have followd Connolly to hell had such action been necessary. But I honestly doubt… I would have followed Pearse.

– Michael Collins


As Village was going to print the Irish Times’ incipient new political editor, Pat “I’ve never been the same since Mara passed on” Leahy, reported that, “Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin is to tell acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny a Fine Gael minority government is the only option his party can support.

It is understood Mr Martin is going to demand the acting Taoiseach withdraw his comments that Fine Gael cannot support a minority Fianna Fáil government”.

If it’s going to support Fine Gael why is Martin so concerned that Fine Gael shouldn’t say it wouldn’t support Fianna Fáil?

English muffin

Soccer royalty
Soccer royalty

As Village went to press the still environment minister, Alan Kelly, was to join TV3 presenter Glenda Gilson, model Sarah Morrissey, soccer pundits Eamon Dunphy and Johnny Giles, Eurovision hopeful Nicky Byrne, and former Ireland soccer international Ray Houghton on the catwalk as a model for the Freedom Of Dublin Charity Fashion Show is in aid of the John Giles Foundation and the Capuchin Day Centre for Homeless People. Both charities are fronted by Freemen of the capital. “Later on tonight I’m partaking in a fashion show, your public will be delighted to hear”, Mr Kelly intoned to RTE’s Today with Sean O’Rourke, as Village was finalising his copy.

“It’s being run by Emma English who is a partner of John Delaney’s”, he noted, confidence-inspiringly.

Minded games

The same Kelly announced an organisational review of An Bord Pleanála last year, largely playing to the rural one-off housing brigade’s hopes of decentralisation (ie an end to planning), though the terms of reference didn’t embrace anything so populist.

The launch of the Review Group’s report last month escaped the media, now retired environment editor Frank McDonald only appears in the Irish Times on special occasions.

Tellingly, An Bord Pleánála received 1979 new cases in 2015, 1810 in 2014 but 6664 in boomtime 2007. The report noted without enthusiasm that large numbers of judicial reviews under both the Habitats Directive and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directives and that a move to implementation of the Aarhus Convention Bill, which facilitates public participation in planning, makes it less likely An Bord Pleanála will get its legal costs in future litigation taken against it. it recommends simplification of the law through codification.

Chairman Gregory Jones QC proved a solid pair of hands and nothing too radical emerged. the report contains over 100 recommendations across a number of themes, including: a more cohesive planning system, communication with stakeholders and an improved legislative base.
The Group recommended amending Section 37 (1) (b) of the 2000 Planning Act to allow the Board to say that “it is minded to grant permission”, but to seek further information on a specific item, in order to allow a consent to be granted for an unclear application. This would annoy the EU and its EIA regime which don’t like anything getting through whose implications haven’t been clearly assessed for the scrutiny of the public. But An Bord Pleanála has never been excited about the EU’s planning agenda and its tedious public-participation obsession.

The past is our future

Bosses at listed housebuilder Cairn Homes are getting their hard-earned payday under a “founders’ shares” incentive scheme set up by the company.

Cairn shares closed over 112.5c for more than 15 consecutive days in March, meaning that the performance condition for the payout has been met.

The scheme runs over seven years, and the men are only entitled to a payout if the company achieves a 12.5pc increase in total shareholder return (encompassing share price rises and dividends), calculated in a test period each year on a compound basis. The IPO price was €1.

Boomtown property tryst
Boomtown property tryst

Under the scheme, the holders of founders’ shares, chief executive Michael Stanley, executive director Alan McIntosh, and chief commercial officer Kevin Stanley, are entitled to 20pc of the total increase in the company’s market capitalisation since its IPO, with the increase calculated from a test period running from March 1 to June 30. Cairn is well-positioned to meet suppressed demand for housing as it owns a business park in Artane, Dublin 5, and development land in Galway and Killiney in south Dublin.

What is less well known is that the Stanleys controlled Stanley Holdings, which built Belmayne, the country’s most sexily marketed apartment development which required remedial fire-safety measures – partly paid for by state-owned NAMA – and the temporary evacuation of around 240 residents in 2012.

Good to see they’re moving on, and up.

Six-feet Underwood

One of the most colourful figures in the Dublin property world, Marie Underwood, died in March 2016, outliving her Southampton-born husband Ivor by ten years, and leaving an only daughter, Lisa.

Always rumoured, but never confirmed, to have been a demi-glamorous Theatre Royal ‘Royalette’ dancer, Marie retained a distinctive MODE to the end, in Elizabeth Taylor-style turbaned hats. The Underwoods” with their cream and maroon vintage 1950s Wolsey car became a phenomenon on the Dublin’s macho property scene.


As enthusiastic Irish Georgian Society members in the 1960s the Underwoods were inspired by Desmond and Mariga Guinness to buy run-down Georgian buildings across northside Dublin, including on all four sides of Mountjoy Sq, Capel St, Henrietta St and North Great Georges St. They also snapped up southside properties in Kildare St, Baggot st, Talbot St, three on Parliament St and three on Dame St, as well as the prominent No 1 Merrion Sq and many other houses in Dun Laoghaire, Dalkey and Rathmines. The full number was estimated at 70.
Collecting buildings was the Underwoods’ passion. The practicalities of investing in new uses and recovering income proved challenging. In most of their northside Georgian buildings they took the approach of doing minimal maintenance and putting in caretakers. There was always abortive talk of great plans including a museum in 3 Henrietta St. Part-time residents of Dalkey, Co Dublin, the Underwoods established tax residency on Las Palmas in the Canaries.

All over the city property owners were becoming exercised by the problem of being beside an neglected Underwood building. The City Council did the Corpo equivalent of losing its patience.

Compulsory Purchase Orders on the two Henrietta St houses resulted in years of legal conflict.

There was a high-profile spat with Senator David Norris in North Great Georges St resulting in legal action over a rear extension they had built in breach of building regulations. Realising that it was all to much, the Underwoods adopted a policy of leasing and then selling buildings, often unwisely.

After Ivor’s death in 2006 his estate was values at €70 million, with properties already held by Marie or transferred to their daughter Lisa. There is now little of the property empire left in family ownership.

While in many cases buildings acquired by the Underwoods would otherwise have fallen to less scrupled developers, the story is one of lost opportunity, and good intentions unmatched by good advice.

Village office will fall down

AirAsia-owner, Tony Fernandez, serves as chairman of QPR football club and owns Tunes Hotels, a cut-price though high-quality hotel chain. Through his Malaysia-based company, Boteco Holdings he owns the Ormond Hotel, setting for the Sirens scene in Joyce’s Ulysses, next to Village’s office. Having been turned down for 190 rooms it is now in for planning to demolish its mid-twentieth-century façade and replace it with a 120-room new hotel.

Rich people to get what they want, and richer

Meanwhile across the river, upmarket food ‘emporium’ barrister-favourite Fallon and Byrne is surfacing behind the façade of the Clarence Hotel-owned Dollard House, one of Ireland’s first steel-framed buildings. The Clarence’s loans have recently been bought at a discount from NAMA by Bono, the Edge and Paddy McKillen after the lineup dropped Derek Quinlan – one-time antagonist of McKillen over the Maybourne Hotels Group which included London’s Savoy and Claridge’s – after he got into complications with the state-owned bad bank.

villager-5Ulster say no to poison

A woman in Northern Ireland was given a three month suspended sentence in early April having pleaded guilty to two charges – procuring her own abortion by using a poison, the abortion pill, and supplying a poison with intent to procure a miscarriage. Had she lived in any other jurisdiction in the UK she would not have been brought before the courts, as she would actually have been able legally to obtain services on the NHS. Apparently, the woman trusted the people she lived with enough to tell them about her situation, and they contacted the police.

15 love, the planetarium

The OPW has made a planning application to Dublin City Council for the construction of a planetarium at the rear of the former UCD block at Earlsfort Terrace. Unfortunately they also want to convert a unique former Tennis court bequeathed to the State by Rupert Guinness in 1935 to an exhibition space, removing, irreversibly, its principal features.

Flyaway planet

There was a 20% increase in greenhouse-gas emissions from Moneypoint in 2015, as it was favoured for electricity generation due to its greater availability and cheapness to run. Gas is about half as carbon-intensive as coal. It contributed to a 5.3% increase in industry emissions year –on-year. Meanwhile, Ryanair released 7.4m tonnes up from 6.6m the previous year, the biggest increase of any airline in Europe and Dublin Airport is to pursue a nearly expired 2007 permission for a new €320 million runway, to be built north of the current one by 2020, to facilitate the almost exclusively relatively wealthy travellers and their bid to drown the planet in gratuitous greenhouse-gas-generated sea-rise. Aircraft belchings of course aren’t calculated as part of national emissions. Yet.


Who lodged the spurious complaint against Lucinda Creighton that she got a gift of discounted legal services and didn’t declare it? SIPO decided at its March 14 meeting not to pursue the complaint on grounds “there was no factual basis on which to support it” but it will shortly reveal the person behind the allegations. The Indo and Sindo published no fewer than eight articles about it, presumably because someone thinks Denis O’Brien supports Enda Kenny who hates Lucinda who hates Denis O’Brien.