Tale of two recessions for man once worth €500m


PROFILE:RECESSIONS SEEM to play pivotal roles in developer Jim Mansfield’s career – the 1980s downturn was the making of him, while the current slump looks to have been the opposite.

A farmer’s son turned haulier from Brittas, Co Dublin, Mansfield made serious money in the 1980s by shipping unwanted diggers and earthmovers from Ireland to the US at a handsome profit.

It was his stepping stone to the big time. Following the Falklands War, the British government built an airport on one of the islands. When that was complete, it auctioned off the 1,100 heavy vehicles used in the construction.

Mansfield bought the lot and sold most of them in the US at a £19 million profit, before earning another £7 million flogging the rest in Liverpool Freeport.

The deal led to a row between his partner, Swaine Freight, and the British government, which Swaine eventually won in 1990. By then, Mansfield had begun building his empire with the £1 million purchase of the property that is now the Citywest hotel, conference centre and golf course complex.

The conference centre was a flashpoint between himself and the authorities. It led to two High Court reviews, two planning appeals and numerous rows with South Dublin County Council.

A Clondalkin shopping centre, Weston airfield in Dublin and Palmerstown Demesne in Kildare all followed. At the height of the property boom, he was said to be worth €500 million.

During this time, his sons, Tony, PJ and Jimmy, played an increasing role in the business, but he remained hands on.

The rows with authority continued. He had a dispute with the Department of Justice over Weston’s port-of-entry status. In another incident, to which Mansfield was not connected, a plane bound for the airfield from Belgium was found to have heroin on board.

He wanted to build a Formula 1 track at Palmerstown, but dropped the plan when he could not do a deal with franchise owner Bernie Ecclestone.

Mansfield was one of three developers who paid €11 million each for the extension of Dublin’s Luas tram line to Citywest. He paid the money despite not getting planning concessions he had been seeking.

Now that his main company, HSS, is being liquidated, he could probably do with that €11 million.