Eddie Haughey told a Government official that he was not seeking a Government grant to renovate Ballyedmond Castle in 1985 because he wanted a “splendidly refurbished country house”.
The Norbrook Laboratories owner, who would go on to live in the mansion and from it derive the title of his peerage, wanted substantial Government money to turn the derelict castle into luxurious accommodation for laboratory staff, and to pay for the landscaping of the grounds.
A file on the application by the future Lord Ballyedmond shows that he encountered some scepticism from officials who did not see the need for the Government to fund the bulk of costs of setting up a new business with what they viewed to be unnecessarily extravagant accommodation in the castle.
Lord Ballyedmond was killed in a helicopter crash in Norfolk in March of this year.
More than 30 years ago, Mr Haughey had approached LEDU, the government agency responsible for supporting small companies, for assistance in establishing a veterinary products testing centre and a veterinary products research and development centre at the site of Ballyedmond Castle.
The management consultants Coopers and Lybrand Associates conducted an evaluation of Mr Haughey’s proposal for LEDU in 1984.
It said: “In a desire to get the project established quickly, the promoters have identified the shell of a large old house at Ballyedmond that served as a hotel until it was gutted by fire.
“The building is fronted by a large asphalt car park and stands in grounds of some eight acres to the west of Rostrevor....The promoters estimate that the building could be partly restored, sufficient for the administration of the new company to use within three to four months and the complete restoration would be completed by March 1985.”
It was projected that £230,000 would need to be spent on the building, a figure which was considerably less than constructing new laboratory buildings. That led the consultants to state that “based on our understanding of the needs of the project we would have to agree that the building chosen and its location would appear to be eminently adaptable to the new firm’s requirements at what would appear to be an economic cost”.
Norbrook proposed to carry out testing on rabbits, sheep and possibly horses as well as dogs, cats and primates. Eventually, the Government decided that the IDB, not LEDU, should handle the case.
An internal memo by a PT Bill at the IDB expressed concerns about the high standard of the facilities which Mr Haughey was proposing for the castle (for what would ultimately become his home).
He wrote: “The second point was the reasonableness or otherwise of the proposed refurbishing expenditure.
“I said that I was thinking particularly in terms of the degree to which the quality of the facilities to be provided exceeded what might be regarded as the functional norm.
“I appreciated the need to provide a first class facility if the major international customers were to be attracted but IDB would clearly not be able to justify expenditure on the provision of a series of facilities.”
On another internal memo about the proposal an official whose identity is unclear wrote: “It is essentially the accommodation element which gives the scope for abuse.” Another hand-written note by PJ Bill, written on the same memo, referred to the potential for “over grant-aiding what might become a non-industrial building after four years”.
A June 1985 memo from Mr Bill refers to an impromptu meeting he had with Mr Haughey who was “in IDB House on other business”.
At that meeting Mr Haughey made clear that he was looking for £600,000 in Government money as part of an £800,000 investment in the site. Mr Bill added: “He was under no illusions that a cynic might see in the whole enterprise a means of providing him with a splendidly refurbished country house but assured me that nothing could be further from his mind.”
Norbrook founder had already bought iconic staircase for home
The refurbishment of the castle to make it suitable for the proposed company’s purposes was estimated at £380,000 — about £847,000 in today’s money— and included landscaping of the once-magnificent castle gardens which had fallen into disrepair over a period of about eight years.
Initially, Mr Haughey wanted the Government to help fund the conversion of the ruined castle into accommodation for his laboratory staff, but dropped that request after concerns about the impact on local tourist facilities.
A newspaper clipping from the previous year is held in the file.
It shows that the IDB was aware that Edward Haughey had bought the famously opulent staircase from the Robinson and Cleaver department store on Belfast’s Donegall Square North and that it would be a “dominant feature” at Ballyedmond Castle.
In another article contained in the file, Mr Haughey was quoted as attributing his success to “the availability of the first LEDU funds and the ready grants packages in the Province which he reckons are second to none”.
Written on the front cover of the file are the words ‘To be destroyed’, with an apparent date in 1994.
It is not clear from the file whether Mr Haughey secured the money which he was seeking.