I couldn’t afford air fare to attend AIB meeting, says Gilmartin

BUSINESSMAN Tom Gilmartin claimed he didn’t have the air fare when he said he would not be present for a scheduled board meeting concerning the west Dublin development at Quarryvale, the Mahon Tribunal heard yesterday.

Despite previous indications he would attend, Mr Gilmartin cited his personal financial plight for not travelling from his Luton base for the February 9, 1993 meeting in Bankcentre, Ballsbridge.

Allied Irish Bank offered to provide the price of the return fare, according to a file note recorded by Mary Basquille, an assistant manager in the bank’s commercial banking division.

Michael O’Farrell, senior manager in the division, described the bank’s response as “an act of kindness” to Mr Gilmartin. But he told tribunal lawyer Pat Quinn SC the bank was under no obligation to pay any money out to fund the developer’s lifestyle or travel.

When Mr Quinn noted Mr Gilmartin was a substantial investor in the project, Mr O’Farrell pointed out that Cork-based developer Owen O’Callaghan was project manager of the west Dublin development.

The tribunal has heard that Mr Gilmartin had identified the Quarryvale site in the late 1980s as having the potential for a huge retail development.

Mr O’Callaghan came on board in the early 1990s. The two men each held 40% shares in the project, with AIB’s stake at 20%. The bank had a £14.5 million exposure, described by Mr O’Farrell as a “non-performing loan”.

After he got into financial difficulties — leading to his being declared a bankrupt by the British authorities — Mr Gilmartin lost control of his Barkhill company, which fronted the Quarryvale project, to Mr O’Callaghan. Both men became bitter opponents and their business partnership broke up.

Mr O’Farrell said he could not recall — some 16 years later — the detail of discussions at meetings involving the parties and who had said what.

Mr Quinn asked if he recalled Mr Gilmartin describing Mr O’Callaghan and his associate John Deane “as a pair of gangsters” during these meetings.

Mr O’Farrell said he had no specific recollection of Mr Gilmartin using the word “gangster”. However, in 1995 “there were some very heated meetings with some very rough language”. At some of these meetings, particularly in 1995, there were some irrational statements made.

AIB senior executive Dave McGrath wrote to Mr Gilmartin the day after the meeting he had not attended, expressing the bank’s “extreme displeasure” at his non-attendance.

Ms Basquille’s file note records how Mr Gilmartin rang AIB to find out what had happened at the Dublin meeting, “then launched in to past grievances” and complained about “blackmail and corrupt practices in relation to the putting in place of the shareholders’ agreement”.

According to her note, Ms Basquille told Mr Gilmartin his failure to attend scheduled meetings appeared to signal a lack of interest in the company’s affairs.

During one of the meetings Mr Gilmartin attended it was noted how he had demanded to know who or what Shefran was.

The tribunal has heard that lobbyist Frank Dunlop, hired by Mr O’Callaghan to promote Quarryvale, used his Shefran company to invoice for services connected to the development. But he also billed for Quarryvale services using his public relations company, Frank Dunlop & Associates.

Mr O’Farrell recalled that Mr Gilmartin had been told about Shefran in 1992 when he had approved payments to Mr Dunlop out of the Barkhill account. The witness said there never was any agenda, or hidden agenda, in relation to Shefran.

More in this section