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Johnny Ronan apologises for 'Arbeit macht frei' remark

Published 27/09/2015

The notorious phrase 'Arbeit macht frei' were emblazoned on the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland
The notorious phrase 'Arbeit macht frei' were emblazoned on the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland

Former justice minister Alan Shatter has welcomed an apology from an international developer over the use of a slogan synonymous with Nazi death camps.

Treasury Holdings owner Johnny Ronan, who bought Battersea power station in London in 2006, rounded off a statement to the banking inquiry last week with the German phrase "Arbeit macht frei" - work sets you free.

The words are notorious for being emblazoned on the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, among others, where millions of Jews were murdered during the Second World War.

Mr Shatter had demanded the slogan be removed from the developer's statement, but the inquiry said it had no powers to do so.

In a statement today, Mr Ronan said: "I apologise for any offence which has been caused by quoting the phrase 'Arbeit macht frei' (work will set you free) at the end of my submission to the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry. It was genuinely unintended."

Mr Ronan said he "believed (perhaps mistakenly)" his reason for using the quote was evident in the context of his statement to the inquiry, which is investigating the causes of the banking crisis.

"(The National Assets Management Agency) Nama promised its borrowers that they would be treated fairly if they co-operated, but that unfortunately was not the case; co-operating businesses, including Battersea power station, Treasury Holdings and our China business (Forterra Trust) were destroyed, with all the consequences of that for Irish jobs and the taxpayer," he said.

"The significance of this and continuing anger I feel over what occurred is not, however, comparable with the horrors perpetrated by the Nazi regime.

"I recognise that I used an inappropriate analogy in my submission and have written to the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry to request the offending phrase be removed."

Mr Shatter, a Fine Gael TD for Dublin Rathdown, welcomed the retraction.

"I also welcome his apology and his recognition that his difficulties with Nama are not comparable with the horrors perpetrated by the Nazi regime," he said.

"I appreciate the enormous support I have received in recent days from people both at home and abroad for my comments on this important issue.

"I hope the statement now circulated by Mr Ronan will alleviate the hurt felt by those with family members who perished in the Holocaust."

Mr Ronan used the phrase to close his 21-page written statement to the banking inquiry in which he attacked Nama over its handling of debts owed by Treasury Holdings, a company he founded with Richard Barrett in 1989.

He said: "I am very glad to have exited Nama and do not intend to look back.

"However, we, as a nation, need to learn from our mistakes.

"'Arbeit macht frei' no, i nGaeilge, Tugann saothar saoirse."

Mr Shatter said last week it was bizarre Mr Ronan also felt the need to have the statement translated into Irish.

Treasury Holdings was a hugely successful development firm up until the financial crisis which brought the Irish economy to its knees.

Some of its projects included the Dublin Convention centre, the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Powerscourt, the Google HQ in Dublin Montevetro and Spencer Dock.

Nama subsequently sold off Battersea, plans for which were being billed as the most lucrative property development in western Europe with Mr Ronan claiming it would turn a £4.2 billion (5.7 billion euro) profit.

In a hard-hitting attack on the toxic assets agency set up to clean up Ireland's banking mess , Mr Ronan said allowing it to be run by civil servants, was "akin to asking an accountant to fly an airplane or a butcher to perform heart surgery".

He refinanced 300 million euro (£221 million) of loans this year to exit Nama.

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