Gilmartin was ‘ahead of his time’

TOM Gilmartin’s aim to transform the Quarryvale site into a major retail development on the fringes of Dublin was described to the Mahon Tribunal yesterday as over-ambitious given the country’s economic state in the late 1980s.

“A visionary — but a man before his time,” was AIB Bank corporate banker Dave McGrath’s description of the Sligo-born developer, who initiated the project from his then base in Luton, England.

Had Mr Gilmartin brought forward the proposal 10 years later, in 1998, to develop a substantial shopping centre off the M50 motorway, he would probably have pulled it off, the banker added.

The tribunal has already heard how Mr Gilmartin lost control of the west Dublin project when he got into financial difficulties and was declared bankrupt.

Cork-based developer Owen O’Callaghan took over Mr Gilmartin’s Barkhill company that had fronted the project and went on to develop the site of what is now the Liffey Valley shopping centre.

Mr Gilmartin has alleged collusion between AIB and Mr O’Callaghan, his former Quarryvale business partner. The allegation is denied.

It was Mr McGrath who had recommended that AIB advance a IR£14.5 million loan for Barkhill to develop Quarryvale.

Recalling a meeting he attended with the two developers, Mr McGrath said Mr Gilmartin used “strong language” during efforts to get him to sign a shareholders’ agreement. Under the deal, Mr Gilmartin’s equity would be diluted to 40%, equal to Mr O’Callaghan’s, with AIB holding 20%.

“It was one of the heavy meetings when there was forthright language,” Mr McGrath recalled. “Mr Gilmartin used strong language — he was no shrinking violet, and I was no shrinking violet either.”

Mr Gilmartin was “very uncomfortable” with having his shareholding diluted but failed to appreciate his equity had evaporated.

He was reluctant to sign the agreement but the bank wanted Barkhill’s debt — approaching IR£14m — cleared.

“He (Gilmartin) said the Corkmen were robbers and they had taken his money.”

When Mr McGrath set up a meeting with Mr Gilmartin in London in December 1992 and went with his colleague Eddie Kay he took no notes of what transpired. Mr Gilmartin had been threatening to tell the press of alleged wrongdoing connected to Quarryvale.

Mr McGrath said if an allegation of bribery and corruption had been made he would have not have gone to London but to AIB’s legal advisers.

Judge Gerald Keys asked if the two bankers had discussed how they would deal with Mr Gilmartin to avoid the project going “down the tubes”.

After Mr McGrath said he and Mr Kay “may have” discussed the matter, Judge Keys said he would have thought the first thing two high-ranking bank officials would have talked about was how to deal with Mr Gilmartin and to establish if there was any truth in his allegations.

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