Ownership ‘secrecy’ criticised at hearing on Ireland’s most expensive house

Seán Dunne and Gayle Killilea Dunne bought Walford on Shrewsbury Road for €58 million

Attempts to identify the owners of Ireland’s most expensive house have dominated a Bord Pleanála hearing on plans for its redevelopment.

Gayle Killilea Dunne, the wife of developer Seán Dunne, bought Walford at 24 Shrewsbury Road, Dublin, for €58 million in 2005 .

The Edwardian house on an almost two-acre site was last year sold for €14 million to Cypriot-registered Yesreb Holding Ltd whose owners have not been disclosed.

Mr Dunne’s link to the property only came to light last February when he told a meeting of creditors he had gifted his wife €58 million to buy Walford, a sum that, nine years on, remains the highest-ever paid for an Irish house.

Appellants against the plan to renovate and extend the house, and build four new houses in its grounds, have raised concerns about who has beneficial ownership of the property.

Yesreb is seeking to alter and extend the 546sq m house to 854sq m. To the rear of the house, a new development of four detached houses, each of 608sq m, is proposed around a shared private space. The houses are to be three storeys over a basement, with the top storeys set into a pitched roof. Widening of the driveway is also planned.

Dublin City Council last March granted permission for much of the development but included a condition reducing the number of new houses to three.

Yesreb is appealing that condition, while a number of Shrewsbury Road residents are appealing the development in its entirety.

Michael O’Donnell BL, representing Stephen Mackenzie, a neighbouring resident, asked Ray Ryan, a planning consultant for Yesreb, if he intended to produce a document stating “who in effect was the person in control of the applicant company” or who was “de facto in control, because that information is extraordinarily relevant”.

Mr Ryan said he had no additional documents he planned to produce.

Mr O’Donnell asked Des Twomey, architect of the scheme, who had given him his instructions. Mr Twomey said Yesreb had.

“There is a determined attempt here not to reveal anything,” Mr O’Donnell said. He said the issue of ownership was relevant because there was a history of “wanton neglect and wanton vandalism” of the house and its gardens in recent years. “This isn’t some kind of secret society here – who is behind this development?” The question was not answered.

Dr Diarmuid Ó Gráda, a planning consultant representing David McCann, 26 Shrewsbury Road, and Marion Dempsey, 10 Shrewsbury Road, asked the planning board satisfy itself that the applicant “can demonstrate adequate legal estate or interest in the subject site”.

Mr Ó Gráda said the development would have a very damaging impact on the heritage of Shrewsbury Road. “What now comprises a fine house, albeit currently neglected, set in a mature garden, would be converted into a cluttered and displaced housing estate,” he said.

Stephen Purcell, a planning consultant with Future Analytics on behalf of the Shrewsbury Road Residential and Environmental Protection Association, said the proposal represented an excessive and inappropriate density of development, set an undesirable precedent for the area and would be “wholly inappropriate”. The lack of information as to who the directors were was contrary to the principles of transparency of the Irish planning system, he said.

In response to queries from the council last February, prior to the grant of permission, planning agents for Yesreb said the company – being Cypriot and not registered here – does not have the same requirements as an Irish company would under companies law.

“Under Cypriot company law, a company can be named as a director in another company,” it stated. Yesreb’s directors are listed as Totaltrust Management and Totalserve Management Ltd.The hearing continues today.

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly is Dublin Editor of The Irish Times