Mansfield, Jim (1939–2014), businessman, was born on 9 April 1939 in the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, one of three sons of Mary Mansfield. There is no reference to a father on his birth certificate. He was brought up by his mother on a plot of land at Crooksling, Brittas, Co. Dublin, and attended Brittas National School before starting work, aged fourteen, as a farmhand, later working in a quarry and as a carrier. A self-admitted wild youth, he had already been convicted of cattle rustling when he was sentenced to twelve months imprisonment in January 1960 for stealing equipment from local garages. After his release, he became a car dealer based in Crooksling but served another prison term upon being convicted in March 1962 of knowingly receiving a stolen vehicle. Imposing a twenty-one month sentence, the judge called him ‘a young man of considerable ability and intelligence who has turned to crime’ (Irish Independent, 27 Mar. 1962).
Setting up as a haulier, he built up a fleet of seven trucks, being fined in court three times between 1965 and 1974 for using illegal diesel. In the early 1970s he started buying trucks and earth moving equipment for sale to construction companies. By 1974 he was trading from Keating’s Park, Rathcoole, near Saggart, Co. Dublin, where he lived with his wife Anne, who was from Terenure, Dublin. They would have three sons.
During the prolonged recession of the 1980s, Mansfield bought idle plant and machinery and exported them on specially chartered ships to the booming US market, and he established a depot in Atlanta, Georgia. By the mid-1980s his business, which also exported to the Middle East, was considered the largest of its kind in Ireland and Britain. He was reputedly worth tens of millions, scouring both islands for second-hand plant and machinery in his private helicopter. If struggling Irish contractors appreciated his generous prices, his success in America prompted the US supplier of McCormick Naughton, the Irish machinery distributors, to prohibit sales to him of its Caterpillar earth movers and to secure a temporary court injunction in 1986 preventing him from exporting Caterpillars to America.
In early 1986 he saw off tough international competition in bidding for the vast array of machinery used in the British government’s construction of a new airport on the Falkland Islands, though the British tried unsuccessfully to back out of the deal. He chartered, brand new, three of the world’s biggest roll-on, roll-off vessels, gambling correctly that they could navigate the construction site’s small harbour. Once the site was cleared that October, about one-third of this haul was auctioned immediately in Atlanta, Georgia, for US$17.5 million, which covered his outlay. The rest was brought to a duty-free zone, Liverpool Freeport, for auction in two further tranches, in April 1987 and April 1988, yielding £15 million sterling.
At the second Liverpool auction, Mansfield was arrested on charges of VAT fraud relating to the sale of machinery prior to the 1987 auction, worth some £2.7 million. He posted bail while Pat Shanahan, the man he had entrusted to carry out those sales, absconded. (Other tax compliance difficulties emerged in 1988 when he agreed a £368,000 settlement with the Revenue Commissioners in Ireland.) Appearing in Liverpool Crown Court in September 1989, Mansfield professed ignorance of Shanahan’s actions and was acquitted of fraud, but found guilty of recklessness in completing his VAT returns and ordered to pay £280,000 sterling. He sold a house to Shanahan a few years later. A convicted felon who specialised in robbing antiques and would be shot dead in 1994, Shanahan had in 1987 bought several north inner-city Dublin properties from Mansfield, which were then used to launder money for leading Dublin criminals.
Focusing increasingly on property development, Mansfield bought the Clondalkin paper mill site in west Co. Dublin in 1989 and built a shopping centre there in 1994, selling it profitably three years later. In 1990 he bought and restored Tassaggart House, an eighteenth-century mansion near Saggart, which soon bore splendid witness to his passion for collecting antiques; other interests included Formula One motor racing and airplanes, though his workaholic tendencies allowed little time for hobbies. He snapped up land around Tassaggart House, completing a golf course beside it in 1993 despite never having any interest in the sport. The course clubhouse built in 1994 was expanded into a small hotel during the mid-1990s, its creeping development abetted by a destructive fire in October 1997. Previously seen as too far from Dublin city, by then his hotel and golf course were benefitting from the construction of the M50 motorway and the migration outwards of many businesses. He realised huge gains from selling parcels of land around Saggart into the mid-2000s.
Benefitting from tax incentives, he accelerated the piecemeal expansion of his four-star hotel (dubbed the Citywest Hotel) from 2000, also accommodating guests in the neighbouring apartment blocks that he built and in the nearby Parkwest Hotel, which he bought in 2006. After he opened a 4,000-seater conference centre at Citywest in autumn 2000, it became a magnet for national organisations by virtue of its size, accessibility, ample parking and modern facilities. The main political parties held functions there, including their annual ard fheiseanna, as did the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). The conference centre also hosted corporate events, concerts, awards shows and international snooker and darts tournaments.
Mansfield continued to expand his interests in Citywest during the early 2000s, with the development of a second golf course (2001) and a retail village (2005), as well as luxury houses and apartments around the two golf courses during the early-to-mid-2000s. By 2008 his sprawling Citywest complex employed over 400 workers and boasted nearly 1,200 guest bedrooms; the 774-bedroom Citywest Hotel was considered one of the largest in Europe. Contributing €13 million to the construction of a track (finished in 2011) that linked Citywest into Dublin’s light rail (Luas) network, he played a decisive role in making Saggart Ireland’s fastest growing town, as recorded in the 2011 and 2016 census.
In 1999 he bought Palmerstown House, plus 800 acres, near Johnstown, Co. Kildare, after impressing the owner by arriving to their negotiations with £1 million in cash. He intended making the estate a second Citywest, completing a golf course there at extravagant expense in 2004. Designed by the golfer Christy O’Connor junior, as were the two at Citywest, it was judged one of Ireland’s finest non-links courses. Weston Aerodrome, a small private airport straddling the Dublin–Kildare border, came next in 2002. Bidding with some success to lure executive jets there, he built hangars, a new terminal and air traffic control tower, and extended the runway. Finally, in 2007 he bought and refurbished Finnstown Country House Hotel, a boutique hotel in Lucan, Co. Dublin.
His investments were financed by various banks who were prepared to be generous and patient, knowing that their debt was underpinned by the soaring value of the 2,000 acres he had accumulated along Dublin’s western approaches. There were mutterings of shadowy financial backers and of his keeping disreputable company, but his well-publicised Falkland Islands coup provided a convenient explanation for his wealth; the claimed profits from this deal rose exponentially over time.
He first achieved notoriety for his habitual flouting of the planning laws, doing so either by not adhering to planning conditions or by building first and securing permission later, suffering the occasional meaningless fine for safety or planning breaches. Planners and local politicians took an indulgent view of the unauthorised features attendant on his Clondalkin and early Citywest developments, both in depressed areas. Indeed, in 2001 he hired the newly retired South Dublin county council manager Frank Kavanagh as his planning consultant. A fixture at Fianna Fáil party fundraising events, Mansfield retained the security firm owned by his most vocal political supporter, the South Dublin county councillor, Colm McGrath, who was later found by the planning tribunal to have corruptly accepted money from another developer.
From about 2002, the planners and politicians took a tougher line towards Mansfield, partly in reaction to criticisms of their earlier laxity. The resulting litany of planning rejections, enforcement orders and prosecutions largely stymied his development of the Palmerstown estate while impeding progress elsewhere. At Weston Aerodrome, where he faced determined lobbying from residents aggrieved by the increased flight activity, the local authorities ordered the demolition of hangars, covered parts of the extended runway with topsoil and withdrew the latitude normally permitted for routine work.
In early September 2003 he jumped the gun by beginning work on a 6,000-seater convention centre at Citywest, paused following an enforcement order dated 26 September, then resumed once the local authority voted planning permission on 10 November. He felt confident in disregarding the four-week stay imposed to allow for appeals because he owned the surrounding land and the relevant statutory bodies had been given their chance to object. But the local authority had not forewarned An Taisce (Ireland’s National Trust), which used this and Tassaggart House’s protected status to justify making an appeal on 8 December.
After the planning appeals board deemed this appeal admissible, he stopped building in early January 2004. The half-finished convention centre became the subject of frantic legal and political manoeuvres and much public comment. Although the appeals board annulled the planning permission in April 2004, and rejected a revised scheme in June 2006, there was no official appetite for enforcing a demolition order. In July 2008 he won approval for a reduced 4,000-capacity convention centre, which was completed, opening in September 2009.
More controversy ensued in September 2006 when a man was arrested in Belgium carrying €7 million worth of cocaine and heroin just before he boarded Mansfield’s private jet, which was bound for Weston Aerodrome. The jet was operated by his tenant at Weston, the National Flight Training company, and had been given on a once-off basis to a former IRA paramilitary turned aviation broker, also based at Weston, whose aircraft was grounded with engine trouble. It emerged that virtually no customs checks were being made at the aerodrome. Although the gardai did not suspect Mansfield of being behind the seized drugs consignment, this incident sparked febrile rumours about illicit smuggling through Weston.
Generally, he succeeded in presenting as a legitimate property tycoon, the media casting him (not inaccurately) as a likeable, down-to-earth rogue with a knack for moneymaking. His craving for corporate respectability extended to hiring managers with impressive CVs, though not to allowing them real authority. He went through a string of senior executives, leaving his group with an undeveloped bureaucracy and overburdened managers, subject to his constant interference. Those not delivering faced summary dismissal, as did anyone questioning his corner-cutting methods.
He enjoyed a productive relationship with John Glynn, a consummate hotelier who ran Citywest from 1999 to 2006, and again (less happily) from 2008 to 2009. Glynn left in 2006 because Mansfield refused to share ownership of the business, which was destined for his three sons: Tony, the eldest, ran the plant and machinery side while Jimmy and PJ engaged with everything else. They were a tight-knit family. The playboy lifestyles of his two younger sons filled the gossip columns, with PJ’s marriage in 2006 to former Miss Ireland Andrea Roche generating huge media interest; so too did the death, following a drugs overdose, of Jimmy’s girlfriend, the model Katie French.
Having previously shunned publicity, Jim senior took latterly to reassuring his creditors by giving interviews where he exaggerated his wealth, which probably amounted to several hundred million euros by 2007. It evaporated, however, once the economic downturn and collapse in property values attendant on the 2008 financial crisis exposed his overstretched business empire. Moreover, he was in poor health, eventually being diagnosed with multiple systems atrophy, a rare and incurable neurological disease. The daily running of the business drifted into the hands of his son Jimmy, who accumulated drink driving and dangerous driving charges during 2008–10 while being on the wrong end of a €6 million court award following a failed property speculation.
Mansfield senior tried to renegotiate his companies’ debts, but his main banker, the British-owned Royal Bank of Scotland, took a hard line, putting the Citywest complex and the Finnstown Country House Hotel into receivership in July 2010. Then, in April 2011, the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA), the state-run debt management agency, appointed a receiver to Weston Aerodrome and the Palmerstown House estate, having earlier assumed the Irish Nationwide Building Society loans secured on these assets. The ensuing liquidation of assorted Mansfield companies left a horde of suppliers and contractors out of pocket. As he had given personal guarantees to the banks, in late 2011 the commercial court in Dublin awarded judgements against Mansfield to the Bank of Scotland and NAMA, of €214 million and €74 million respectively. He had previously taken precautions such as transferring ownership of Tassaggart House to his wife.
According to testimony later provided by a Mansfield security employee, Martin Byrne, Mansfield also owed money to various criminals and deterred most of them by expensively hiring republican paramilitaries for protection. But Byrne claimed that Mansfield knew he could not walk away from his debts to the Kinahan drugs cartel, which had outgrown its Dublin origins to become one of the world’s most powerful criminal organisations. The Criminal Assets Bureau later concluded that the Kinahans had given Mansfield €4.5 million in 2009 and that the intended property transaction was pre-empted by his business’s liquidation before the Kinahans were eventually refunded with cash and assets, including a luxury house at Coldwater Lakes, Citywest. Byrne stated that at one point the Kinahans lost confidence in Jimmy, who had been handling these repayment negotiations, leading to a meeting in 2012 between Jim senior and their agents.
As they hawked Mansfield’s former properties for rock bottom prices from 2011, the receivers were determined not to sell to him or to any connected parties. He still held some cards, such as his continued control of the convention centre car park and of a sewage pipe used by the Citywest Hotel. Byrne’s testimony has it that Mansfield also retained three key access sites to the Citywest complex and brought in an old associate, Dundalk businessman Kevin McGeough, to negotiate using these ‘ransom strips’. In 2012 a consortium headed by McGeough bought certain former Mansfield assets, including the Finnstown Country House Hotel, which was transferred to the Mansfield family.
Becoming completely incapacitated by illness towards the end of 2012, Jim Mansfield died in Tassaggart House on 29 January 2014 and was buried in Saggart cemetery. He had separated from his wife in 2006, but she moved back into Tassaggart House as his condition worsened in 2011. Jimmy took over the shrunken family business.
On the first anniversary of Jim Mansfield’s death, the gardaí raided thirty-one properties previously linked to him. These raids uncovered evidence of an alleged payroll administration fraud, dating to 2011, that had cost the Revenue Commissioners €7 million in unpaid taxes. In April 2016 the Sunday World published an exposé on Jim Mansfield, claiming that he had for years laundered money and stolen goods for criminals and republican paramilitaries. His son Jimmy received an eighteen-month prison sentence in 2022 for ordering the destruction of CCTV footage showing him with his employee Martin Byrne, shortly before Byrne’s abduction in June 2015 by republican paramilitaries.