Owen OCallaghan,A Prince of Fianna Fail-the Speculators Party.
Political donations (like crime) pays, and political donations to Fianna Fail,pays off best of all.!
Sunday, April 17, 2005 - By Neil Callanan
A company jointly owned by Cork developer Owen O'Callaghan saw the value of its assets rise more than 400 per cent to €204 million following a revaluation last year.
Elendale Group, a subsidiary of O'Callaghan Properties, became an unlimited company in January of this year.
However, The Sunday Business Post has seen a copy of the revaluation of the firm's assets.
It shows that the value of properties owned by Elendale Group rose from around €44 million to €204 million following the revaluation. Solicitor John Deasy is also a director of Elendale.
The company's 50 per cent interest in Barkhill, the firm developing Liffey Valley in west Dublin, rose in value from €16.4 million to €122.13 million.
Barkhill, the remainder of which is owned by the Duke of Westminster's company Grosvenor Estates, is planning a new town with a population of 5,000 and a mix of shops, offices, apartments and leisure at Liffey Valley.
The value of its lands at Mahon in Cork rose from €19million to €82.79million following the revaluation.
A significant part of the lands have been developed and opened recently as the Mahon Point shopping centre and retail park.
Elendale also added a site on Lavitts Quay and development works relating to the land to its list of assets assigning the property a value of €5.11 million.
The company also owns a site on Patrick Street worth €8.557 million.
The value of that site did not change following the revaluation.
The company is planning to redevelop the site, which was formerly owned by Thomas Crosbie Holdings, into a shopping centre.
O'Callaghan Properties is also involved in the redevelopment of Jurys Hotel on the Western Road in Cork. (Sunday Business Post)
Owen had mega plans for a Dublin Disneyland in 2003
Whether achieving the rezoning of the Quarryvale site in west Dublin that became LiffeyValley, or purchasing the site for his Mahon Point retail scheme, O'Callaghan has managed to see major projects through. But, even by his standards, turning the Vega City theme park proposals for north Dublin into reality will be the Cork developer's greatest challenge.
The proposed Universal Entertainment Partners (UEP) €7bil- lion, 2,500 acre scheme would attract around 37 million visitors annually, employ 40,000 people and be one of the largest commercial developments ever undertaken in Europe. It would have three theme parks, golf courses, shopping centres,14 hotels, a conference centre, an equestrian centre, an ice rink and 10,000 short-term let apartments. It would be situated between Balbriggan and Swords in North County Dublin.
In their report into the plan, Fingal County Council planners described it as "enormous, and unlike any proposal put forward in this country before".
But O'Callaghan believes the scheme can work, despite a damming council planning report. "The proposed development would materially contravene government policy, national and regional planning guidelines and the County Development Plan, and would be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of Fingal and the Greater Dublin Area," the Fingal planners wrote.
O'Callaghan readily admitted the report was "very negative", but said he wasn't surprised by their reaction because "given the size of the projects, the problems are huge. There are solutions to the problems and we believe they can be solved but the solutions might not be satisfactory for them."
The local authority's planning department will be pivotal to the project's success or failure. "They might feel the plans are too elaborate for them," O'Callaghan said. "We're in trouble if they do. We are treating what they have said very carefully.
"I'm not making it sound easy. It will be extremely difficult to get permission, and it will be difficult to even get them to accept a planning application for it. It's good for the country, but there are huge problems. I fully accept that it's a very large project with very large problems, and we are a small country, but we feel it can work if we get the go-ahead."
O'Callaghan would not name the interested parties, but said he had been approached during the week by a US film company seeking to get involved.
The Sunday Business Post has, however, learned that UEP has had talks with MGM, Busch International, 20th Century Fox and its parent News Corporation, as well as theme park specialists Six Flags. Oz-Central, which owns the rights to The Wizard of Oz, has already been revealed as an investor. Busch International operates Sea World and Busch Gardens, a safari-style park nearTampa in Florida.
Turning the interest in the project into concrete commitments will be the most significant task, O'Callaghan said.
Despite a number of international investors, Louis Maguire and O'Callaghan are the only Irish investors in UEP at this stage. O'Callaghan's stake is more than 30 per cent but he would not be drawn on his specific shareholding. Approximately €500,000 has already been spent on design, planning and professional fees.
Outside of securing planning permission,the sheer size of the site will make its acquisition one of the developer's biggest obstacles.
"We're in talks with all of the landowners and the vast majority of them are interested," O'Callaghan said. "They've been very supportive."
The other major problem is infrastructure. Fingal's planners point out that the development could potentially use 62 per cent of the M1 capacity, at least 40 per cent of the metro capacity and 200 per cent of the current capacity and 100 per cent of the planned capacity for Dublin airport.
O'Callaghan said that talks with Aer Rianta had secured its support for the scheme in principle, and that he expected to hold talks with airlines in the near future.
UEP has also said that it will fund new infrastructure to the site, including two new motorway lanes along the length of the site adjacent to the M1 motorway, ten motorway off-ramps, two new interchanges and an upgrade for the N11. O'Callaghan said UEP would also consider funding part of the proposed outer ring motorway to help alleviate congestion.
The theme park would be connected to the airport via the longest monorail in the world, operating along the N1 to Swords and alongside the M1 motorway north of Swords.
Fingal County Council said that the volumes of traffic attracted by the planned retail part of the development - which is three times the size of the Blanchardstown centre - could result in "serious traffic congestion and chaos on the national and regional road network, and seriously impact on the vitality and viability of existing town centres within Fingal and the Greater Dublin Area".
O'Callaghan said UEP was willing to listen to the planners and the project would still be viable with a reduced retail provision. He added that the original announcement of the entertainment complex concept had created a lot of interest from British retailers, especially department stores.
Fingal County Council held a special meeting at 3.45pm tomorrow to address theVega City proposal. The project's rollercoaster ride never took off however.
April 2004;Owen O'Callaghan Legal action against Tribunal
The Cork property developer, Owen O'Callaghan, has begun legal proceedings challenging the Mahon Tribunal's refusal to give him access to oral and written statements of Tom Gilmartin.
Mr O'Callaghan claims his right to fair procedures and natural and constitutional justice has been breached.
Today in the High Court, he was granted leave to seek a judicial review of the tribunal's decision.
Lawyers for Owen O'Callaghan said that before the current module of the Mahon Tribunal commenced, a 3,200 page brief of statements and relevant documentation was circulated to all interested parties including their client.
The only allegations against Owen O'Callaghan by Mr Gilmatin are contained in a redacted statement from May 2001.
But in Mr Gilmartin's evidence to the tribunal, he has made a number of allegations against Mr O'Callaghan which are not contained in this distributed statement.
In cross-examination it emerged Mr Gilmartin had met the tribunal legal team on at least one previous occasion and had completed a question & answer session and made at least one statement through his solicitor.
He had also accepted that certain matters in his previous statements may have been inconsistent.
Mr O'Callaghan's lawyers sought all prior statements of Tom Gilmartin directly or indirectly, oral or in writing from the tribunal but they were refused. They have now commenced High Court proceedings challenging that refusal.
Liam Lawlor, Gilmartin cross-examination
Property developer Tom Gilmartin has accused Liam Lawlor of being part of a 'golden circle' that defrauded him out of the Quarryvale development.
At the Mahon Tribunal, he said that Mr Lawlor was one of the kingpins hired and paid by rival developer Owen O'Callaghan and that others included councillors Finbar Hanrahan, Sean Gilbride and Colm McGrath.
Mr Gilmartin claimed during cross-examination that £40,000, which was stolen from his account, was later paid to Mr Lawlor by Mr O'Callaghan in Frank Dunlop's office.
Mr Lawlor said he was never in the pay of Mr O'Callaghan in his life and accused Mr Gilmartin of 'lying through his teeth'.
Gilmartin a 'hustler': Lawlor
in April 2004, Liam Lawlor described Mr Gilmartin as the biggest hustler and fraudster to ever come to this country.
Conducting his own cross-examination at the Mahon Tribunal, Mr Lawlor accused Mr Gilmartin of trying to 'line his pockets and run' with the Quarryvale project.
The former Fianna Fáil TD said official planners had designated another site for a town centre in Balgaddy, North Clondalkin, which would now be built and thriving if it was not for Mr Gilmartin.
Mr Gilmartin said it was Mr Lawlor who was only interested in lining his own pockets. Tribunal chairman Alan Mahon intervened at one point to ask the two men to stop indulging in a shouting match.
Reynolds has no memory of meeting
Earlier, the tribunal was told that former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds has no recollection of Mr Gilmartin meeting with ministers in Leinster House.
Michael Cush, counsel for Mr Reynolds, said it is his client's firm belief that if he had attended such a meeting in February 1989, he would have remembered it.
Mr Gilmartin repeated his claim that Mr Reynolds, then a Government minister, was present.
Mr Reynolds was granted legal representation and listed to give evidence along with a number of former ministers, including Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.
Lawlor demanded Quaryvale stake: Gilmartin
Developer Tom Gilmartin claimed that Liam Lawlor demanded a 20% stake in Quarryvale to get the go ahead for project.
In evidence at the Mahon Tribunal, Mr Gilmartin claimed Mr Lawlor said unless he got his share the plan 'wasn't going anywhere'. He says the demand was made on two occasions, firstly at the Quarryvale site in west Dublin in autumn 1988, and on the second occasion at Mr Lawlor's constituency office.
Mr Gilmartin said he was accompanied by a property advisor on the second occasion, but Mr Lawlor made the demand when he was on his own. Mr Gilmartin said he would not repeat what he said to Mr Lawlor in reply.
Extortion allegations for Redmond
Earlier, Mr Gilmartin accused former assistant Dublin city and county manager George Redmond of extortion. Mr Gilmartin said Mr Redmond started to play games once he realised there was no mileage in asking him for money.
Mr Gilmartin said Mr Redmond cancelled a meeting at short notice, when people had travelled from Belfast and England to discuss Mr Gilmartin's development plans for Dublin. Mr Gilmartin said Mr Redmond had deprived the people of Clondalkin of 20,000 jobs.
Mr Redmond later admitted he has a 'vague recollection' of being unwilling to attend the meeting in 1989 referred to by Mr Gilmartin. Mr Redmond said there could well have been a cancellation or a change of time because of the workload he had.
Mr Redmond made the comment while cross-examining Mr Gilmartin, after he was shown his statement to the tribunal where he admitted 'avoiding' the meeting.
In the statement, Mr Redmond said there would have been 'hell to pay' if councillors got to hear that he and professional staff were meeting a developer about a project that was in breach of the development plan.
Developer Tom Gilmartin admitted to the Mahon Tribunal that ex-Minister Padraig Flynn did not agree to provide any favours in return for a payment of £50,000.
Mr Gilmartin said he had been complaining about obstacles to his development plans in 1989, but that on the day of the payment Mr Flynn did not promise him anything.
Mr Flynn agrees that he got the £50,000 cheque, but says it was a 'no strings attached' donation for his own expenses.
Mr Gilmartin, however, has said it was intended for the Fianna Fáil party and that Mr Flynn told him to leave the payee blank.
He has admitted that politicians were not to blame for the failure of the Bachelors Walk project in Dublin.
Under cross-examination by Liam Lawlor, he conceded that the plan became 'unviable' because the cost of properties had doubled and trebled overnight.
Mr Gilmartin said this had resulted from leaks to the media about Arlington's plans for a £100 million shopping centre on the site.
He said prices had been agreed on properties but 'someone in the corner' would offer ridiculous prices just to thwart Arlington. For instance, he said he had an agreement to buy the Abbey Mall for £600,000 but the following day this had increased to well in excess of £1m.
Written by Frank Connolly Wednesday, 20 September 2006 Questions arise for Bertie Ahern about favours done for a developer who gave huge donations to Fianna Fáil in 1994, when Bertie was Minister for Finance. By Frank Connolly
Evidence has emerged that raises questions about Bertie Ahern's actions in March 1993, as Minister for Finance, when the designation of Blanchardstown under a tax incentive scheme was blocked to benefit the Cork developer Owen O'Callaghan's plans for a rival development at Quarryvale in west Dublin.
Evidence has also emerged that Bertie Ahern was scheduled to meet bankers in Los Angeles on 11 March 1994 in an effort to progress another of the projects of Owen O'Callaghan.
Owen O'Callaghan donated £100,000 (€127,000) to Fianna Fáil between March and June 1994 and the Planning Tribunal has stated it is investigating a claim that Owen O'Callaghan also gave £30,000 (€38,100) to Bertie Ahern personally a year previously – Bertie Ahern has vigorously denied this claim.
The evidence about the tax designation refusal is in the form of contemporaneous memoranda of discussions in 1994 between Owen O'Callaghan and a senior AIB official, Michael O'Farrell, in which it is recorded that Owen O'Callaghan was assured the designation of Blanchardstown was not on the agenda – meaning the agenda of the government.
Owen O'Callaghan was anxious at the time that if Blanchardstown was designated under the tax incentive scheme it would undermine his project at Quarryvale, now the Liffey Valley retail centre. It was essential to the Liffey Valley scheme that Blanchardstown not be given this preferential tax status. Michael O'Farrell is a former senior manager of corporate banking with AIB.
According to a statement of the Planning Tribunal in an open session in November last, it is investigating a claim by Tom Gilmartin, a developer and one-time associate of Owen O'Callaghan, that he (Gilmartin) was informed directly by Owen O'Callaghan that Bertie Ahern had assured the Cork developer that Blanchardstown would not get tax designation.
Last November, the Planning Tribunal stated in a public hearing that it was investigating an allegation that Bertie Ahern received £30,000 in return for ensuring that Blanchardstown did not receive designation.
Tom Gilmartin has stated in interviews with this reporter in 1998 and 1999, before he submitted a formal statement to the Planning Tribunal, that he had formed a company, Barkhill Ltd, to develop the Liffey Valley site (then Quarryvale) and that Owen O'Callaghan and representatives of AIB joined the board in September 1990. He said that at a board meeting of Barkhill Ltd in 1993 Owen O'Callaghan was asked about the prospect of Blanchardstown obtaining tax designation.
According to Gilmartin, O'Callaghan, who was then his co-partner with AIB in Barkhill, left the board meeting in the AIB headquarters in Ballsbridge and made a call on his mobile phone. When he came back into the room, Tom Gilmartin said Owen O'Callaghan told those present that he was given assurances "from the horses mouth" that Blanchardstown would not get tax designation.
Tom Gilmartin, according to the Planning Tribunal, has claimed that he was told by O'Callaghan that Bertie Ahern later was paid £30,000 (€38,100) for his assistance in the matter. Bertie Ahern has vigorously denied the suggestion.
The new evidence in the form of contemporaneous notes of Michael O'Farrell adds weight to the claim by Tom Gilmartin that Owen O'Callaghan was in a position to be assured that Blanchardstown would not get tax designation. Bertie Ahern will be asked by the Planning Tribunal for his recollections on the refusal to give Blanchardstown tax designation in 1993/94. That is, if the investigation into the Liffey Valley (Quarryvale) issue is to proceed – that is yet to be determined by the courts.
The mysterious LA bank meeting (By Frank Connolly Village magazine)
Bertie Ahern has also been unable to confirm that he attended a pre-arranged meeting at the offices of a Los Angeles investment bank Chilton O'Connor, on 11 March, 1994, on behalf of another of Owen O'Callaghan's projects.
Bertie Ahern and former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds were involved with O'Callaghan in discussions about the development of a national football stadium at Balgaddy, Neilstown, in west Dublin, which was the site in Clondalkin originally planned for a town centre. The Neilstown town centre never materialised because of the development of Liffey Valley (Quarryvale) and this remains a source of major grievance for the residents in the vast area surrounding Neilstown, who have been denied a town centre as a consequence. Residents have regarded the talk of a stadium at Neilstown as a ruse to deflect attention from what they regard as the "corruption" which led to the abandonment of the town centre to enable the Liffey Valley (Quarryvale) project to proceed.
The then Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, reportedly met William O'Connor, the principal of the Los Anegles-based law firm Chilton O'Connor, which had been approached by O'Callaghan and Frank Dunlop, the former Government press secretary and lobbyist, to raise funding for the Neilstown stadium venture on a number of occasions in late 1993 and 1994. Albert Reynolds told Village he cannot recall any such meetings.
"If I was in a bank in Los Angeles I think I would remember it. I was in Los Angeles for a joint American and Irish cancer society event but I don't remember which year." Mr Reynolds told Village. He suggested that his diaries from 1993 and 1994 might be checked for confirmation.
On 11 March, 1994, Bertie Ahern – who was in the US for the week-long St Patrick's Day festivities – had an appointment to meet William O'Connor in the offices of Chilton O'Connor at the Avenue of the Stars, LA, California.
The meeting was facilitated by Niall Lawlor, son of the late Liam Lawlor, who worked for the investment bank at the time. Liam Lawlor was a secret shareholder in Leisure Ireland, the company established to develop the Neilstown stadium project. The other shareholders were Frank Dunlop, Owen O'Callaghan and architect Ambrose Kelly – all four each holding 25 per cent of the company.
On Tuesday, 19 September 2006, a spokesperson for Bertie Ahern said that he had not yet confirmed with the Department of Finance whether he was present at the meeting in Los Angeles on 11 March, 1994, or whether he recalls the fact that the arrangement was facilitated by Niall Lawlor, then an employee of the bank.
Bertie Ahern was a key figure in the ultimately unsuccessful plan to develop the stadium which would have provided permanent grounds for the FAI, although he has claimed he was against the location of a sports stadium at Neilstown.
Bertie Ahern was approached by Leisure Ireland, and its associated company Leisure West, to commit the government to providing £5 million (€6 Million) each year for 10 years for the project. The funds were to come from the National Lottery and the then sports minister, Liam Aylward, was also involved in the discussions on the project. Owen O'Callaghan claimed at the time that he had assurances that the Neilstown site would also be tax-designated and therefore not liable to property taxes.
Tom Gilmartin has claimed that monies were taken from his Barkhill account and used to reimburse Owen O'Callaghan for payments he made to politicians and on the Neilstown stadium project.
Curiously, neither Owen O'Callaghan nor the Leisure Ireland shareholders owned the Balgaddy/Neilstown site at the time – it was controlled by a company called Merrygrove which was owned by Tom Gilmartin – he had purchased it from Owen O'Callaghan.
Subsequently, when Owen O'Callaghan and AIB took stakes of 40 per cent and 20 per cent in Tom Gilmartin's company, Barkhill, in 1990, Tom Gilmartin retained a 40 per cent stake in the company. Tom Gilmartin has alleged that he was never informed by Owen O'Callaghan or AIB about the national stadium project although he was at least part-owner of the land on which it was to be located.
Bertie Ahern's meeting at the Chilton O'Connor offices on 11 March, 1994, came just a day after Albert Reynolds and then party fundraiser and close associate of Bertie Ahern, Des Richardson, attended a private dinner event in Cork when a reported £80,000 was raised for Fianna Fáil. Des Richardson has confirmed that the amount was raised from eight donors including Mr O'Callaghan who provided a cheque for £10,000 on the occasion.
Bank records show that Owen O'Callaghan gave a further £80,000 to Fianna Fáil through his company Riga Ltd in June 1994 and he was also a substantial donor to the party and individual candidates over the subsequent years. Owen O'Callaghan gave a further £10,000 in May 1994 to the Fianna Fáil MEP, Brian Crowley prior to the European Parliament elections in June 1994.
In November 1994, just before the collapse of the Fianna Fáil-Labour government led by Albert Reynolds, Owen O'Callaghan met with Bertie Ahern. The latter has acknowledged that at that meeting, he and Owen O'Callaghan discussed another controversial tax designation issue – that concerning the Golden Island retail centre in Athlone. The designation was approved by Bertie Ahern as Minister for Finance just hours before the government fell and before he left office.
As well as the controversial designation decisions in relation to Blanchardstown and Golden Island, Bertie Ahern is also expected to face questions from the Planning Tribunal about the alleged movement of files from his department relating to other proposed tax-designation locations during his term as finance minister between 1992 and 1994.
On one occasion, Mr Reynolds ordered Bertie Ahern to ensure that files taken from the Department of the Environment to the Department of Finance over a weekend be returned. This followed a complaint to Mr Reynolds by then environment minister Michael Smith about the movement of the sensitive tax designation files.
The Planning Tribunal has heard claims that the files were shown to a group of developers in a Dublin hotel.
Whether Bertie Ahern is questioned in relation to these matters, including his planned visit to the offices of Chilton O'Connor at the behest of O'Callaghan and his partners Dunlop, Lawlor and Ambrose Kelly, before next year's general election depends largely on a High Court judgement due next month.
O'Callaghan and his partner, solicitor John Deane, halted tribunal hearings last year when they took proceedings against the inquiry because of its alleged bias and improper methods of examination.
During hearings in April, lawyers for Owen O'Callaghan claimed that Mr Gilmartin had made provably wrong allegations against him and his associates. Lawyers for the tribunal claimed that its proceedings were fair and that it had complied with all court orders in relation to the distribution of documents.
It is expected that whatever decision is made by Justice Thomas Smyth, who heard the case, will be appealed by the losing party to the Supreme Court which may well not rule on the issues before Christmas.
The tribunal has also confirmed in public that it is investigating a claim that Bertie Ahern personally received a sum of £50,000 in 1989 from O'Callaghan in connection with the Quarryvale development.
It has also questioned Joe Burke, the current chairman of the Dublin Port and Docks Board and another close associate of Bertie Ahern, in connection with meetings he attended with Tom Gilmartin at the request of the Taoiseach.
Bertie Ahern has said that he does not recall a number of the contacts which Tom Gilmartin claims he had with him.
Whatever emerges from these inquiries is certain to add to tensions between the coalition partners, given the proximity of the next general election.
The former Tániste and leader of the Progressive Democrats, Michael McDowell, is familiar with some of the issues involved in these matters, as he legally represented Owen O'Callaghan in private sessions with the tribunal in 1998 when these allegations first surfaced.