MICHAEL CLIFFORD: Something was missing ... that’s for sure

ALWAYS beware an Irishman speaking with an American accent.

There is something suspicious about a man who would behave in that manner, something that points to a character flaw of one sort or another. An Irishwoman can get away with it, but not a man.

Around Mullingar, they used to call Kevin Michael McGeever “the Yank”. He affected an American accent when he was flogging property out of a base in the Mullingar Park Hotel. Perhaps Mr McGeever thought, as others do, that the American accent brought authority to his business persona, as the US is the home of business. Perhaps he thought he had a starring role in The Quiet Man, and that most of those he encountered had never actually been to the States. Whatever it was, the accent should have been a giveaway. This guy wasn’t what he seemed, yet his net worth was estimated to be north of €3m at the height of the bubble.

Since he emerged into the national consciousness on Jan 29, when he was picked up by a passing motorist on a lonely Leitrim road, McGeever has come to symbolise much about our recent past.

McGeever was barefoot, dishevelled, disorientated and had the word “thief” imprinted on his forehead. It might be said that he resembled the Irish economy, with the slight adjustment of “debt” for “thief”.

Some made comparisons with Howard Hughes, the mad American tycoon who locked himself away in a Las Vegas penthouse, and didn’t wash or groom for years. To others, the photo taken of McGeever, in the hours after his rescue, made him look like a refugee from hippy group The Grateful Dead.

McGeever claimed to have been kidnapped and to have been held for the previous eight months. There were whispers of Russian involvement. Whenever something mysterious, and vaguely nefarious, occurs these days, the poor Russians always get rolled out.

There were also wild rumours that, maybe, there was some involvement from the dying embers of the violent Republican movement. After all, kidnapping had been a frequent tactic used by the IRA and some of its offshoots during the Troubles.

The story was world news. The BBC, US networks, and the Huffington Post all reported the discovery of the “barefoot tycoon”. What was happening in the Emerald Isle? The only missing ingredient was the drink. If the millionaire developer had been found wandering both barefoot and plastered, then the world would have had its perfect headline.

Anyway, Catherine Vallely, the good Samaritan who rescued McGeever, on the road to Ballinamore, offered to bring him to a Garda station. He was more interested in locating the nearest chipper, to indulge in a curry-chips special.

As the weeks rolled on, and the mystery of the “barefoot tycoon” began to unravel, other details built a picture of the “kidnap victim”.

He had been a product of the Celtic Tiger, a man who described himself as a developer, a retailer of dreams for those who had a few euro put away. He flogged properties at home and abroad, as far away as Dubai and the USA. He had come to the attention of law-enforcement agencies in both those countries. No big deal there. Plenty of developers have, over recent years, come to the attention of law-enforcement agencies.

Then, there was the personal stuff. At the pinnacle of his success, McGeever had built a mansion in Craughwell, Co Galway, that resembled nothing as much as Southfork, the homestead in the TV drama Dallas. He had named the place Nirvana. He had bought an EC120 helicopter and had his initials, KMM, painted on the side of it.

By now, alarm bells should have been ringing. The accent, Nirvana, the branded chopper. Even by the standards of obscenity employed by a whole class of self-described Celtic Tiger developers, this stuff was out there.

Later, the most bizarre detail of his “captivity” emerged. When McGeever was a few months into his ordeal, one of his many creditors was contacted and told he could meet the captive.

The man was told to drive to a location in Co Meath. He was met there by two men, who put a hood over his head and placed him in the back of a van. Following a cross-country journey, this creditor, who must at that stage have been concerned for his life rather than his wallet, was brought into a darkened room, where sat the “kidnapped” McGeever. And therein was conducted what must be recorded as the most bizarre debt negotiation of the recent economic collapse.

Eventually, the truth began to emerge and, following a lengthy interview with the constabulary in Galway, McGeever reportedly came clean about the ruse. He was behind his own kidnapping, and it was all designed to relieve the pressure he was under to cough up to creditors. A file on a possible charge of wasting garda time is being prepared for the DPP.

The affair has far more worrying implications.

How could somebody who acted so foolishly have been so successful during the building bubble? Even taking all the madness of the time into account, and making allowance for hard neck, surely some intelligence would have been required to make a go of things back then?

The kidnapping ruse betrays nothing as much as a lack of imagination. He could have, for instance, staged a suicide, as other before him have, by leaving his clothes on some rocky outcrop of Howth head. He could have done a runner, like Michael Lynn, who is now protected from extradition from Brazil because he has fathered a child there.

He could have gone to Britain to declare himself bankrupt, following a path first beaten by Cork developer, John Fleming, a few years ago. Even if he was set on the kidnap idea, he could have consulted with your average 12-year-old on how to properly effect such a ruse.

His partner didn’t report him missing for nearly a month after he “disappeared”. His family didn’t go to the media, as the families of missing people routinely do. Bringing his creditor to meet him was about as silly as it gets. And he obviously hoped to effect the whole thing without it exciting any real interest from the gardaí. The least he could have done was set up a snatch, in which he was bundled into a van. He didn’t even do that.

No, the scary thing is that this would-be conman didn’t even have the gumption to undertake a proper kidnapping, or, failing that, to do a runner.

That somebody of such a disposition could have been among the exalted during the years of plenty is a terrible indictment of the calibre of entrepreneur back then. We know that the country was top-heavy with fly boys during those years. But if McGeever is anyway representative, then many of them had little more than fresh air between their ears.


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