Property developer Owen O’Callaghan dies after short illness

Founder of O’Callaghan Properties behind some of Irelands biggest shopping centres

One of Ireland’s leading property developers, Owen O’Callaghan has died in Cork following a short illness.

Mr O’Callaghan (76), founder of O’Callaghan Properties and the developer behind some of the biggest shopping centres in the country, passed away in hospital overnight after taking ill on Christmas Day.

A native of Ballincollig, Mr O’Callaghan who lived in Rochestown on Cork’s southside, worked originally as a chartered surveyor for Cork engineering firm, O’Connell and Harley in the mid-60s.

He left in 1969 to set up his own company, OMAC which began by building houses and warehouses but by the early 1980s, he turned his attention to developing shopping centres.

He began by developing the Paul Street Shopping Centre in Cork and he went on to develop Merchant’s Quay, Douglas Shopping Centre, North Main Street and Mahon Point in Cork.

More recently, he developed Opera Lane in Cork city centre on the former site of the Irish Examiner on Academy Street and he was currently developing a major office complex at Albert Quay.

But his developments were not without controversy and in 1995, an attempt by CIE to sell an 17 acre site at Horgan’s Quay in Cork to Mr O’Callaghan became mired in allegations of cosy cartels.

Mr O’Callaghan had proposed to develop an 800 job technology park at the site adjacent to Kent Station but it emerged the site had not gone out to public tender as required by law.

Mr O’Callaghan withdrew from the deal and the site remained undeveloped for 20 years and only in recent years as CIE agreed a deal with Manor Homes to develop the site fronting on to the River Lee.

Liffey Valley controversy

Meanwhile Mr O’Callaghan also became embroiled in controversy over his development of the Liffey Valley Shopping Centre in Dublin which led to his appearance before the planning tribunals.

Developer Tom Gilmartin alleged Mr O’Callaghan told him he had paid Bertie Ahern IR£80,000 to block a tax designation for the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre, a rival to Liffey Valley, in Dublin.

Ahern rejected the allegation while Mr O’Callaghan challenged the Planning and Payments Tribunal in the courts, going to the Supreme Court to gain access to statements by Mr Gilmartin.

When the tribunal published its report, it accepted Mr Gilmartin’s evidence that he had been told by Mr O’Callaghan that he paid money to Mr Ahern but it also found it had not been proved that the payments had actually been made.

The tribunal did not accept Mr O’Callaghan was unaware of the “corrupt” activity of ex- Fianna Fail lobbyist Frank Dunlop in paying councillors to back the rezoning of Mr O’Callaghan’s development of another centre at Quarryvale.

It said Mr O’Callaghan paid money to the late councillor Sean Gilbride, and former councillors GV Wright, John O’Halloran and Colm McGrath to ensure “their continued support and assistance” for the rezoning of Quarryvale between 1992 and 1993.

He also paid the late Liam Lawlor, who was a TD and a councillor, IR£41,000 between 1991 and 1996, the tribunal found.

In a statement Mr O’Callaghan said he “utterly” rejected the findings of tribunal and said “the tribunal arrived at its conclusions based on procedures which by any reasonable criteria have been biased, unfair and unjust.”

He took a judicial review of the planning tribunal report but lost in the High Court and the matter is currently under appeal to the Supreme Court.

Aside from several retail developments in Cork and Dublin, O’Callaghan and his company O’Callaghan Properties was also responsible for developing Golden Island in Athlone, Arthur’s Quay in Limerick and in Carlow.

He was also involved in two major residential developments at Hammersmith and Bermondsey in London and he emerged from the property crash relatively unscathed with just a small proportion of his loans taken over by NAMA.

Mr O’Callaghan is survived by his wife, Shelagh, son Brian and daughter, Zelda and is predeceased by his daughter, Hazel who died in 2002 at the age of 22 after suffering a serious head injury during a show jumping accident.