15 January 2006

Hunger striker turns property millionaire

Sunday Times

Brian Carey and Enda Leahy
15 January 2006

HE HAS moved from the H-Blocks to apartment blocks. Now Tom McFeely, a former IRA hunger striker, stands to make millions from one of Dublin’s biggest shopping developments.

Thirty years ago a judge described him as “an extremely dangerous, intelligent and vicious young man”, but McFeely has now emerged as a key player in the planned €500m extension of the Square shopping centre in Tallaght.

The former IRA member, who spent 53 days on hunger strike in Long Kesh prison in 1980, is doing the deal alongside Noel Smyth and Derek Quinlan, two of Ireland’s richest and most successful property developers.

The redevelopment will include the creation of a new main street for the west Dublin suburb.

Now resident on Dublin’s upmarket Ailesbury Road, McFeely worked his way into the Square deal through a shrewd property manoeuvre. He and his partner Larry O’Mahony are believed to have paid up to €50m to acquire Lowes Tavern, a company part-owned by Dublin auctioneer Sean Davin last March.

Lowes Tavern holds a “licence agreement” with South Dublin county council (SDCC) to use an 18-acre car park close to the Square. It is understood that this agreement alone was valued at €30m when McFeely and O’Mahony purchased Lowes Tavern from Davin.

The licence is extremely valuable because the owners of the Square, a partnership of wealthy Dublin businessmen, have been unable to extend the shopping centre into the car park without it. The sale of Lowes Tavern was described by a senior Dublin property adviser as “one of the property coups of the year”.

The car park is owned by SDCC which has been anxious to promote the Square extension. To the embarrassment of the council, its own licence hindered the project.

Although talks between the Square’s wealthy owners and Davin took place over the licence, McFeely and O’Mahony trumped all other bidders to scoop the valuable licence agreement.

It has been reported that McFeely, a builder, and O’Mahony, a Dublin timber merchant-turned-developer, have a one-third share in the company planning the extension, as a result of their acquisition of Lowes Tavern.

The redevelopment will triple the amount of shopping space and will help the Tallaght centre, opened in 1990, to catch up with rival operations in Dundrum, Blanchardstown and Liffey Valley.

Senior property sources believe other partners may try to buy out McFeely’s and O’Mahony’s “position” in the development, yielding a substantial profit for the Lowes Tavern shareholders.

The other shareholders in the development company are Alburn, headed by Smyth, and a partnership that includes Quinlan and a number of Ireland’s wealthiest business people.

McFeely has been active in other business deals in both Britain and Ireland. He and O’Mahony purchased the Tallaght Plaza hotel last year.

The former IRA member served 12 of a 26-year sentence in the Maze prison for robbing a post office and shooting and wounding an RUC officer during a siege of a house in Co Derry. He was released under the royal prerogative on the recommendation of the Court of Criminal Appeal in Northern Ireland in 1987, which ruled that the 12- and 14-year sentences, ordered by the original trial judge to run consecutively, were excessive considering the crimes.

After he was convicted by the Belfast City Commission Court in 1977 the judge told McFeely: “I am satisfied that you are a dangerous young man. You are intelligent and vicious and you seem to be glorifying in your acivity.

“You are a danger to the public and a greater danger to the police. It is clear that you must be put away for a long time.”

McFeely replied: “I may serve the term, but you will not.”

It was the second time the Dungiven man had been jailed. He was one of 19 IRA men who escaped from Portlaoise prison in 1974 when a terrorist exploded a bomb inside the compound destroying one of the walls.

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