Friday 15 December 2017

Michael O'Doherty: He owes Anglo €55m but this visionary should not be lumped in with the rest

Kelleher hired Neeson and Natasha to speak about Chicago Spire

It reads like just another chronicle of the Celtic Tiger, as an Irish property developer is being chased by Anglo Irish Bank for the money it loaned him for a now-doomed project.

Having stumped up €55m, the bank has little prospect of recouping that, and will probably end up owning a plot of land now worth very little.


But this was a project with a difference. It wasn't some collection of shoebox-sized apartments in south county Dublin, or a sprawling estate of semi-Ds in the arse end of nowhere, laughably described as being "within easy commuting distance of Dublin".

No, this was the Chicago Spire, an extraordinary, 150-storey structure on the Chicago shoreline, which would have been the tallest apartment block in the world. And, as designed by world famous architect Santiago Calatrava, one of the most beautiful, too.

It was the vision of developer Garrett Kelleher, who made his money in Chicago running a large painting firm, and moved back to Ireland in 1995 to set up Shelbourne Developments.


He remained a busy but low-key player in the business, his biggest coup being in spotting the potential of Tallaght as a residential/office quarter.

The Spire was his dream, a landmark in the city that made him, and he threw everything at it. Off-the-plans apartments were sold at a series of launches, one of which was held in a marquee in Fitzwilliam Square in January 2007.

This was no ordinary launch, for Kelleher had employed Liam Neeson and his wife Natasha Richardson to represent the project, and speak at each of these events.

In a city used to events being MC'd by a celebrity solicitor and a former Big Brother housemate, it was something else. Santiago Calatrava was there to speak as well, and show with the help of a crayon and overhead projector how the idea for its unique design came to him and evolved.

And, just as unusually for an Irish developer, Kelleher put his money where his mouth is, and ploughed most of his own fortune into the project, all of which he now stands to lose.


Yes, the Irish taxpayer will have to pick up the tab for Anglo's losses, a state of affairs that we're becoming quite tired of at this stage.

But Kelleher shouldn't be lumped in with all those other developers who gambled millions with the banks' money while siphoning off a healthy profit for themselves at each turn, and can now retire to their holiday mansion while we pick up the tab for their greed.

He had vision. And his project, at a different time, could have been a breathtaking success. He came unstuck this time, but we need more people like Garrett Kelleher to help this country get back on its feet.

Good ol' Bertie, still getting it wrong on a nice wage

Bertie Ahern is continuing to put his days as an ex-Taoiseach to great use.

Embarking on a mission to the Middle East, perhaps, to try and find common ground between the Israelis and Palestinians?

Putting his name to a humanitarian relief project to help out the dying in central Africa?

Actually, no.

Bertie, who continues to draw a hefty ministerial pension at our expense, was on TV again recently, making an arse of himself as a contributor to a documentary about the life of Roy Keane.

One segment caught my eye. As Roy and the squad were heading off to Saipan for their infamous training camp ahead of the 2002 World Cup, a crowd turned up at the airport, including Bertie, never one to miss a photo op. Roy's face was like thunder, as he obviously resented this circus.


When it was suggested in the show that the seeds of discontent, which surfaced so famously in Keane's training ground bust-up with Mick McCarthy, were there for all to see, Bertie's little talking head piped up on the show to disagree.

"If Roy was in a bad mood, I certainly didn't see it..." said the great man.

So Bertie was right in the middle of a brewing storm, which other people could see, but he couldn't.

And though what he witnessed was the seeds of a problem which was later to grow into a massive controversy, when looking back years later, Bertie is still sure that "everything was grand" at the time.

Does that ring any bells?

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