17 September 2009 Edition
Zoe profits cost lives - what about the losses?
BY ROBBIE SMYTH
LIVES lost, the physical environment of Dublin changed, and now new legal precedents being set – the impact of builder Liam Carroll and the actions of companies he owns or has controlling interests in have altered social and political life in Ireland.
The ongoing mammoth battle between Zoe Developments and ACC Bank as it seeks to avoid bankruptcy is just another chapter in its controversial history. It is a history where the drive of Carroll in forming a massive building and development company is as important as the role wider society, through the political system, banking and the media, have been crucial in facilitating.
In an Ireland so willing to eulogise, profile, criticise and evaluate in its political and media life, it is ironic that it has been the judiciary who have been the most trenchant commentators on the business dealings of Liam Carroll.
Last week, Justice Frank Clarke highlighted the simple truth, overlooked by many media analysts reporting on the Zoe case: that the company had presented misleading accounts to the court.
Carroll owes eight banks €1.3 billion but Irish financiers haven’t asked for their money. Though the Irish taxpayer is now the major shareholder and core funder of these banks (and, in the case of Anglo Irish Bank, the owner), Carroll has been put under little pressure by financial Ireland to pay his debts.
It is the Dutch-based Rabobank, owners of ACC Bank, who are dragging Zoe and Carroll through the courts. Also barely mentioned in recent weeks is that Carroll’s firms are no strangers to courts.
In 1997, Justice Kelly told Carroll that his companies were “not entitled to make profits on the blood and lives of its workers”. Kelly said:
“The defendant that you are responsible for is a criminal and a recidivist criminal at that and is so thanks to you.”
“The workers on whose sweat you make your money are treated with contempt. And so are the laws.”
Carroll offered to pay £100,000 to a charity to demonstrate his “contrition”.
Kelly had closed a Zoe Development building site on Charlotte Quay in Dublin after James Masterson fell to his death two weeks earlier. The Health and Safety Authority found 13 breaches of the safety regulations on the site.
In 1996, a 71-year-old bricklayer had died after another safety lapse at a Zoe site on the corner of Parnell and Gardiner Street in Dublin.
At the 1997 case, Justice Kelly noted that Zoe had 12 previous convictions of health and safety breaches in three separate sites across the city. Kelly said Carroll was “a disgrace to the construction industry”.
Though Carroll apologised to the court, Zoe was convicted twice in 2000 of health and safety breaches. In April 2000, Zoe was fined £5,000 by Judge Elisabeth Dunne after pleading guilty to safety failures. Two employees had been seriously injured in an accident at a site in Dublin’s South Earl Street.
In June 2000, the company also pleaded guilty to safety breaches surrounding the 1996 death in the Parnell/Gardiner Street development. Zoe was fined £15,000.
In February 2004, 60 residents were evacuated from their homes in Ringsend when a Zoe crane at the gasworks site collapsed. DART rail services were also disrupted.
Last week, Justice Frank Clarke said that Zoe’s financial data was “very poor” or “plain wrong” with “so many inaccuracies” and ordered that the firm be wound up but allowed Zoe one more appeal.
This week, they were back in court, appealing again, and it seems that neither the Irish Government nor its bankers are willing to stand up to Zoe, no matter whether it has cost lives or billions to the taxpayer.
• On Tuesday afternoon, the High Court granted winding up orders brought against two of property developer Liam Carroll’s companies by ACC Bank but Justice Frank Clarke imposed a stay on the orders pending an appeal by the Zoe Group in the Supreme Court.