Caveat: Roche family won’t buy the publicity in Debenhams case

The Dublin store’s examinership case is due back in court in less than two weeks

Debenhams on Henry Street, Dublin, formerly Roches Stores. The Debenhams examinership case is due back in court in less than two weeks.  Photograph: Eric Luke

Debenhams on Henry Street, Dublin, formerly Roches Stores. The Debenhams examinership case is due back in court in less than two weeks. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Debenhams’ decision to put its Irish stores into examinership has lifted the lid on a rental dispute between the retailer and the Roche family who in 2006 sold Roches Stores to Debenhams, remaining landlord on the retailer’s biggest Irish outlets.

Unfortunately for the Roches, one of the most reclusive business families in the State, the row has also put them firmly back in the media spotlight they must have thought they had escaped forever after selling up.

Despite their public reticence, the three branches of the wider Roche family remain highly active in business in Ireland and abroad. The highest-profile are the children of the late former Roches Stores chairman Willie Roche, son of the legendary group founder, William Roche. The best known is Richard Roche, who broke cover to criticise Debenhams’ examinership petition.

Richard (59) manages the family’s property interests and sold the retail division to Debenhams. It emerged in the examinership documents that he has been in negotiations with Debenhams for the last two years over the future of its Dublin flagship on Henry Street and its other main store still owned by the Roches, Patrick Street, in Cork.

In fact, Richard, who lives on a sprawling Wicklow estate, has overseen a complex restructuring of the family’s byzantine property interests in recent years. He has been paid about €750,000 in fees from the group in recent years, according to the records of a company called Hunswick Enterprises.

Dooroy, the Roche company that is one of Debenhams landlords, owes Bank of Ireland €160 million. The family’s properties are ultimately vested, however, in group parent Cleveland Investments. Á la mode for the Roches, it is unlimited and does not file public accounts, but appears to be controlled by a company in the Isle of Man. Westfield Investments, an unlimited property company that sits directly beneath Cleveland, is involved in extensive development in Ireland and the UK. In addition to joint ventures with Michael O’Flynn’s Tiger developments, it appears to be a partner of UK developer CNM Estates in two major ongoing property schemes.

The largest is Sutton Point, a £90 million development under construction in London, incorporating more than 330 flats, an 80-bedroom hotel and a 60-unit aparthotel. Westfield and CNM both also refer to another scheme, at Kingston upon Thames, involving the redevelopment of a landmark old bingo hall site.

Using a Jersey company, the Roche family’s Carrigmay development division will also soon demolish an eyesore building in Reading and, according to planning records, replace it with a 19-storey residential tower with 100 flats. The Roches are also believed to have dabbled in property schemes in Dubai, Mauritius and Kenya.

Richard’s sister, Daphney Tierney, who is prominent on the equestrian scene, is also a director. Their sibling and former board member, Diana Roche, passed away in 2014. Their first cousins, David and Patricia Roche, are also directors of Cleveland and Westfield. They are children of the late Raymond Roche, the Wales-based brother of Willie and another son of the founder, William Roche.

Although she is a director of several important cogs in the Roches’ empire, Patricia lists her occupation as “housewife” and lives quietly near Rathgar. Her brother David, also a director of several crucial Roche companies, is a property surveyor in Ohio and is apparently well-known in his industry. Remarkably for a Roche, given their disdain for publicity, he used to present a talkshow, The Home Inspector, on Ohio radio.

The genesis of the Roche family’s public reticence comes from an infamous 1972 High Court case, when a German man sued the late Stanley Roche, brother of Willie and Raymond snr and formerly the head of the Cork branch of the family.

The case revealed to the public details of an affair the German’s wife had with Stanley, who was ordered by a court to pay out IR£12,000 in compensation. It was reported salaciously at the time, although nobody would bat an eyelid if it happened today. Unsurprisingly, the Roches never again spoke to the media.

Stanley Roche died in 2008, but his family were also beneficiaries of the 2006 deal with Debenhams. It is unclear from company documents whether this branch remain shareholders in the wider group structure.

Heide, Stanley’s widow (and formerly the German’s wife) still lives on a lush estate in Cork. Their son, Morgan, who is now based in Australia, is a forestry investor who helped promote the industry in Ireland prior to the last recession.

He sold a 10MW wind farm on the family’s Sillahertane estate to the ESB last year. Morgan’s co-director on that project was his sister, Ondine Roche, who runs a niche guesthouse near Fermoy.

The Debenhams examinership case is due back in court in less than two weeks. A deal between the UK retailer and the Roches will likely be crucial to the success of any rescue plan. The family should benefit if Debenhams commits to Ireland for the long term. They will not, however, welcome the attention they will receive in the meantime.

Footnotes . . .

Howzat? Denis O’Brien’s Digicel mobile phone company has renewed its sponsorship of the West Indies cricket team, which started a dozen years ago.

The value of the four-year deal has not been revealed, but the five-year term that expired in 2012 cost Digicel at least $20 million. It would not be out of bounds to estimate that the latest deal will cost the mobile phone company well in excess of that figure. As part of the tie-up, Digicel will fund a network of coaching clinics across the Caribbean so that the West Indies team can unearth the next Chris Gayle, although hopefully one who has better manners around the laydees.

The deal was announced by John Delves, a senior executive of Digicel who is also the brother of group chief executive, Colm Delves.

O’Brien, meanwhile, will likely be more focused on the US Federal Reserve than on Gayle’s shenanigans in coming months. The Fed appears to be limbering up for a rate rise sooner than had been anticipated.

This will drive up the dollar against weaker currencies, including those that form the spine of Digicel’s revenues in Haiti, Jamaica and Papau New Guinea. Digicel’s roughly $6.5 billion debts, meanwhile, are denominated in US dollars.

The company is performing reasonably well, but don’t be surprised if O’Brien revives his New York flotation plan as soon as the markets allow, so he can get some cold, hard greenbacks in the door to lighten Digicel’s debt load.

O’Brien’s friend and business partner, Dermot Desmond, will likely be exceedingly happy with the latest deal struck by his Daon biometrics company.

Daon specialises in spook-style biometric identity systems such as iris-scanning and facial recognition, which can be used by banks for so-called selfie-pay mobile banking security systems. The technology can also be used for transport security.

The company has linked up with Gulf Bank of Kuwait to provide software for the bank’s mobile platform. This comes on the back of other major contract wins with Atom, the UK digital challenger bank, and Mastercard.

Desmond founded Daon in 2000, months before the 9/11 terrorist attacks spawned a new age of hyper-security. His timing, as ever, was impeccable.

Desmond, though, has also timed his exits well in the past. For example, he sold out of Baltimore Technologies and London City Airport at just the right time.

How much longer will he hold on to Daon, which has rapidly expanded across the world in recent years?

He once called it his best investment, which is saying something, coming from a billionaire. A flotation or trade sale of Daon in coming years would raise him a mountain of cash.

Enough, even, to fund Brendan Rodgers’s transfer dealings at Desmond’s beloved Glasgow Celtic.

The award for the most intriguing new brand name has to go to Lynk, the Irish-owned taxi app that recently announced it is expanding into the United Kingdom and the United States.

Lynk is harmless enough. In its new markets, however, it will be known as Riide. Can you imagine the kerfuffle if it chose to deploy that moniker in its home market?

“Does anybody fancy sharing a Riide after the pubs close?”

“I can’t get a Riide for love nor money. It’s just so goddam busy out there.”

Girl to her friends: “What taxi app did we use again?” Answer: “Its Riide, Sally, Riide...”

Okay, I’ll stop now.

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