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Wick-lowdown, 2015

By Frank Connolly

The controversy surrounding the acquisition of lands at Charlesland, near Greystones in Wicklow by property developers Sean Mulryan and Sean Dunne in 2004 continues to haunt the local authority even since the departure last month of county manager, Eddie Sheehy.

Environment minister, Alan Kelly, is under pressure from junior finance minister and Wicklow TD, Simon Harris, and other local representatives to initiate an inquiry into the relations between the two prominent developers and senior council officials as well as into the continuing saga of the multi-million-euro illegal waste dumping scandal in the garden county.

Among the key features of the controversy at Charlesland are the circumstances surrounding the transfer of valuable rights over council lands to companies controlled by Dunne and Mulryan, which provided them with access to the largely landlocked site estimated at the time to have a potential value of €2.5bn.

Over recent months, Village has put several queries to Wicklow County Council about a contract signed in July 2003 by Sheehy and Fianna Fáil councillor, Pat Vance, on the one hand and by legal representatives for two companies, Brambleglen Ltd and Ballymore contracting Ltd, Mulryan and Dunne.

The contract provided crucial road access to the Charlesland site where the developers had permission to build almost 1,400 homes along with shopping and other facilities. Local auctioneer, Gabriel Dooley, who assembled the lands from the Evans and Tracey families in the preceding years claims that Mulryan and Dunne had a special relationship with the council which ensured that they were able to acquire the valuable road access across its lands at minimum cost.

In reply to a question from Village, the Council in early April confirmed that it “exchanged easements with Mr Dunne and the other parties”.

“There was in fact no disposal of land to Mr Dunne and the other parties you referred to in your enquiry. The County Council exchanged easements with Mr Dunne and the other parties over the lands which make up the dual-carriageway at Charlesland which are the subject of the registration mentioned in your email. This road has facilitated the subsequent development of lands owned by IDA (Ireland), Wicklow County Council and those developers”, the Council said.

The statement confirms that the contract agreed in July 2003 and seen by Village was the instrument used to effect the exchange of easements. The Council did not respond to a question about the value of the lands in question or why Councillor Pat Vance was a signature to the agreement when he did not represent the Charlesland or Greystones areas.   It stated, however: “All elected members are authorised to be in attendance at/witness the affixing of the council seal on documents”.

Land-registry documents confirm that the “right of way and other easements” in favour of Sean Mulryan, Sean Dunne, Brambleglen Ltd and Ballymore Contracting Ltd. were transferred on 22nd January 2004.

According to Dooley, the circa 6.5 acres of zoned land in question were worth in excess of €10m at their 2003 value and provided an additional, unquantifiable, benefit to the developers who required them to gain access to much of the Charlesland site. The exchange was made without any discussion by the elected members of the council and without the knowledge of the Greystones/Delgany area committee which would have been expected to be informed about such a major land deal.

It also followed the defeat of a request by the County management, at a council meeting on 12th May, 2003, and proposed by Councillor Vance, for a material contravention of the Wicklow County Development plan to facilitate aspects of the Charlesland scheme which was under construction by Zapi Ltd, the joint venture formed by Mulryan and Dunne.

After a sometimes heated discussion at the Council, the county manager failed to get the necessary 18 votes to agree the material contravention. At the heart of the discussion was the concern by councillors of the effect on Greystones commercial town centre of a competing retail development at Charlesland, the largest residential scheme in the county.  According to the minutes of the meeting, councillors were also exercised over the commencement of works by the developer and there were calls for some issues to be referred to the High Court. They rejected a threat by the county manager to refuse the entire planning application unless the members accepted the proposal to contravene the development plan.

Almost all the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael members of the council supported the motion but several others including then councillors Deirdre De Burca (Green), Liam Kavanagh, Liz McManus,  both Labour, and Eleanor Roche, wife of former minister, Dick Roche, abstained. Independent councillor Tommy Cullen was the only member to vote against the motion which fell for lack of support.

Two months earlier, in March 2003, Dooley was present in Dobbins restaurant in Dublin for a meeting lasting several hours between Mulryan, Dunne and Vance. At this meeting, he claims that maps of the proposed scheme and the road-access routes, and a strategy for the successful acquisition of the necessary lands, were discussed.

In the July 2003 contract, the council agreed to acquire whatever additional lands were needed by the developers by compulsory purchase order.

Notably, nothing has emerged to suggest that either Councillor Vance or Sheehy acted improperly at any time.

When landowners John Nolan and William Irwin then refused to sell their lands at Three Trout Stream adjoining the development to Zapi or to the Council a compulsory purchase order was signed in January 2004. Eight days later, the exchange of easements was registered to the developers on the nearby council and IDA lands.

The on-going row over planning decisions at Wicklow comes at a time when Mulryan is planning to exit the National Assets Management Agency (NAMA) and Dunne is seeking to protect various assets from the Agency and from various banks in Ireland and the US, including lands he has said he owns with his wife at Greystones.

NAMA is also the subject of a complaint by Dooley to the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation which has been asked to investigate the manner in which details of the estate agent’s private discussions with its officials and representatives of the former Anglo-Irish Bank were revealed to a senior executive of Ballymore Properties.

Dooley has claimed that Mulryan is in breach of an agreement to pay him €4m in relation to a property venture at Florentine in Bray in which he was a partner.

He has further claimed that information about this claim which he provided in confidence to NAMA officials was passed on to Ballymore. •

Gabriel Dooley has alleged that the National Assets Management Agency (NAMA) has breached his confidence by revealing details of private conversations he had with his bank to a company controlled by property developer, Sean Mulryan.

In a detailed statement to the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation seen by Village, he has claimed that senior executives of Anglo Irish Bank (now the IBRC) and NAMA passed on sensitive commercial information to a (named) senior executive of the Ballymore Group in late 2010.

The information concerned a threat by Dooley to take legal proceedings against Mulryan and Ballymore over an alleged breach of contract involving a planned multi-million-euro retail development in Florentine in Bray town centre.

In 2005, Dooley agreed to sell his 50% shareholding in Florentine Properties Ltd to his joint-venture partners, Ballymore, for €5.2m. A down payment of €1m was paid to Dooley with the balance of €4m due on completion of the shopping centre or on the sale of the site.

In 2007, Ballymore agreed to the compulsory purchase of the Florentine site by Bray Town Council and the deal was given the go-ahead by An Bord Pleanála, following an oral hearing, in February 2009.

However, Dooley has claimed that Ballymore refused to honour its commitment to pay the €4m balance he was owed for his shareholding in Florentine Properties Ltd.

When he informed Anglo that he intended to pursue Ballymore for the outstanding monies in early November and December 2010, the information was passed on to officials of NAMA based in the London branch of the bank and from there to Ballymore. At that time, Ballymore was one of the largest clients of NAMA with some €2.75bn of its loans transferred to the ‘bad bank’ agency.

Dooley has provided detailed email communications to the fraud squad which established that information about his planned legal action was passed to Ballymore and resulted in an angry phone call from one of its senior executives in Dublin.

“On 8th December 2010 I received a phone call from …(a named executive) of Ballymore stating that he had received a call and an email regarding the €4m due to me. He was furious on the phone as I had showed an intention to issue proceedings against Ballymore……(He) stated to me that Ballymore always regarded me as a long-standing close friend of Ballymore Group going back many years. No one else was aware of my plan to sue Ballymore except myself, the Anglo people and my legal team. There is no reason at this time that Ballymore should have been aware of this highly sensitive information”, Dooley said in the statement made to the fraud squad on 15th January last.

In January 2011, he refused an offer of a six-figure sum from Ballymore to settle the outstanding debt.

He said that the breach of confidentiality led to a breakdown in trust with his bank, Anglo, which appointed a receiver over his property portfolio and had a devastating effect on his “private auctioneering wife and my five children”, according to the statement.

The fraud squad has already taken criminal proceedings against another former official of NAMA, Enda Farrell, who is accused of wrongly disclosing confidential information from the agency. The case is expected to continue into early next year. •

Frank Connolly