I picked this off the Irish Times to-day and every Irish citizen should read it
Before we storm the Dail and rid ourselves of the corrupt leaches that roam about there!
The Irish Times – Saturday, July 17, 2010
Rise and fall of a Tiger tycoon
At the height of the boom the property developer Paddy Kelly was worth €350 million. Now he’s €350 million in debt. Yet he still drives a BMW, lives in ‘a lovely house’, and admires Anglo Irish Bank. He spends a day with FINTAN O’TOOLE
I MEET PADDY KELLY on St Stephen’s Green and get into the huge, tank-like 7-series BMW he bought in 2003 for €139,000. Naively, perhaps, I am a little surprised to see a Nama-bound property developer still driving such a fine car.
At the height of the property boom, he tells me later, he was worth about €350 million. Now he owes the banks roughly the same amount – a €700 million reversal of fortune in three years.
As we set out on a day-long tour of some of the buildings through which he made and lost that fortune I ask how he’s managing for money. “I have no credit cards. I have to use my wife Maureen’s.” But he does not seem too bothered. “I suppose people think I’m having a tough time, but I’m not. I’ve never had a tough time in my life.”
Last year, as banks circled around him, he and Maureen moved out of Dublin’s most salubrious address, Shrewsbury Road. “I’m living in a nice house on Morehampton Road now,” he says. “In a way that suits everyone, including those who need to know that Paddy Kelly has suffered. [He laughs.] That’s fine – it’s a lovely house.”
Later, when we’re discussing his extensive travels abroad, I ask him again how he’s managing for money. He tells me a story of the last time he was in trouble with the banks. He went broke in the last slump, in 1987, and owed money – “might have been half a million, not huge” – to Lombard and Ulster Bank. The day after he settled with them, he bought a house on Shrewsbury Road. “They were on the phone from London: ‘How could you do that?’ I said: ‘Did I not tell you I married a woman of independent means?’ ”
He smiles cryptically and we head west out of the city, towards the site of his first big deal.
Castletown House, Celbridge, 1969: ‘It was time the Irish went through the front gate’
PADDY KELLY’S father, Christopher, combined building with farming in Clonmore, outside Portlaoise, until his health failed in the 1960s. One of his favourite sayings was: “You’ll never go hungry if you own a few acres.”
Another, which Kelly quotes more than once on the journey, was the advice he gave to his sons as they went off to make their fortunes: “Don’t be like Whalen’s pony.” Whalen’s pony was a horse that won all the local races in Laois but turned out to be useless beyond home ground.
Kelly and his brothers made money building houses around the country during Ireland’s first big property boom, in the 1960s. Kelly was anxious to use that money to break into the Dublin market.
He went to see the doyen of the mass builders, Matt Gallagher. “He had uncontrollable hiccups. I remember saying when I’m his age I don’t want that. One of things I said to him at the end of it was, I asked him why did he only build estates of semi-detached houses. He said: ‘Well, I started building them and I kept going.’ There was no philosophy behind it.”
He had spotted, on his way up to Dublin from Laois, 60 acres of land belonging to the desmesne of one of Ireland’s finest big houses, the early 18th-century Castletown House, were for sale. Kelly’s great-grandfather and namesake was imprisoned for his role in the Land League’s struggle against ascendancy landlords.
“We put down a £35,000 deposit on Castletown. We had it from the building work. The family farms had to be put up as well. But within a short period we had it laid off, and we ended up with very little money on the table.”
Kildare County Council refused permission for 450 houses to be built on the demesne land. Kevin Boland, the Fianna Fáil minister for local government, overruled the council, sparking off a highly symbolic clash over the nature of development, pitting Fianna Fáil and the developers against the Irish Georgian Society and An Taisce.
Kelly remarked at the time, referring to the fact that the houses are beside the main gate of the estate, “It was time the Irish went through the front gate.”
For Kelly, the Castletown deal was the easiest money he ever made. He didn’t build the houses; he simply sold on the land when the planning permission came through. “We made about £175,000. If I’d put it into shares and walked away and practised golf all those years, I’d be very wealthy now.”
By then he was in what he constantly refers to as “the game”. “If you were wiser and you were doing it strictly for business, you could walk away with your winnings. But that’s more of an abstract thought – if you’re involved in the game, you stay involved.”
Castle Court, Booterstown, 1971: ‘I ordered a hundred bottles of Champagne – it wasn’t expensive then’
AS WE DRIVE up Booterstown Avenue, just off the south side of Dublin Bay, Paddy Kelly remembers that, around 1970, he was asked to try to sort out problems with the construction by another builder of a new middle-class housing estate called Georgian Village, in Castleknock, west Dublin. He suggested to the residents that they should move out of the houses and get their money back.
“The buyers didn’t want to leave. Everybody loved the houses. That was a very clear signal to me about market choice.” The rising middle class had developed a taste for mock-Georgiana even while the real thing was being torn down.
Kelly himself was acquiring some upmarket tastes from a cultured English gentleman named Ernest Ottewell, who was dabbling in the Irish property market. (Ottewell subsequently featured in the Flood tribunal in relation to alleged payments to the Fianna Fáil minister Ray Burke.) “He introduced us to Lloyd’s [insurance brokerage], to Rolls-Royces, to antique clocks and fireplaces – a very cultured man.” He also introduced Kelly to a nice site off Booterstown Avenue. “I did a deal with Ernest to buy the site for £150,000.”
Kelly was not interested in putting up standard box houses and had also concluded that “modern architecture didn’t pay.” He wanted to connect with the new desire for a bit of class. He scrapped the existing plans and worked with an architect on new designs that melded a touch of Georgiana (bow windows, brass doorknobs, flock wallpaper) with Mediterranean courtyards and arches that potential customers might have seen on holidays.
He came up with two styles: a four-bedroom two-storey house called the Rembrandt and a three-bedroom bungalow called the El Greco. They were, by the standards of the time, very expensive: £13,000 for the houses and £12,100 for the bungalows. But the scheme was, as he remembers, “the talk of the town”.
When he had built the two show houses, he had a grand opening and put 25 of the 50 properties in Castle Court on the market. The Fianna Fáil TD David Andrews came along to do the opening. “I ordered a hundred bottles of champagne – it wasn’t expensive then. The evening was joyful. I took deposits on every one of the 25 houses.” One well-known PR man put down his watch as a deposit.
By the time the last of the second batch of 25 houses was sold, 18 months later, the price had risen from £13,000 to £21,500. For his next big project, Hillcourt Park in Glenageary, he continued the old masters theme, christening the house style the Vermeer.
Monkstown Valley, late 1970s: ‘If you could afford not to develop, you made more’
WE CARRY on down the coast. He turns the car off Monkstown Road up a narrow avenue that opens into a series of small apartment blocks and modern houses, called Monkstown Valley. It was one of his biggest ventures in land acquisition, 17 acres assembled in four deals in the late 1970s. One of them, 5.5 acres bought from Park Hall school for £175,000, ended up in the Supreme Court when the school challenged whether he had a valid contract. His memory of winning that case seems to give him more pleasure than the estate itself.
Monkstown Valley taught him something about the way the property business worked in Ireland: the money was in the land. “We spent maybe £400,000 acquiring that site. But we worked through Monkstown with essentially no profit. All the community charges started coming in, and VAT, so anything you were doing was being taken away.”
He knew if he could hold on to the land, it would be worth a fortune. “If you didn’t develop, if you could afford not to develop, you made more money. But if you’re in the game, you don’t have that choice. You use all your money to put it back on the table.” This, he says, is why things went so crazy later on.
The buying of unzoned land evolved, he says, “into forms of corruption, fellas trying to take a shortcut. They have the money borrowed from the bank and they need permission to build.”
He was at this time an enthusiastic supporter of Fianna Fáil, and he made donations to the party. He also, he says, assisted with the purchase of a car for the former senator Des Hanafin to help him get elected. “He just needed a car to get around the country, so I guaranteed the loan.”
I ask Kelly whether he ever paid bribes. He spent, he says, “half a day” with the notorious Fianna Fáil fixer Liam Lawlor but says Lawlor made him uneasy. Kelly says the “nearest he came to it” was in employing relatives of a person connected with the planning process.
He also points to small-scale corruption as a regular feature of the industry. “Would I ever have given a fella a £20 note on a Friday evening when he comes out and he won’t turn on the electricity in a house without getting the money? The answer is I’d give it to him every time. Because the cheque for £4,000, or £5,000, or whatever is the price of the house, is dependent on the electricity.”
Former Jones Group site, Clonskeagh, 1996: ‘If we’d stopped, we’d be very wealthy’
BY THE LATE 1980s Paddy Kelly, who had been working in England during that fallow decade, sensed things were due to pick up in Ireland, and saw the opportunity to develop sites for multinational companies. He bought a chunk of land in Sandyford that now contains, among others, the headquarters of Microsoft.
“We bought that for £1.6 million in 1987/1988. It was £200,000 an acre. Land in Sandyford went to over £20 million an acre in 20 years. You explain that to me.” His biggest deal, though, was the purchase of an industrial site from the Jones Group, just west of the Belfield university campus.
“When Belfield came up we bought it for about £3.5 million in 1996. It’s about five acres.” When the American computer giant Compaq was considering whether to locate in Ireland or in Scotland, Kelly’s site was identified as the most attractive proposition.
With government backing, he got planning permission for twice the usual density of development: 32,500sq m (350,000sq ft). This made the site hugely lucrative.
The Jones Group site also marked an intensification of Kelly’s relationship with a bank that was making all the moves in the market: Anglo Irish. “They were fantastic, very flexible, getting the tenants in, live show.” Everything was sweet.
“We still have a stake in that development. It was very successful. At the end of Belfield if we’d stopped, we’d be very wealthy.” When I ask him why he didn’t stop, he asks: “Why do fish swim? Why do birds fly?”
Smithfield, 1998: ‘We’re supposed to be ashamed of it now apparently’
KELLY STAYED in the game and in 1998 bought a used-car scrapyard that occupied much of the western side of Smithfield square in Dublin. He and his partners paid €8 million for 2.6 acres owned by Charlie Duffy, who bought it for €635,000 from Dublin Corporation in 1991. Altogether, he acquired 4.2 acres, some of it through a compulsory-purchase order from the city council. In all he paid about €30 million.
We get out in Smithfield and stretch our legs. He brings me into a gym he owns and the Fresh supermarket he established. He is clearly proud of the development of what he sees as a successful urban quarter.
The nearest he comes to an emotional outburst is when he says: “Look at all of this. We built a million square feet. If you were in Paris or New York, you wouldn’t find it better. But apparently we’re supposed to be ashamed of it now. Would people be happier if this was still derelict?” He made, he says, very little profit from Smithfield. “Did we make some money? Yes, but it was left behind in buildings whose value has disappeared. So where we are today? No profit.”
Smurfit HQ, Clonskeagh, 2003: ‘There was no better team than Anglo Irish. I will defend them to the end’
ANGLO IRISH BANK funded Smithfield, and Kelly maintains it would not have been done without them. Before we left Clonskeagh we followed his trail up Beech Hill Road and into the low, modernist complex that is the headquarters of the Smurfit group. In 2003 Kelly and his partners bought the four-acre site for €25 million.
What is interesting about the deal, though, is that Kelly again took the money from Anglo Irish, even though much better terms were on offer.
“Bank of Ireland were happy to do it at 1 per cent [interest over base rates] on a non-recourse basis” (meaning Kelly would not be personally liable for the borrowings). Anglo Irish were offering 1.25 per cent, with personal recourse. Why did he stick with Anglo?
“We always felt there was some element of ‘thank you’. Because we had grown together. We could have laid it off with Bank of Ireland, AIB. They were dying to do the business. But it’s my nature to be loyal.” Anglo, he says, was always much better at keeping the cash flowing on time. With them, “the game was ongoing. If you had a big problem, they’d say: ‘Stick it to one side and deal with it later, but get back in the game.’ ”
He even bought shares in Anglo, although he sold them when they worth €17.30 each because “I knew myself at the time it made no sense”. Nevertheless, he insists: “I’ve never known one person at Anglo who wasn’t a decent person.”
What, I ask, about Seán FitzPatrick and the numerous ways in which shareholders were misled about the real state of the bank?
“It wasn’t so much a defrauding as a misrepresentation. It went on in Ireland, because we all moved money around balance sheets. And auditors signed off on it. Sean was wrong but he was also right. He was wrong in that regard, but where he was right was that until we lost our way in the last five or six years, there was no better team than Anglo Irish. I will defend them to the end.”
Dublin Docklands, 1990s to date: ‘I remember that phone call on the Glass Bottle site’
WE STOP FOR a cup of coffee at the Clarion Hotel, next to the International Financial Services Centre. The Clarion is part of a strategy he developed in the 1990s: building hotels and then running them. Most of the hotel development was, he says, dependent on tax breaks and subsidies.
“We tendered for the hotel in the IFSC. We paid about £3.5 million. If it was an office block it would have been worth €10 million. The site for the hotel had to be subsidised.”
The business made a lot of money for him when he sold two of his brands, Comfort and Quality, to the businessman Pat McCann for €42 million. (His personal gain was about €14 million.) “But the money we sold for became a loss in Pat McCann’s company.”
We go next door to the Clarion apartment complex. We take the lift to a bright, airy apartment Kelly imagined might eventually serve as a more modest home for himself and his wife. From the balcony, we look over at many of his docklands projects: Gallery Quay, the O2 headquarters, even an undeveloped block he owns on City Quay where he thinks a 30-storey tower should go. Looking down the river, we can just make out the notorious Glass Bottle Company site, bought by Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA) and Bernard McNamara in 2006 for €412 million.
“I remember getting that phone call on the Glass Bottle site from [DDDA chairman] Lar Bradshaw. ‘Paddy, would you join us and buy this site?’ ‘Did you not hear?’ I said. ‘The party’s over.’ I was amazed when Bernard and all the boys, who should be clued in, got into that site. I don’t want to be a smart-arse, and we all make mistakes, but it was very late in the day.”
He admits he was not always so prescient. When Sean Dunne paid a disastrous €450 million for the Jury’s hotel site in Ballsbridge in 2005, Kelly bid just €1.4 million less.
Burlington Plaza, Burlington Rd, 2007: ‘Who signed off on that as being worth €350 million?’
THE PARTY may have been over, but the drinks were still on the table. By June 2007, when work began on one of the most expensive, high-spec office buildings ever constructed in Dublin, it was too late to stop.
We sit in the car looking out at the gleaming steel, glass and stone curves of Burlington Plaza. For a rare moment, there is a silence matched only by the stillness of the beautiful, empty building.
“It won’t be built again for a long time, that type of thing. We reckon ourselves it will probably take three years to fill it. Anglo were financing our 50 per cent of it. The two top property firms were in advising the banks on the value. What I find a little bit laughable is who signed off on that as being worth €350 million?”
How much is it worth now, I ask in the tones of a man sympathising with the family at a funeral. “Maybe €80 million.”
Carton House, 2000: “I’m 66, so what do I care if they make me bankrupt?”
TO COMPLETE the circuit we drive back out to Kildare, to another of the great Ascendancy stately homes, Carton House. As we drive up the long avenue that winds through the golf course, Paddy Kelly sighs, almost to himself, “When I was growing up in Laois did I ever think I’d have a stake in a place like this?”
In 2000, along with the Mallaghan family who own the house, and again in conflict with conservationists, he developed Carton as a hotel and golf resort. He had hopes of making it part of an international chain, along with the famous Sawgrass course in Florida, which he bought with other Irish investors. “[We spent] $90 million on Sawgrass. $10 million is mine. Will I get it back? I might but pigs might fly.”
Over some salmon and a glass of white wine in the restaurant, he asks: “Am I proud to be here? Have I contributed here? Of course. But if I’m not involved here next week, I won’t have a nervous breakdown.”
He might not be involved because everything he owns will almost certainly end up in Nama. He also faces the prospect of bankruptcy. Neither eventuality seems to bother him that much.
“We,” he says, meaning the property developers, “were just jockeys.” The banks always owned the horses, and everything else was “an illusion. There was no real wealth made. The big issue is why should an ordinary person, running along with their lives, have to pay for my mistakes? Why does Brian Lenihan have the right to get everyone to guarantee this debt?”
For himself, he says, his fall is “just circumstances”. “I’m 66, so what do I care if they make me bankrupt?” He becomes positively cheerful, thinking of all the places he can develop new projects.
“I can use what I’m doing in Toronto, in Atlanta. I’m off to Malta and then down to Libya. I think there’s big opportunities there if I can get the right connections.” Six months ago he had a vision. “I saw the future and I saw the past. I saw these deals that I was involved in and fellas were kicking them, giving out, fighting over them. And I saw these new deals that I’m involved in with energy and sunlight there.
“I said it to all my friends: ‘Try to achieve closure. Try to draw a line.’”