Northern Ireland

Ben Dunne: Businessman and former Dunnes Stores boss dies while on holiday in Dubai, aged 74

Ben Dunne died while holidaying in Dubai. Picture from RTÉ
Ben Dunne died while holidaying in Dubai. Picture from RTÉ Ben Dunne died while holidaying in Dubai. Picture from RTÉ

Irish businessman and former Dunnes Stores boss Ben Dunne, once kidnapped by the IRA, has died while on holiday in Dubai.

The 74-year-old, who was originally from Cork, is understood to have suffered a heart attack.

The former director of family business Dunnes Stores and more recently the owner of a chain of gyms, Mr Dunne featured prominently in Irish life, often under controversial circumstances.

Born into the Dunnes Stores family empire led by his father Ben Dunne senior, he was kidnapped by the IRA in 1981 while on a trip to visit a company outlet in Portadown.

He was held in Co Armagh for seven days before he was released after a ransom was reportedly paid.

Ben Dunne was kidnapped by the IRA in 1981. Picture by Pacemaker
Ben Dunne was kidnapped by the IRA in 1981. Picture by Pacemaker Ben Dunne was kidnapped by the IRA in 1981. Picture by Pacemaker

He made headlines again in 1992 when he was arrested for cocaine possession and soliciting while on a golf holiday in Florida.

The scandal caused a family rift as well as the end of his links to the Dunnes Store business after his sister Margaret Heffernan bought out his share of the company for just over IR£100 million.

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Controversy deepened again when it was revealed Mr Dunne has made payments to Irish politicians - including former taoiseach Charles Haughey.

It prompted the establishment of the McCracken Tribunal in 1997 and, subsequently, the Moriarty Tribunal.

In 2008, he apologised "unreservedly for the hardship and hurt" caused to a check-out worker Mary Manning, who led a strike at Dunnes Stores outlet on Dublin's Henry Street against apartheid in South Africa during the 1980s.

He told RTE's Liveline that he wanted to show that "as life goes on, even though wrongs were done, you can still overcome them and you can still be friends at the end of the day".

He later established the Ben Dunne Gyms enterprise.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described him as a "larger than life" figure who led "a life less ordinary".

"I was deeply saddened to hear that Ben Dunne has died," he said.

"A constituent of mine in Castleknock and a local employer, I met Ben many times.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Picture by Norma Burke/PA
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Picture by Norma Burke/PA Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Picture by Norma Burke/PA

"He really was larger than life.

"Among other things, he pioneered the fitness industry in Ireland first with Westpoint and then Ben Dunne Gyms.

"He led a life less ordinary and in turn he made some mistakes in life.

"The best people do. He never allowed that to defeat him or hold him back.

"He touched the lives of tens of thousands who will mourn his loss."

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said: "Very sad to hear of the sudden death of Ben Dunne.

"My thoughts are with his beloved family. He was a good man who cared about people. We will never see his likes again."

The Department of Foreign Affairs said it was aware of the sudden death of an Irish citizen in Dubai and is providing consular assistance.