Let’s hope we don’t have to pay for Johnny Ronan’s jet-set lifestyle too

IN normal circumstances, Johnny Ronan’s lifestyle would be a personal matter. While most newspapers have ignored him, some, and not just the tabloids, have enjoyed chronicling details of the 52-year-old businessman’s relationship with 20-something model and TV presenter Glenda Gilson.

They have titillated readers with details of a feisty on-off, champagne-fuelled affair; if you’re into reading that type of thing it has been a bit of fun, if not of any public interest. Until now, that is.

Things have changed somewhat now that Ronan is one of the first 10 property developers whose loans from banks are going to be transferred to NAMA. Suddenly, his ability to repay his debts is a matter of legitimate public concern.

If he fails to do so, it means the rest of the people of this country will be seriously out of pocket because we will own those loans and face major losses. The debts of his company, Treasury Holdings, may run into billions of euro.

We can only hope and assume Ronan is meeting all of his monthly interest and capital repayments on time and that he will be able to do so indefinitely. If he isn’t able to do so, then we are indulging him in an extraordinarily opulent lifestyle that is an affront to the 440,000 people on the live register and their families, to hundreds of thousands of others who are experiencing negative equity and to the even greater numbers who have suffered income falls and who are deeply worried about how they will make ends meet.

These are the people who will not be able to afford to take a holiday this year. Ronan, as we know now if you have been following the tabloids, recently took former Miss World Rosanna Davison off for a week’s holiday to Morocco (bringing a female friend of hers along too).

Somehow newspapers got photographs of Ronan canoodling with Chris de Burgh’s daughter on a sofa before they headed off. It may not be a coincidence that Ronan headed off with this company just a day after he was involved in a blazing public row with Glenda Gilson, details of which all found their way into interested newspapers. Gilson, it is said, is not impressed.

What has interested politicians like Labour’s finance spokeswoman Joan Burton, who otherwise is unlikely to take much notice, is the cost of Ronan’s very public holiday. It has been estimated at €60,000, as it included the use of a private jet and a five-star hotel in Morocco. It’s likely there were other bills.

If it is all Ronan’s money, then that is fine, but what if Ronan is missing or late with repayments on his loans? It is true the loans are in the process of being transferred to NAMA so, technically, the state might not be on the hook yet (unless some of Treasury’s loans are with state-owned Anglo). It should be remembered too that so-called “good” loans upon which repayments are being made are being transferred to NAMA. In an ironic twist, Ronan is landlord not just to the National Treasury Management Agency, which is responsible for managing the Government’s borrowings, but now NAMA too as it has established itself in the same Ronan-owned building.

Ronan has many international interests — especially in China — that may be doing quite well. The problem, however, may be that various loan covenants — the agreements that banks draw up with borrowers — often require the payment of additional interest or lump sum payments if the value of an asset upon which the loan is secured falls.

In addition, Ronan has a number of development sites for which he has paid heavily. He has one major plan for London at Battersea Power Station that has cost more than £400 million sterling to date.

At his Spencer Dock apartment development in Dublin he has engaged in legal rows with intended buyers who are unable to afford to proceed with purchases.

While they were willing to surrender their deposits, Ronan is insisting they continue with their purchases, although some of them cannot get mortgages to complete purchases at contracted prices that are higher than the prices at which the apartments now trade.

It is this knowledge that makes details of Ronan’s jaunts a little galling. He has purchased many assets — some with borrowed money, some with profits he was lucky enough to make while surfing the wave of the boom — but some of these may now have to be pledged to NAMA as collateral for his loans. Which means the state may become the effective owner of his €650,000 Maybach, a three-tonne car that is regarded as the epitome of commercial success to some but the height of vulgarity to others.

He is only one of two people in the country to own one, the other being John Magnier of Coolmore Stud. You can only imagine the luxury involved in the interior fittings, although petrol-heads say it is not a great pleasure to drive. When you have a chauffeur, however, and you want to make a statement about how you live your life, then such issues may not concern you. What may concern NAMA is how much money a second-hand Maybach would fetch on the open market — if you could find anyone to buy it. I imagine Ronan might not be too impressed by public scrutiny of his finances. But he has opened the door to this by his behaviour in recent weeks. And if he tries to say now that it is private he can be reminded that he issued a statement about a year ago, via a public relations firm, to declare that his three-year relationship with the Xpose presenter was over (before later getting back with her). He invited the attention.

RONAN is going to get more when his National Convention Centre opens in September. This enormous and long-overdue venture on the northern quays of the Dublin docklands looks wonderful from the outside. Its opening will provide a fillip to Dublin as a location for business tourism.

Indeed, it is one of three wonderful new buildings set to open in Dublin this year, the others being the reconstructed Lansdowne Road sports stadium and the new Grand Canal Theatre, the latter on the other side of the Liffey from the National Convention Centre. It seems we are going to enjoy at least some benefits of the so-called Celtic Tiger, despite the explosion of the property bubble.

I’ve had the good luck to visit both in the last week. Lansdowne Road is just eight weeks away from completion and if it is stunning from the outside, as many people have seen already, it looks magnificent from within now that it is 90% ready.

The Grand Canal Theatre opens next Thursday. A 2,100-seat building, it is another architectural gem, externally and internally. It is going to host ballet, operas, plays and small concerts on a massive stage suitably designed for such events, allowing the equally wonderful Point Depot (O2) free to stage bigger concerts without trying to accommodate other gigs to which it might not be suited.

Thankfully at the end of the era of Celtic Tiger excess we are getting venues of true world-class standard (albeit if the prices of attendance may be worryingly high). At least we’re getting something of value for all of our money ... something of more use to us than a Maybach.

The Last Word with Matt Cooper is broadcast on 100-102 Today FM, Monday to Friday, 4.30pm to 7pm.

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