Traynor, James Desmond (‘Des’) (1931–94), accountant, banker, and financier, was born 3 June 1931, son of John Joseph Traynor of 39 Grand Canal St. Dublin, motor driver, and Kathleen Traynor (née O'Connor). Educated at the CBS, Westland Row, and St Mary's College, Rathmines, he joined (1951) the accountancy firm of Haughey Boland as its first articled clerk, and was articled to Charles J. Haughey (1925–2006). By 1961 Traynor had become a partner in the firm and developed many contacts among the emerging business class through his contact with Haughey. The latter had little interest in practising as an accountant but brought several high-profile clients to the firm, many of whom were also contributors to the Fianna Fáil party. For the emerging business class Haughey represented a break with the old protectionist policies.
In 1961 Traynor joined the board of directors of Gallagher Group, a building firm controlled by Matt Gallagher, a friend and supporter of Haughey. Traynor later joined the board of Carlisle Trust Ltd, a company set up by property developer John Byrne, another friend of Haughey. Haughey's rise up the political ranks had also led to Traynor's taking charge of the former's finances.
The contacts and clients provided by Haughey led Traynor to become one of the most important financial advisers during the property development boom that took place in Dublin during the 1960s. This in turn brought him into contact with one of Dublin's oldest merchant banks, Guinness & Mahon. The image of the latter as a remnant of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy led its three partners to the conclusion that the bank needed to bring in someone from the new establishment. Traynor's links to Haughey and his supporters in business, combined with his vast experience of complex transactions, made him the ideal candidate. He was appointed to the position of co-managing director of the bank in 1969, and held it until 1986. The following year (1970) he oversaw the incorporation of a bank in the Cayman Islands, Guinness Mahon Cayman Trust. Two men who had worked for the Bank of Nova Scotia in the Caymans, John Collins and John Furze, were appointed to manage the operation, and Traynor took the role of chairman.
In 1970 Roadstone Ltd (founded by Tom Roche (qv)) and Irish Cement Ltd merged to avoid the latter being taken over by the British-based Readymix, and in doing so created one of Ireland's largest companies. However, during the initial period there were tensions between the members of the new board, which was made up of directors from each of the previous companies. Traynor, who had been appointed to the new board, helped to ease the tensions and make the merger work.
In 1974 the highest income-tax bracket was 80 per cent and the government introduced capital gains tax. At the same time the Guinness Mahon Cayman Trust had received a banking licence and Traynor, as its chairman, devised a discretionary trust operation that allowed people in the Republic of Ireland to avoid the harsh tax regime by moving money offshore to the Cayman Bank. Clients of the bank included numerous prominent business people of the day.
When Ireland and the Caymans left the sterling area, exchange controls were introduced to prevent such transactions. However, over the next ten years the deposits continued to grow and Traynor even managed to have money redeposited in Dublin with Guinness & Mahon. Nominally this money would be in the name of the Cayman bank, yet at the same time the Cayman bank was, more often than not, the trustee for the original offshore funds. The nominal ownership of the money was often thus a fiction, which would allow customers to avoid tax by claiming that funds were offshore when in fact they had access to them in Ireland. If a customer required a large sum, the transaction would be processed as a loan and secretly secured by the customer's account in the Cayman bank. To avoid keeping traceable records that would show up on inspection, Traynor developed ‘memorandum accounts’ which kept details of who actually owned the money on deposit in Guinness & Mahon in the name of Guinness Mahon Cayman Trust. The entire operation was cloaked in secrecy, and each account was identified by a code rather than a name.
In 1976 Guinness & Mahon was subjected to an onsite inspection by the Central Bank, and the inspectors expressed concerns at the volume of deposits held in Dublin for the Cayman bank. At the time this totalled more than £14 million, yet Traynor assured the inspectors that no money had been transferred from Ireland since the 1972 imposition of exchange controls. The bank was inspected again in 1978 and in 1982. On both occasions the Central Bank expressed concerns that Guinness & Mahon was possibly assisting in tax avoidance, and noted the level of secrecy in relation to loan accounts backed by deposits from the Cayman bank. Contrary to the truth, Traynor again assured the inspectors that no money had been transferred from Ireland to the Caymans since 1972.
In 1984 the Central Bank informed Guinness & Mahon that it was considering extending supervision to Guinness Mahon Cayman Trust. However, before this could be done the latter was sold to the London parent of Guinness & Mahon, thus placing it outside the jurisdiction of the Irish Central Bank. Guinness & Mahon was inspected once again in 1986 but the Central Bank was unable to uncover the memorandum accounts. During this period Traynor operated a number of bank accounts for Charles Haughey at Guinness & Mahon into which £1.7 million was lodged.
Traynor left Guinness & Mahon in 1986 but remained chairman of Guinness Mahon Cayman Trust. He continued to manage, from an office in Trinty St., the deposits of the Cayman bank held by Guinness & Mahon. In 1987 he was appointed chairman of Cement Roadstone Holdings, and from then continued to operate the offshore accounts from his chairman's office at 42 Fitzwilliam Square. Guinness Mahon Cayman Trust was sold in 1988 to Traynor, Furze and Collins, who later (August) that year sold it on to the Henry Ansbacher Group. Renamed Ansbacher Cayman Ltd, the new entity transferred the deposits from Guinness & Mahon to Irish Intercontinental Bank. Traynor continued to manage the accounts for the holders from his office until his death (11 May 1994). In addition to the above, Traynor was a director of numerous enterprises including Aer Lingus (from 1982) and New Ireland Holdings.
Subsequent to Traynor's death and as a result of investigations into the finances of Charles Haughey, inspectors were appointed by the high court to investigate what became known as the Ansbacher accounts. The report, published in 2002, identified 179 individuals and companies as belonging to Traynor's complex and secretive operation. However, it cannot be said that everyone who established a trust with Traynor did so illegally.
By most accounts Traynor was a paradox. On the one hand he systematically aided numerous clients in defrauding the state of tax revenue. On the other hand he appears to have been, for the most part, scrupulous, hard-working, and deeply principled in his management of his clients’ affairs. He married Doreen; they had six sons and one daughter, and lived at Kilronan, Howth Road, Clontarf, Co. Dublin.