The health coach and the docklands property: A post-crash ownership tale

Health coach connected to Nama-bound developer ended up with half share in heavily indebted East Wall business park

Months after the High Court struck down the owner’s multimillion-euro housing plan, a big interest in a Dublin city business park on former State land transferred to a nutrition and health coach. The sequence of events that led health coach Hilary Ward to control half the company that owns Docklands Innovation Park in East Wall reflects the turmoil in the property market after the 2008 crash.

Ward is linked to Christy Dowling, a developer involved in companies with Nama and Irish Bank Resolution Corporation debts. When control of the East Wall property was questioned during legal proceedings, the company’s sole shareholder swore an affidavit saying Mr Dowling did not have an ownership interest in it.

The site, about two miles from the GPO, was once owned by the State. For years it was run by IDA Ireland, the inward investment agency. Later it came under the control of Bolton Trust, a charity established by staff of the former Dublin Institute of Technology to foster inner-city enterprise. Recession led to financial trouble at the charity, prompting it to sell the site.

Bolton Trust discussed an abortive €45 million deal with the late Liam Carroll, the boom-era developer whose empire was soon to collapse. “Carroll’s offer went flat very quickly,” said Ray O’Neill, a former trust chairman.


The 0.89 (2.2-acre) property was eventually sold for €6 million to a company called EWR Innovation Park but not before a ministerial order was signed to lift IDA covenants that restricted how it was used.

The new owner received fast-track permission from An Bord Pleanála to build 366 homes in six apartment towers on the site but the High Court quashed the project in 2021 after a judicial review taken by a long-time tenant in the industrial park.


All shares in EWR were then under the control of Edward McHugh, a director and first-time developer based in Claregalway, Co Galway. But Christy Dowling’s name cropped up regularly in relation to the site.

Dublin City Council minutes of pre-application meetings on the proposed East Wall residential project had described Dowling as “owner” of the site and project “developer”. Dowling also was described as the “applicant” in An Bord Pleanála’s record of a 2019 meeting on the project. Mr McHugh said such records were wrong.

During the legal case against EWR’s plans, Mr McHugh swore an affidavit dismissing claims Mr Dowling had an ownership interest. “Mr Christy Dowling is not the owner, beneficial or otherwise of EWR, nor is he a shadow director of EWR,” Mr McHugh said in an affidavit cited in court orders.

In legal correspondence cited in another affidavit, EWR lawyers said Mr Dowling introduced and all times represented himself as “Christy Dowling for the owner EWR” or “Christy Dowling for the developer EWR”.

However, Mr McHugh later transferred half his EWR shares to Ms Ward. Known also as Hilary Dowling, she and Christy Dowling have the same address at Kilteel, Naas, Co Kildare.

Hilary Dowling and Christy Dowling are co-directors together in four companies and she, personally, has charges on assets in one of those, Newlyn Homes Ltd. Accounts recently filed show the accumulated losses of Newlyn Homes were €16.98 million in 2022 and the company was beneficiary of a director’s loan “of over €18 million”. Hilary Dowling owns all the shares in Silk Shadow Ltd, which owns Newlyn Homes.

Records show Nama has charges over the assets of two other companies in which Christy Dowling but not Hilary Dowling is a director and shareholder – Newlyn Developments Ltd and Blossomglen Ltd. Accounts recently filed show the loan facilities of Newlyn Developments, which had €15.58 million in net liabilities in 2022, were held by Nama: “The directors are confident that Nama will continue to provide financial support to the company for the foreseeable future and will continue to work with Nama in that regard,” the accounts state. Nama had no comment for this piece.

Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, the former Anglo Irish Bank, has charges over another company in which Christy Dowling is a director, Newlyn (Portugal) Ltd.

The EWR Innovation Park share transfer in November 2021, set out in Companies Office records, was a significant event. Not only had a judge delivered a fatal blow to company’s main project six months previously but when Hilary Ward received half the shares, EWR owed €9.36 million in debt.

Finance Ireland, a private lender led by former Irish Permanent chief Billy Kane, has a legal charge over EWR’s present and future assets. Records show EWR’s debt was “repayable between one and two years” from the start of 2022, meaning it falls due in December if not previously repaid, refinanced or extended. As of this week, the charge is “not satisfied”. Finance Ireland declined to comment for this piece, saying it never discusses client matters.

Quite what happens next is anyone’s guess. But it remains a site with potential, even if the owners are silent on their plans.

Mr McHugh said he could not talk when phoned this month because he was with family. He arranged to take a call later that day to discuss the property but did not answer the phone and did not reply to voicemails or questions sent by email and text.

Ms Ward ended a phone call within seconds when contacted on her mobile that same day and she did not respond to questions sent by email and text. “I have nothing to say. I’m not going to be rude now. I’m going to hang up.”

Christy Dowling did not reply to phone calls or to questions sent to the email provided by his company, Arrow Asset Management.

While the story of the site’s changing ownership mirrors disruption in the property sector during the financial crisis, it also shows how opportunities opened up when the market turned.

The site was under IDA control from 1979 but it sold the leasehold to Bolton Trust in 1999, requiring the property to be used for enterprise. The trust leased industrial units to start-up companies.

Before the 2008 recession, the trust borrowed €3.6 million from Bank of Scotland (Ireland) with the aim of investing in the property. However, dire trading after the crash meant it could not make repayments. “Tenants started to drop off,” said Bolton Trust chairman Richard Heywood-Jones, a retired lecturer.

In 2015 Bolton Trust had breached loan terms when the bank refused to halve monthly repayments to €12,500 from €25,000. Later the debt was sold to a US fund, Feniton Property, which bought up distressed loans during the crisis.

To sell the site, the charity needed Government intervention. Then minister of state for enterprise, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, signed a consent order in March 2017, releasing it from covenants. EWR took control within weeks, completing a deal struck in 2016 and setting in motion the housing plan that foundered in the High Court.

“In August 2016, we agreed to sell Docklands Innovation Park as a going concern to a private investor Mr Edward McHugh, EWR Innovation Ltd (sic.) for €6 million. We had a lower offer earlier in 2016,” said a report to the trust’s 2017 annual meeting.

Still, the manner of the EWR sale was unusual. According to Mr Heywood-Jones and Mr O’Neill, Bolton Trust never engaged an estate agent and there was no open tender process. Key people in the charity never met the buyer.

EWR entered the scene via an intermediary, Henry Cleary, who was known to a long-time ordinary member of the trust, Seán Lyons. Cleary did not reply to calls or a text message seeking comment.

The sale was off-market, meaning the property was not publicly offered for sale in an open process to test demand.

“You say off market. As far as we were concerned this fellow came in from the market,” said Heywood-Jones, who at the time was a board member but not chairman.

So was this a sweetheart deal? “You could say that. I don’t think it was,” Heywood-Jones said, adding the trust was “sinking” as a result of the debt and pressure from Feniton. There was concern the charity would go bust even if it concluded the consultant’s lower offer. “We were delighted to conclude the deal after the new offer.”


The trust entered talks to the IDA and its advisers, leading to a deal to buy out the covenant for €350,000.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment said the IDA asked for “the relevant ministerial approval” to release the title to Bolton Trust “to progress and align with the IDA national rationalisation programme of non-strategic land holdings”. Ms Mitchell O’Connor signed an order authorising “disposal of IDA’s residual interest” on March 21st, 2017.

“As is standard practice, IDA together with their independent valuer, Lisney, sought to maximise the income from the release of its interest in the property,” the Department said. “Lisney advised IDA that this represented a good and fair offer for IDA and strongly recommended acceptance of the Bolton Trust’s offer to buy out IDA interest in the property.”

Its control of the site secure, EWR applied for fast-track planning permission under laws allowing direct applications to An Bord Pleanála instead of local councils. The “demolition of existing buildings, construction of 336 apartments, childcare facilities and associated site works” was approved in August 2020 by three board members: Michelle Fagan; Terry Prendergast; and Paul Hyde, the then deputy chairman An Bord Pleanála who later resigned.

The planning permission prompted a successful judicial review by Atlantic Diamond Ltd, a business park tenant that had resolved to remain on site in line with its lease.

In the course of these proceedings, Mr McHugh of EWR swore affidavits responding to an Atlantic Diamond affidavit which had said Christy Dowling had claimed “myself and another lad” had bought the East Wall Road site.

Mr McHugh said Mr Dowling was responsible for the design team, adding that the description of Mr Dowling as applicant or prospective applicant was incorrect and was not in minutes prepared by EWR or Mr Dowling. The application form “correctly identifies EWR as the applicant for permission and as the owner of the site”.