Developer who gambled big – and lost
Sean Dunne was disarmingly frank in a New Year interview he gave to the New York Times , admitting that he “could be considered insolvent” if the banking crisis continued. Since then, the crisis in Ireland’s banks has become an international scandal – and Dunne’s own problems have deepened considerably. The once-swaggering property developer – whose past excesses included a honeymoon with his second wife, former journalist Gayle Killilea, aboard Aristotle Onassis’s yacht Christina O in 2004 – had gambled on getting permission for a high-rise cluster in Ballsbridge, and lost the bet just three weeks after the interview was published. In the autumn of 2005, when Dunne agreed to pay nearly € 54 million per acre for the site of Jurys Hotel and more than € 57 million per acre for the site of the Berkeley Court Hotel next door just a couple of months later, seasoned observers in the property world thought it was “mad money” – even though it was soon trumped by others. Dunne had agreed to pay a total of € 379 million for the two hotel sites, with Ulster Bank advancing almost € 250 million towards the purchase. For both the developer and his bankers, it was a highly speculative deal that crucially depended on the planning authorities sharing his vision of creating “the new Knightsbridge”.