In 1998 – Seamus Ross told the Mahon Tribunal in 2003 – Liam Lawlor “plagued” him for money. After a day at the races at Fairyhouse, Mr Lawlor asked Mr Ross if had any money. Mr Ross told him he had “a few pounds in the house” and later gave him £5,000 in cash.
Afterwards he said he was angry, and made up his mind to end “this carry-on”. “I was angry with Liam Lawlor,” he said. Shortly after, Mr Lawlor came back again for money but Mr Ross ordered him out of the office. He later felt sorry for him and gave him a discount on a house. Mr Ross told the Mahon Tribunal he sold Mr Lawlor a £100,000 house for £80,000. He also furnished it at a cost of £5,000. Mr Lawlor’s daughter moved into the house.
The next year, Mr Lawlor started legal proceedings against Mr Ross claiming he held a 20% stake of one of Mr Ross’s companies.
Seamus Ross bought the remaining houses and land owned by the Guinness family on the edge of the Phoenix Park in July 2000. He paid £25m for 28 acres. In the late 1990s he was building 700-800 houses a year, including sites in Clonee, Celbridge and Drogheda.
In November 2001, Liam Lawlor TD claimed in a Supreme Court action that he had a 20% stake in the Menolly firm that bought the “Guinness lands” development at Phoenix park. The land had been bought by Seamus Ross through his company Menolly Homes Ltd. Mr Lawlor claimed that before March 1997, he and a Mr Peter Dwyer were developing lands at Phibblestown, Castaheany and Allendale areas of Dublin for residential purposes.
With a view to developing these lands – as well as “the Guinness lands” – it was decided that he and Mr Dwyer would cooperate with Mr Ross and Menolly Properties, he claimed. The TD’s case was that Mr Ross and his companies were developing lands in the area which Mr Ross had bought, and that it was decided to proceed by way of joint venture. Mr Lawlor alleged the shareholding in the corporate body to be formed was 20% to him and 40% each to Mr Ross and Mr Dwyer.
Mr Justice Fennelly dismissed Mr Lawlor’s claim. He said the “fatal flaw” in Mr Lawlor’s claim was clear evidence that an integral part of the March 1997 agreements was the question of how the venture was to be financed. It was left over for discussion at a later date. In those circumstances, the judge found there was no concluded contract and dismissed Mr Lawlor’s appeal.
On October 8, 2003, Seamus Ross told the Mahon Tribunal (PDF (Q137)) that he paid Liam Lawlor TD over £40,000 to get the postal address of a housing estate changed from Clondalkin to Lucan.
Mr Ross estimated the change allegedly arranged by Mr Lawlor was worth £5,000 a house to him, or a total of £2.5m. He said the payments were not political contributions.
Mr Lawlor offered to provide an invoice to Mr Ross, the following day he gave Mr Ross an invoice in the name of Baltic Timber Products for an amount of £20,002.79 (the second tranche). This was done “to make it look official”. Mr Lawlor lodged the money in a London bank account.
In March 2004, “Dublin’s most prolific builder” according to the Irish Times was given permission to build 85 houses and 190 apartments in a parkland settings across the road from Farmleigh in the Phoenix Park.
In what was described as “a most unusual move”, An Bord Pleanala overruled both Fingal County Council and its own inspector to grant permission for the development.
The previous October, Fingal County Council refused permission for the entire scheme on the grounds that it materially contravened the development plan objective of two units per hectare, a leftover from the last development plan.
After securing the planning permission, Mr Ross and his advisors threw an impromptu party at the K Club to celebrate. The Times reported on March 25, 2004 that the decision to overrule Fingal council planners and an Bord Pleanala’s own inspector had “taken everyone by surprise – except Ross and his advisers, architect Richard Doorly, town planner Shay Fenton, Brendan Byrne of Sherry Fitzgerald.”
It was estimated at the time that after paying €31m for the land in the 2001, he would net €200m from the sale of the homes.
In June 2004, Menolly Homes paid €95m for a 50% stake in Baldoyle’s racecourse. About 4,000 homes were planned for the site, and an adjoining 100 acre site in Portmarnock. It was to be built on a joint venture basis by Ballymore Properties and Menolly Homes.
The two landbanks had been owned by Sean Mulryan’s Ballymore Properties for about a decade. The landbank straddles the north fringe of lands owned by Gerry Gannon and Shannon Homes, where 7,000 units were planned.
In June 2004 it was reported that CNG Travel, based in Kenmare, had a loss of €1.23m in 2003. The Menolly group held a 29.9% stake in the company at the time. Seamus Ross’s son, Seamus Jnr, was a director of the company. Dr Michael Smurfit joined the board of CNG several weeks before the company was floated.
In June 2005, the boss of CNG, Finbarr Power, resigned from the company. It had been revealed that Mr Power had already been suspended by the company after he had expressed interest in buying CNG’s leisure business, US firm Places to Stay.
In August 2006, a proposal by Mr Ross to build a neighbourhood centre at Dunboyne Castle in Co Meath was rejected by An Bord Pleanala. It was looking to build the centre to cater for the eventual 540 units being developed on the grounds of the castle. Menolly also owns the €40m Dunboyne Castle hotel and spa complex.
The group also owns the Dylan Hotel on Upper Baggot Street.
In November 2006, at the peak of the property market, Mr Ross was asked what he predicted for 2007:
“A reduction in the number of new units being built. Prices will continue to rise, driven by demand and lack of supply.”
At what stage will higher interest rates affect the market? “I cannot see much effect in the next 12 months. It is an election year, incentives are promised by all the major parties and there is a strong likelihood of changes being made by government to curb the effect of an increase in rates. I recommend that young people take interest-only mortgages to buy their houses and not worry about the principal. Their salaries will increase and dilute the cost of the house over a next of years.”
Can demand for new homes and offices be sustained? “The jobs being created over the last few years by companies like Intel, Wyyat, Pepsi, Google and Sean Quinn Direct will lead to higher demand for new homes and offices. The rise in population and the problems within the planning system affecting supply will also help to sustain the demand.”
What will be the effects of tighter lending by the banks? “It is more responsible lending, making sure people are not exposing themselves to the risk of not being able to pay high mortgages.”
Prediction for 2007? “Fianna Fail returning to government hopefully with the Progressive Democrats. Longford to win the Leinster Championship and Meath to win the All Ireland.”
In January 2007, the Menolly Group bought 107 Cheapside from the Carlisle Group for €225m. It also involved the purchase of an adjoining mixed-use building at 2 Honey Lane for €18m. At the time of the purchase the group, Menolly Investments, had assets valued at over €400m, mainly in the UK.
The Anglo connection
Ross began rapidly expanding his business around 1996. In 1997 Menolly took out six mortgages with Anglo Irish Bank. In June 1997, total bank borrowings amounted to £27.9m and stock of £28.7m, more than double the stock figure of previous years.
In 2000 Menolly had a turnover of £66.7m. In 2002 the figure jumped to €157.38m. Pre-tax profits were £6.3m in 2000, and £27.56m in 2002.
Accounts from 2002 show the group having accumulated profits of €53.7m, a year during which the group sold houses and residential property worth €156.8m. The group had loans of €41m in 2002, down from €78m a year earlier. The group’s main bank is Anglo Irish Bank.
The K Club
In 2005 Menolly was building the 83 luxury houses and apartments at the K Club. Residents were promised grandstand views of the Ryder Cup. In September 2006 it was revealed that Menolly had offered 26 members of South Dublin County Council free tickets to the prestigious golf tournament, the Irish branch of Transparency International urged all public representatives not to accept such corporate gifts.
Minister were reminded not to accept corporate invitations to attend the Ryder Cup.
The Irish Times reported in October 2007 that his mode of transport is helicopter and Hawker private jet, which was believed to be undergoing an upgrade to transatlantic capability. Mr Ross’s son took over the running of Menolly. Mr Ross lives at Barberstown House in Clondalkin.
His circle of friends, Jimmy Flynn, John Mahon and Oliver Bardon have been dubbed the “Longford Mafia”.
Big profits have enabled him to indulge in a passion for horses shared by many of his peers. He’s apparently more of an acquirer than a seller of bloodstock, owning horses such as Talking Cents, Pantarez and Ross Moff, while he’s also co-owned a horse with Tom Bailey of Bovale.
His horses and jockeys wear silks in the colours of the home town Father Manning Gaels GAA club in Drumlish.
His political friends include the Lenihan brothers – he can pick up the phone to Brian, his local TD, and Conor – and his political colours are overt.
Ross went to Dublin after serving time as a carpenter, with his friend and fellow north Longfordman, Mick Whelan (of Maple Homes). The two set up Drumlish homes in the 1970s and after a slump, Whelan went to London as a carpenter and by the 1980s, Ross married Whelan’s sister, Moira.
At one point Ross and Whelan set up Sean Dunne in business, in a company called DCD.
According to company filings, Menolly Homes, one of the Menolly companies, has a significant banking relationship with Anglo Irish Bank, which has taken out charges over its properties and book debts. An earlier relationship was formed with Ulster Bank, which has also taken out a charge on Dublin lands owned by the company. Virtually all the recent charges over acreages owned by Menolly have been lodged by either Anglo or Ulster Bank.
In 2004, Mr Ross converted Menolly into an unlimited company, following the example of Treasury Holdings, Liam Carroll and Castlethorn Construction among others.
The decision meant Menolly Homes’ performance was no longer be open to public scrutiny and that, if the firm goes into liquidation, the directors will have to meet the business debts personally.