DONEGAL TIMES

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February 11th 2004

Keeney successful in battle for Mart

Close vote sees local consortium clinch valuable development site

A Margaret Gallagher Exclusive

It started as a trickle – became a stream, then a torrent, and by 8p.m. porters were wheeling in extra chairs to seat the numbers that turned up last Tuesday to vote at the shareholders meeting to decide Keeney or Bennett as the developer of preference to take over the mart, with the objective of converting it into a retail/commercial complex.
Scurrying around were mart executive and committee members - all determined that nobody but shareholders would enter the hallowed precincts of the ballroom where the vote was to take place. Press, proxy-holders, intruders and just plain curious, – all were turned away – not even pictures of the room allowed before the meeting started. “The rules were strictly drawn up by very wise men many years ago – and we’re thankful today” said mart chairman, John Kelly. “It makes things a lot easier when principles are laid down and adhered to”.

Fine sentiments, but they didn’t go down too well with assembled hacks and photographers who, left sitting in the lobby, vented their frustrations, muttering about lack of transparency and closed-shops.
But this didn’t deter Donegal Times. Unlike the shrinking violets of the rest of the local media, our intrepid reporter and photographer found a way to circumvent the security and obtain a detailed account of the night’s happenings for our readers.

(Continued on right)

Unruly scenes outside Donegal court as murder suspect runs gauntlet of abuse
Gary McCrea remanded in custody for further appearance on Friday 13th

By Jason McGarrigle

Gary McCrea, leaves courthouse surrounded by a protective shield of Detectives and Gardai

Photo: Jason McGarrigle

At 10.28am on Wednesday 4th February, Gary McCrea, the alleged killer of his wife Delores at Ballintra around January 20th, arrived at Donegal Courthouse for his second appearance, having travelled from Castlerea prison in an unmarked car, escorted by a Garda jeep. There were bitter and angry scenes from some of the 200 strong crowd that had assembled outside from early morning. McCrea was led from the car into the building, hand-cuffed to a Garda, to the accompaniment of jeers and insults from those gathered. A team of approx. 20 Gardai linked arms to restrain and control the crowd.
Wearing a light coloured Fair Isle sweater, green shirt and brown trousers, McCrea was led through to the consultation room inside the Courthouse. When the court clerk called the second case of the day, it was ‘Detective Garda Dessie Sheridan versus Gary McCrea’. The defendant sat in the body of the court, calm and collected - eyes focused towards the Judge, John O’Donnell. Solicitor, Frank Dorrian, applied for legal aid to be extended to cover the cost of Junior Council. Mr Dorrian pleaded that “due to the gravity of the case” he felt it was appropriate to extend legal aid to cover Council in the District Court. There was no objection to this and the Judge granted legal aid to retain Junior Barrister, Mr Peter Nolan, B.L.
Judge O’Donnell remanded the defendant in custody to the court at Harristown on February 13th. He granted an extension of time for the preparation and service of a book of evidence. After a lengthy discussion with his legal team in the court’s consultation room, McCrea was escorted from the court to further angry outbursts from the crowd. Quickly bundled into the back of the car, the accused was driven speedily away, accompanied by the Garda escort. Yesterday evening, Monday 9th February, Gary McCrea applied for bail at Cloverhill court in Dublin. This case was adjourned until a hearing in the High Court next week.

Keeney successful in battle for Mart

(continued from left column)

Keeney Presentation
By the time the meeting commenced, 168 delegates had registered. At the top table, directing proceedings, were mart chairman, John Kelly and secretary, Shay Carbin, aided by auditor, Seamus McGroary and legal advisor, Donal P. Gallagher.
The Keeney consortium was first to make its presentation, aided by overheads, screens, maps and flipcharts, backed by a high-powered team that included Derek Scott, Laurence Blake, Eoin Reynolds, Martin Garvin, Tesco Ireland; Kieran Beggan, Architect, WDR and RT Taggart, Solicitor Diarmuid Barry and developer Danny Keeney.
First up was Laurence Blake, Project Manager from Letterkenny. Laurence, who is working with Keeney Construction Limited on a number of projects in the country, previously worked as Project Manager with Donegal County Council on the decentralisation of council services to the local electoral areas.
After introducing the panel and speakers, Laurence outlined the background to Keeney Construction’s interest in the Mart site, referring specifically to the disappointment of the appeal decision on the Revlin Park proposals. He advised the shareholders that the Revlin Park project had not been abandoned and that amended proposals were currently being prepared for that site. He said that Keeney Construction’s proposals for the Mart and Revlin Park sites would be complementary to each other and that both would be used to provide the town with additional services and facilities.
After this he gave a profile of Keeney Construction Limited and outlined a number of prestigious projects that the Company had been involved with in London, including the conversion of Butler’s Wharf; the erection of 230 apartments at Dundee Wharf; the refurbishment of the Mansion House (Lord Mayor’s Residence) for the London Corporation; the German Ambassador’s Residence; the Saudi Embassy; an office block for world famous architect, Sir Terry Farrell; a residence for King Fahad of Saudi Arabia and a new headquarters building for Rolex Watches. He advised the shareholders that Keeney Construction Limited were currently working on projects with a total value of €230 million which included a new retail and leisure park in Limerick; retail and residential schemes in Letterkenny, and other developments in Drogheda and Dublin.
In the context of the retail multiple anchoring the mart site, Laurence gave a brief profile of Tesco Ireland, stating that the company employed 10,500 staff in their 82 stores nationwide. He said that they had opened thirteen stores in the last three years alone, creating 3,000 new jobs in the process and that they would be creating a further 1000 new jobs in the next 18 months. He made specific reference to Tesco’s new store in Letterkenny and the creation of 60 new jobs in that store as evidence of their commitment to the county.
Derek Scott, a town planning and development consultant, outlined Keeney Construction’s proposals for the existing mart site and for the new mart facility on the outskirts of the town. Derek, who originally comes from Clar Lougheske on the Barnes side of town, has recently established his own town planning consultancy and works extensively throughout the UK and Ireland. He started by saying that he was absolutely delighted to present Keeney Construction’s proposals to the shareholders of the Mart and expressed the view that his client had an exciting vision for both the Mart and the Revlin sites.
He informed the audience that if Keeney Construction Limited were successful in acquiring the Mart site, it was their intention to progress proposals for a new Tesco Supermarket and ancillary retail units. He also exclusively revealed that representatives of Keeney Construction Limited were in discussions with two other national retail organisations which were more than interested in locating in Donegal Town.
Derek then proceeded to outline Keeney Construction’s proposals for a new state of the art turnkey mart facility for the sale of cattle and sheep on a 6.5 acre site at Tullyearl. He said that the mart would be designed by WDR and RT Taggart, the architects for the much acclaimed Omagh Livestock Mart in County Tyrone.
Initial proposals for the new mart which were presented by Derek included two auction rings, pens, weighbridges, office accommodation, toilets, canteen and a modern PA system. Externally there would be parking space for approximately 240 cars and 30 lorries, storage facilities, loading and unloading bays,

wash-down facilities, holding tanks and interceptors, safe effluent discharge facilities, security fencing and lighting, extensive landscaping and a working environment that complies with all national and international rules and regulations and health and safety requirements for customers and employees as set down by the Department of Agriculture and the European Union.
Derek Scott then handed over to Eoin Reynolds, a Director with Consulting Engineers, Borehams. Eoin spoke about the proposed access arrangements to the Tullyearl site and outlined the type of junction improvements that would be required to serve it.
Last of the Keeney team to take the podium, was the man himself, Danny Keeney. He started by revealing that he was a man who preferred to keep a low profile and being on a platform making a presentation was not really his scene. “I didn’t think that 23 years after leaving Donegal, I’d be back addressing a packed ballroom of mart shareholders.”
Danny thanked Tesco for staying on board despite all the difficulties encountered at Revlin and continued “I’m passionate about this project. Donegal Town must expand - I can make this work for the betterment of all. I hope you will support the local person. If I win, this development will be built by local contractors, using local suppliers.’
This ended the first presentation and the Keeney personnel left the room. It was then confirmed to the meeting that the bids by both sides had been lodged with the Mart auditor, Seamus Mc Groary, before 3 p.m. that day and these would be revealed after both presentation were completed.

Bennett Presentation
Then it was the turn of Bennett Construction. The presenter, John White, Project Development Manager, opened with a short history of his company, which he described as one of the top ten building corporations in Ireland, with over 4 million sq. feet of construction underway at any one time. “We have a record of delivering on projects – and a proud record of repeat clients - an example of our work is Drumlonagher Civic offices which were delivered on time and on budget”.
Mr. White enumerated other projects carried out by Bennett including The Helix in Dublin, Houston Station, Dublin City University Science Block, Stack A Customs House Quay and Store Street Garda Station.
Mr. White then listed what was on offer to the Mart shareholders:
•The construction of a new Mart on a virgin site at Tullyearl - with same day transition from old to new.
•A non-refundable deposit of €75,000 to be lodged immediately. •Seven acres at Tullyearl on new roundabout, with Bennett taking total responsibility for negotiations with council planners and NRA. •Tax advice to mart members.
•Full sign-off rights with shareholders.
•A fully committed Dunnes store on site.
•€1.2 million as minimium cash contribution, in addition to building new mart, managing whole process, and dealing with NRA and planners.

Mr White then concentrated on Bennett’s proposed alternative mart site at Tullyearl “The critical thing is the new mart site – nothing can happen till this comes on stream. We have bought Tommy McGarrigle’s land, have paid for it, and secured title. We have already put in place a pre-planning enquiry and had discussions with the NRA. We have had very favourable feedback from both these bodies. Once the new roundabout is in place, the Roads Authority is very happy to have the mart on that site. We have done a lot of work on the design of the new building, the size of car-park, and the position of pens”.
Mr White then switched to the plans of Bennett Construction for the existing mart site.These include:
• A 50,000sq ft Dunnes Stores anchor unit, plus ancillary retail units.

•Relocation of the Bosco.
•320 new jobs for Donegal and environs.
According to the presenter, the time frame for this programme is: planning, 3-6 months; construction, 12-15 months; in total, approx one and a half years for completed project. Mr White concluded “We hope you will pick us as preferred developer – if so, we will immediately deposit €75,000 into the mart account on a non-refundable basis”.

Next up was Dunnes Stores spokesman, John McEniff, who confirmed that his company were 100% committed to Donegal “We will bring over 300 jobs to town” he promised.
During questions to the Bennett group, it became clear that not only was this group offering the cash incentives listed above but was also willing to top any competing offer by 25% - no matter at what level this offer came in. This contentious clause was to play a big part in later interjections from the floor and, possibly, decisions made when the vote was taken at meeting’s end.

At this stage the mart auditor, Seamus McGroary, sought to clarify some points with the Bennett team.
(a)That the Bennett offer was subject to planning permission being granted on both sites ie. Mart and Tullyearl. Answer, YES.
(b) That the offer covered stamp duty and legal costs. Answer, YES (c) Expand on 25% top-up offer. Answer, basic offer €1.2 million offer or 25% on top of any other offer.
The Bennett platform party then left the room.

Reaction from floor
An interject from the floor which drew big applause, “A lot of people are giving away millions here tonight – I’m of the impression that this site is worth a hell of a lot more than is on offer here”
However Mart secretary, Seamus Carabin, re-buffed this “we’re here tonight to discuss two proposals only. If you don’t agree with this, you’re free to leave the room. Both John Kelly and myself have put a lot of work into this and these are the options in front of you” (applause).
Another speaker from the floor objected to the 25% top-up option – said that if Bennett was allowed to do this, Keeney should be given a chance to reply to this offer
Again from the floor “€1.2 million is a joke of an offer for a seven acre prime site.” This was rebutted from the top table. “ As well as the money, this offer includes new site, planning, building, plus Dunnes Stores on board. If this falls through, you are left with your old mart and nothing else”.
Mart committee member, Seamus Gallagher, interjected. “The 25% is very unfair to the previous bidder – Keeney was first to come up with the €75,000 deposit – the Bennett deposit offer only became apparent today – Keeney should get a chance to come back.”
Mart auditor McGroary replied “Nobody only myself knows the Keeney bid. The 25% added was not clear until we came in tonight. I’ll have to leave it to the meeting to decide if it is fair or not.”
Leo Colhoun asserted that a majority present couldn’t care less if there was a mart or not - they would be quite happy to take the money and run. However, he declared, the mart was an important asset to the ordinary small farmer and one that must continue to function, at whatever location.

At this stage the auditor summarised the Bennett package – €750,000 for the site, €1.5 million to build a new mart – Total: €2.25 million – with stamp duty etc, this figure would expand to approx. €3.33 million. In addition, €1.2 million in cash or 25% above any other offer.
A fierce floor debate then raged on the ethics of the 25% top-up. Many felt the this type of offer was unfair, as the competing bidder could not win, no matter what his offer.
In answer to a question on the merits of just taking cash for the site rather than rebuilding, auditor McGroary replied “You can take it as a dividend and pay tax at top 40% rate – or you can liquidate old mart and take cash – then pay at capital gains rate of 20%
In a bid to quell deep unrest around the floor over the 25%, it was decided by the top table to read out the Keeney bid. This was the first time that this offer had been revealed. Two options were given:
Option A
• A new mart to Department of Agriculture specifications
•A 6.5 acre site on Dessie Grahams land at Tullyearl - cost €750,000

•Cash offer of €1.625 million
•A €110,000 non-refundable deposit
•If grants become available – all go to mart
•Planning permission within 10 weeks.
Option B
•A straight cash offer of €4.125 million – no conditions – an open-ended offer.
Option B led to a lot of mental arithmetic among those present. If this was the Keeney cash offer, then the 25% top-up from Bennett meant that his equivalent offer exceeded €5 million.

Close Contest
With both offers now in the open and the debate still raging on the implications of each, the top table announced that it was going to call for two votes – the first -‘should the existing mart be sold and relocated to another site to allow development of present site.’
A secret ballot produced the result:
YES, 132 - NO, 30 - 1 spoiled.

With this decision out of the way, it was announced that it was down to a straight vote between Keeney and Bennett – with those who disagreed with the 25% top-up having the chance to register their opposition in the ballot, The result – 164 votes cast

KEENEY, 83 – BENNETT, 81.

So by a margin of 2 votes, Danny Keeney won the day.

Statements and Interviews
The Times then spoke to Christopher Bennett who, although expressing disappointment with the result wished the winners the best of luck
Donegal Times: Were you confident coming in here tonight?
Bennett: No, as a Westmeath man coming up here to Donegal, we are only learning to play the game - so like Paudi O’Shea - in another year’s time we will be all right.
DT: Will we see Bennett back with another development?
B: We have a very valuable site out at the roundabout which has still to be played for and it’s worth watching.
DT: Would you still be considering a Dunnes Stores out at Drumlonagher?
B: No, there will be no Dunnes Stores and we are not too sure where Tesco will be either. There is a debate on now that Tesco have two sites, so where do they go?
DT: You have said that Dunnes Stores are committed to Donegal.
B: Yes they were - but now they don’t have a site.
DT: Do you have another site to offer Dunnes and keep them committed to Donegal?
B: I think it’s unfortunate for Donegal that Dunnes Stores have lost. I think it’s a sad day - well, not a sad day, but the commitment we had from Dunnes Stores was extraordinary. I have never seen them so committed to a site as this one and I think they would have done a lot of good for the town, I’m sure Tesco will as well - I wouldn’t be too worried. So you will be buying from Tesco rather than Dunnes.

Our reporter, Margaret Gallagher, then moved around bar and foyer to talk to still buzzing delegates
Danny Gallagher, M’charles:
DT: What do you think of the outcome?
Danny: A great outcome. I’m very glad that Danny Keeney got it - a local man, providing local contractors and local workers.
Cathal Campbell, Drimarone:
“I think it’s great to see a Drimarone man succeed.”
DT: What do you think swung the vote for Keeney
Cathal: I think the fact that Bennett tried to up the ante in an underhand way - that swung a lot of people in favour of Keeney.
John Coburn said that he was glad the whole thing was over, “I am tired of sitting in the mart canteen starving myself and listening to them chirping.”
DT: After seeing both presentations what do you think swung the vote for Keeney?
John: I think being the local person and also there was a lot going on behind the scenes we didn’t know about!!!
Bernard Kelly, Frosses, was sure it was all for the best. “A local man who has time to talk to every body with a nice personality, and I expect he will be employing all local people.”
Albert Morrow, Drumrooske: “I think the people went for the local man. There wasn’t much between the two presentations - maybe Keeney had his homework done better.
DT: Are you happy with the decision?
Albert: “Yes, I am glad for the committee, the chairman and secretary that the votes have been taken and the matter put to bed. I wish Danny Keeney the best of luck”.
Seamus Gallagher, Edrim Glebe: said that he was delighted with the outcome.
DT: What swung the vote for Keeney?
Seamus: I think that Danny was very honest with his bid. I was very impressed with his presentation - he seemed to have done a lot of groundwork.
DT: Do you personally feel that the shareholders have made the right decision to go with Keeney.
Seamus: I’m 100% sure that the right decision has been made.
DT: As a long serving member of the Mart committee what do you think of the new proposals?
Seamus: I’m personally delighted. We are going to walk into a state of the art mart, which will be up and running before the old mart is demolished. Having said that it’s an emotional night for me - I was first to start digging the test holes for the existing mart after I left national school . There was no modern machinery, I used a pick and shovel - Eamon Sweeney took over from me with a backactor and tractor. I worked at the mart for 35 years and retired last September - but I’m still on the committee.
Dessie Graham, Mullins:
DT: As the owner of the proposed new site for the mart what are your feelings?
Dessie: I am very happy and hope that the planning goes through and everything goes well.
DT: After seeing both presentations what prompted the shareholders to vote for Keeney?
Dessie: It was a big help that he was a local and I think Bennetts was an open bid and to me it wasn’t a final or a definitive bid which they were supposed to submit. I think it didn’t help them but during the meeting I did think it would swing the vote in their favour.
DT: After seeing Bennett’s presentation on the McGarrigle site and Keeneys on your own site what was your reaction?
Dessie: I think my site is the best, because it is lower down and further away from all the houses. It’s not high up, it’s not going to be an eyesore nor distracting people going around the new roundabout.
DT: What does this mean for Dessie Graham tonight?
Dessie: It’s a great big lifter for me and I won’t have a red face going into the bank anymore.

Good Luck
So the shareholders have voted and Danny Keeney is the selected developer, chosen to advance the project that carries the hopes and aspirations of the people of Donegal Town and surroundings. We feel confident that the man from from Drimarone will not let us down in this ambitious task and wish him and his consortium all the very best in his endeavours.


The Donegal Times, The Diamond, Donegal Town, Ireland

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