Irish Mail on Sunday
From Andrew Drummond, Hua Hin, Gulf of Thailand
Pictures: Andrew Chant
WHEN the chips are down and all seems lost, there's nothing better to
do than seek solace in the tropical sun, sip a cocktail of tropical
fruits and be pampered with a massage of coconut oil.
While last week's Budget will see much of the country resigned to a day trip to Trabolgan or sitting uncomfortably on the pebbly beach at Tramore this
summer, SeÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¡n Dunne sat back and soaked up the rays yesterday in Thailand.
Despite his spectacular losses after the refusal of planning permission
on his Ballsbridge site - the most expensive property ever purchased in
Ireland - the recession doesn't seem to have hit 'the Dunner' too hard.
But although it was the fifth anniversary of his marriage in Thailand,
it can't be said that the man once known as the Baron of Ballsbridge
was just throwing his cash away.
On the contrary, after undergoing a three-day, e5,000 health course
with his wife, Gayle, in an exclusive health spa, the couple checked
out and decided to slum it down the road.
SeÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¡n and Gayle took a break from Dublin to fly to Thailand's exclusive
Chiva-Som Health Spa in the Thai resort of Hua Hin, a hotspot for 'A'
list stars. Prices at the Chiva- Som start at e1,516 per person for a
minimum of three days and can cost up to e51,000 a month.
At those prices, it seems a short course would suffice and, with Dunner
apparently tugging at his purse strings, the couple decided to move 500
yards along the road to a more humble but not exactly bottomdrawer
location - the five-star Hyatt Regency Resort.
The Hyatt Regency is set in four acres of tropical gardens with
swimming pools, slides, a gym and a spa. There the couple booked into
a e230-a-night Regency Club room. Still, it was perhaps not quite up
to their requirements. For the last two mornings, the couple have been
sneaking out of the Hyatt Regency and heading back along the beach to
the Chiva-Som, which boasts David and Victoria Beckham among its
Yesterday, Gayle left the Hyatt in blue tracksuit bottoms and a white
top at 9.15am. Mr Dunne followed shortly at 9.30am, wearing shorts and a
white Beijing Olympics T-shirt, walking briskly along the beach and up
the steps of the rival resort. After five-and-a-half hours, Mr Dunne -
who recently told the New York Times 'if the banking crisis continues I
could be considered insolvent' - returned alone to the Hyatt.
Gayle returned two hours later, this time wearing a blue patterned
dress. Mr Dunne will have many memories of his times at the Hua Hin. He
was there when he entered the record books as the most reckless
property speculator in Irish history, when he bid for his Ballsbridge
According to an interview he gave at the time, the deadline for bids
was drawing near and he was trying to decide on an offer of between
e253m and e275m when his wife Gayle walked in. He asked her to pick
any number between 253 and 275, without telling her what it was for.
Gayle picked 275 and Dunne then instructed his solicitor to bid e275m.
'After all the work and science that goes into tenders, that's what it
boils down to,' the property tycoon said in an interview after he had
won the bid. Now, as the taxpayer picks up the pieces after a boom
driven by such speculative buying, it seems SeÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¡n Dunne still has enough
in the coffers to ease the stress of his losses. Perhaps he can relax
more than many.
Debt-ridden property speculators will soon come under
pressure from NAMA - the agency established to go after developers'
toxic debts, but Dunne will not be in its sights. He borrowed money
from British lender Ulster Bank - which is not covered by the bank
guarantee scheme - and not from one of the banks that has been bailed
out by Irish taxpayers.
Just across the Gulf of Thailand in Pattaya, an angry mob was
besieging the Royal Cliff Hotel, where ASEAN, the Association of
South East Asian Nations, were meeting. Unhappy Thais who support
former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra have been venting their fury.
Shinawatra was ousted in a coup and then convicted of corruption, In
Ireland this weekend, families are still reeling from the most brutal
Budget the country has seen.
But in Thailand, under clear blue skies and tropical palms and with
kite-boarders gliding across the sea in front of the two hotels, such
problems seemed very far away indeed