MICHAEL CLIFFORD: When all’s said and Dunne, he’s still rich

The bankrupt Sean Dunne and his family still live like globe-trotting millionaires

DO YOU have an en-suite in your home? If so, do you, by any chance, have a party-size Jacuzzi in the en-suite? No? What about a lift to transport you between floors, to save your weary legs once the working day is done? If you’re still ticking the boxes, good luck to you, for you must be up there in the rarefied atmosphere once occupied by some of our finest nation-builders.

Last week, we got a glimpse inside the abode of the man formerly known as the Baron of Ballsbridge, a Mr Sean Dunne. His old pad is for sale for €7m. Now, a bank has its mitts on the Shrewsbury Rd property, which is in the heart of salubrious Dublin 4.

The specifications of the property, which were disseminated along with a few clues as to Mr Dunne’s current circumstances, are not recommended reading if you suffer from indigestion.

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The Baron, and his missus — former gossip columnist, Gayle Killilea — lived in splendour.

Here are a few snippits: “The six-bedroom house, laid out over four storeys, has been fitted with the best of natural materials and carries off a look in keeping with the original interior styles of the Victorian and Edwardian periods; marble floors in the pillared hallway, exceptional, antique parquet flooring on three floors, delicate plasterwork on the dining- room ceiling, a solid, American oak staircase with a double-height, diamond-cut landing window, and a vast country-style kitchen complete with Aga.”

The house also includes a bar in the basement, and Mr Dunne reputedly ensured that a tap for Bass beer was fitted, exclusively for the use of one Bertie Ahern, once upon a time the most popular politician in the land.

Flicking through the detail of Dunne’s former residence is akin to reading about the interiors of vulgar palaces hastily evacuated by despots, and now open to the liberated masses. Except Dunne wasn’t a despot. He was a nation-builder, feted and feared, as he scaled the heights of capitalism.

‘So what’, you may ask? We now know all about the excesses and vulgarity that stalked the land when the days of plenty looked like they would never end. And, in any event, to the victor the spoils. In the best traditions of capitalism, Mr Dunne was a risk-taker, who became extremely wealthy as a result of his acumen and hard work. Then, when it all went belly up, he landed to earth with a crash and is now bankrupt. The market giveth and the market taketh away.

Except that ain’t the full story. Last week, it was also revealed that, these days, far from surviving on Skid Row, ‘The Baron’ continues to live high on the hog. “Currently,” a breathless piece in the Irish Times revealed, “Dunne, Killilea, and their three young children, divide their time between the US, London and Ireland. Killilea owns a number of properties in Connecticut, including 22 Stillman Lane, in Greenwich, one of the most affluent residential areas in the US.” So the bankrupt Dunne and his family continue to live like globe-trotting millionaires, while the rest of us pick up the tab for his risk-taking. It’s enough to make you want to sign up for Richard Boyd Barrett’s outfit.

How can one globe-trot between one’s highly affluent homes while bankrupt? Capitalism is not supposed to operate like that. Democracy is not supposed to operate like that.

If Dunne and his ilk occupied one column in the frontline march to economic abyss, then the banks marched in time with them. Last week, Finance Minister Michael Noonan summoned a number of the well-padded executives who run what’s left of Irish banks. He wanted to know why they were profiteering on the backs of mortgage-holders on variable rates.

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The rates in this country are well above those charged in other members of the single European currency. On average, repayments on a loan of €200,000 work out at €4,000 more per annum than those being made by homeowners on a tracker mortgage, linked to the ECB rate. Of course, the reason for this profiteering is that the banks can get away with it. That element of the market philosophy persists, even if others have been discarded. They can get away with it because competition has been wiped out. And why is the competition wiped-out? Because the economy went into freefall, largely as a result of reckless lending by the banks.

The outcome of that disaster was the suspension of market rules to save the banks, but now that they have been saved, the banks that remain are free to ransack customers condemned to variable-rate mortgages.

Thankfully, it’s an election year, so Noonan got his skates on and spelt things out to the bank executives. If there wasn’t an election over the horizon, it’s safe to say that Noonan would have persisted in patiently explaining that he can’t interfere with the market.

There was a comedy interlude last week to lighten the mood. The former governor of the Central Bank, John Hurley, appeared before the banking inquiry. Mr Hurley was a career civil servant, insulated from the market. The walls came tumbling down on his watch, but that had absolutely no impact on his €175,000 per annum pension.

Those public servants who come after him may feel differently, as the provision for their pensions in the Pension Reserve Fund has been wiped out in order to shore up the economy that collapsed while Mr Hurley was looking the other way.

At the inquiry, he insisted that it had nothing to do with him.

“We weren’t responsible for interest rates overall, we weren’t responsible for fiscal policy, which was a crucial aspect of the instability, and we weren’t responsible for the prudential supervision of banks,” he said.

His testimony confirmed the general analysis that nobody is responsible for anything.

Oh, by the way, it was also revealed last week that unemployment has fallen below 10%. This is genuinely good news. Things are getting better. Before long, it should be like none of this ever happened. The bankers will return to taking risks with the economy, the developers will revert to nation-building, and the mugs will get in line to pick up the tab once more.

If everybody really behaves themselves, we might even tempt Dunner to walk among us again. I can see it now, his big interview in the Sunday papers, decrying the begrudgery, explaining, as Gayle holds his hand, how they’ve been through globe-trotting hell. And then, the killer line, just to let everybody know that he and his ilk are back on top of the heap. “You just can’t get a good Jacuzzi in this town anymore.”

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