Doctor Michael Meighan answered his phone at 8.30am last Saturday. Seán Dunne was on the line. Dunner, as he is known, is one of the country's leading property developers. He didn't sound too hot. He told Meighan that he wanted to see him. He thought he was coming down with something. The doc said he'd drop by.
Meighan is Dunner's GP of 19 years' standing. He also knows a thing or two about not feeling too hot. He is on the National Advisory Committee for swine flu. The doc wasn't to know it then, but the dreaded swine was rearing its head once more.
For whatever reason, the doctor didn't make it around to Dunner for eight hours, arriving at 3.30pm. Dunner was in his pyjamas and dressing gown when the doctor was brought in to meet him. Remaining togged out in one's pyjamas throughout the day is fashionable in certain parts of the city, but it hasn't really twigged on salubrious Shrewsbury Road, where Dunner lives.
The doc examined Dunner. He didn't look too hot. The doc took his temperature, which was fine, but you can't always trust your temperature when looking for symptoms.
"He was saying he had some sweats every three hours, some requiring him to change his bedclothes," Meighan told the High Court last Tuesday.
Dunner told him he wanted to start some form of treatment, because he had a lot of work to do. He certainly had plenty on his plate. A legal action between him and his former auctioneer, CB Richard Ellis (CBRE), was about to get under way. (CB Richard Ellis describes itself as the "world's leading commercial property and real estate advisers", but in this post-bubble world, best just to call them auctioneers.)
The auctioneers claim Dunner owes them €1.5m in fees. Dunner counterclaims that the auctioneering firm had been taking the mickey by securing him a property for €35m more than it was worth.
So, back at Shrewsbury Road last Saturday afternoon, there was nothing for it but to start Dunner on the road to recovery, that he might be fit for the fight ahead. Dunner had "an early viral background of stress and fatigue", Meighan told the court.
"Put with the fact he does have a viral illness in a time of pandemic H1N1, it is in keeping with the clinical picture that he is finding it difficult to concentrate," the doc told the court.
Meighan took swabs and sent them off to be tested. Nationally, swine flu is now being dealt with by treatment rather than containment. Therefore the ordinary Joe Soap who comes down with it is just put on medication. Tests are no longer carried out to confirm whether the swine is present. But Dunner is no ordinary Joe Soap. He is, or at least he was until recently, a nation builder, a Very Important Person.
The doc prescribed Tamiflu and told Dunner to "keep taking the tablets, and stay indoors, for his own wellbeing and for the public wellbeing".
Anyway, the upshot was that Dunner couldn't make it to court last Tuesday for the legal action. The doc spoke to him by phone on Monday and he didn't sound too hot. His voice was huskier.
"To listen to him on the phone, his larynx is certainly more congested," the doc told the court. Results from the swabs would be available by Friday.
Judge Mary Finlay Geoghegan said that despite an application from Dunner's side to halt the trial, she couldn't do so just because the swine had descended on the man himself. She thought it best that Dunner stay put at home. She said she was satisfied he would be able to read transcripts, despite his apparently woeful condition.
And so the trial began, the latest episode in a court picking over the entrails of the Celtic Tiger. But there was something missing in Court 14 in the Four Courts last week. It was like Hamlet without the prince, a dog without a bone, the tiger without its brass nether regions.
The trouble started in the autumn of 2005 when the bubble was being blown to kingdom come. Some people, such as big-shot developers and canny auctioneers, were making money hand over fist.
Dunner was then regarded as a genius, the man with the Midas touch, a nation-builder par excellence. At his side he had a glamorous socialite wife with a brain of her own, Gayle Killilea. Among his friends was the man described as the greatest politician of his generation, Bertie Ahern. Dunner and Gayle met at the Galway Races, where Bertie played host in the Fianna Fáil tent, which was designed to lighten the heavy pockets of developers like Seán. Life was sweet and good and true.
That year, Dunner audaciously acquired the sites of Jurys and the Berkeley Court hotels in Ballsbridge. He was going to build a Trump Towers-type plaza in the heart of Dublin 4. His acquisition of the Jurys site has gone down in the annals as a perfect example of his genius.
The deadline for bids was closing. Seán and Gayle were holidaying in Thailand, and he had to make a bid somewhere between €254m and €275m. Gayle walked into the bedroom of their hotel suite. Seán asked her to pick a number between 54 and 75. Gayle plumped for 75, the year of her birth. Thanks, said Seán. He put through the bid for €275m, which was accepted. Dunner became the new owner of the most expensive real estate in the history of the state. He acquired the moniker the 'Baron of Ballsbridge'.
"After all the work and science that goes into tenders, that's what it boils down to," Seán later explained in a radio interview.
Together with the adjoining Berkeley Court site, Dunner was in hock to the tune of €380m, but the banks were loving him. He wanted more. Another adjoining site, Hume House, looked like it might be up for grabs. It was like letting a child run wild in a sweet shop.
Dunner may have been a genius, but he wasn't afraid of advice. He hired the services of CB Richard Ellis to advise him on where next to spread his tentacles.
Through the bubble years, auctioneering was a licence to print money. Any clown with a hard neck and polished patter could turn a buck at it. Some saw the business as a refuge for hucksters, which was unfair on the few of them who managed to retain their integrity through the greedfest.
CBRE are the blue-bloods of property. Cut-glass accents and bespoke suits are where it's at with these people, and they have fees to match. During last week's case, CBRE executive Seán O'Brien told of how the aim for Hume House was to "decant the tenants out of it, obtain vacant possession and develop it". Grubby auctioneers turf out tenants; CBRE decants them, like you might a good bottle of wine.
Dunner put CBRE onto the Hume House job. They did the sums. The place was worth around €65m, taking into account a half-decent yield from tenants. (Dunner wouldn't be decanting the tenants just yet. Planning permission might delay his dream by a few years.)
CBRE didn't carry out a valuation of the property based on its development potential, which is what Dunner wanted it for. This might appear strange to a lay person, but property is a complex business that lay people don't understand.
Irish Life owned Hume House. It was willing to sell but it wanted more property because, according to O'Brien in court, it was getting in piles of money from investors.
Dunner had a building on the quays which he had developed. Riverside, as it was called, had a tenant therein, Matheson Ormbsy Prentice, one of the country's leading solicitors' firms. MOPS wanted to expand into an adjoining block, the court heard last week.
Irish Life was open to the possibility of a swap, but Dunner wasn't the only nation-builder in town. David Daly, a developer who owns a lot of property in Swords, Co Dublin, was also bidding. Dunner put in a bid of €65m for Hume House in late 2005.
No go, says Irish Life. Next bid was up to €95m. Who's counting?
As we now know, bankers were trailing after the likes of Dunner, tongues hanging out, cash at the ready.
O'Brien of CBRE arranged a meeting with Irish Life heads in late February 2006 to see if Dunner could "get back into the game". He emerged with a figure of €130m, twice the investment value of the property.
"It was a complex, torturous transaction," O'Brien told the court last week.
By then, Dunner was holidaying in Austria, on the piste with his wife. He took a call from his advisers and applied his genius to this latest deal. Done. Sold to the nation-builder with the most banks in his pocket.
Times change. Dunner ran into planning problems in Ballsbridge. He refused to cough up €1.5m in fees for CBRE. The auctioneer sued. Dunner countersued, claiming the auctioneer was in cahoots with Irish Life. He dropped that claim the Friday before the case started, but he still maintained his auctioneer had been negligent.
In court last week, O'Brien was questioned on his role in the affair. Directly behind Dunner's lawyers, Gayle Killilea sat studying notes on each day of the trial. She qualified as a barrister a few years back, and the way things are looking, she may well end up being the main breadwinner in the Dunne household. Dunner told the New York Times last January that he may be insolvent. He told the newspaper that they can take everything, but they can't take his wife and children. He didn't say who 'they' were or why they would want to take his wife and children.
Sometime on Thursday evening, the parties reached a settlement. CBRE says it will get paid its full fee and Dunne has withdrawn his allegations. A sum of €1m lodged in the court by Dunner has been handed over to CBRE. There was no ruling on costs. The legal bill for the prep work and the sojourn in the High Court is likely to run to €500,000.
The settlement means the court never got to learn the results of those swabs taken by Doctor Meighan to determine the exact nature of Dunner's ailment.
In the great bonfire of the vanities, if the banks don't get you, the swine flu will.