Carton House cash questions

BOSSES at one of Ireland’s most exclusive golfing hotels are investigating the alleged disappearance of €500,000 from their accounts.

Auditors from accountancy firm KPMG were assigned by managers at Carton House Hotel Golf and Country Club – home to the Golfing Union of Ireland – as a matter of routine to audit the books.

They discovered a chunk of cash ‘missing’ from accounts at the 1,100-acre parkland estate, formerly home to the Earls of Kildare before the 7th Duke sold it in the 1920s to settle a gambling debt. Industry insiders say the amount is about €500,000.

Last night, the managing director of Choice Hotels Ireland – the company which has run Co. Kildare’s 17th century Carton House since it opened in 2006 – refused to confirm or deny this figure, or be drawn on any specific missing amount.

But Frankie Whelehan, who founded Choice Hotels, Ireland’s largest hotel operating company, admitted: ‘We don’t yet know how much, but there is an amount of income unaccounted for.

‘We called in auditors as a matter of routine. This action followed a major restructuring of our operation.’

He added: ‘To the best of my knowledge, the Garda are not involved at this stage. We have no reason to think – or any proof – that anybody has actually misappropriated the money but the moment somebody shows me a book of evidence, we will go after them.

‘It may just be a matter of somebody accidentally mis-allocating funds. Whatever the reason, we have to run various checks.’

Results of those checks at Carton House won’t be known for another eight weeks.

However, bosses insisted that recent events won’t have any effect on the day-to-day running of the hotel though they do admit that times are tough.

Mr Whelehan said: ‘The hotel has only been open for two years. There is a large range of businesses here and we decided to restructure things to make them more economical.’

Property tycoon Jed Pierse, who is one of Carton’s co-owners, said last night: ‘I have nothing to do with the day-to-day running of the hotel.

‘I have a small shareholding and I am very happy with how things are going. Every company in the world is having to make economies. These are extraordinary times for everybody.’

More than €80m has been spent on refurbishing the house and estate, which before it opened as a hotel has played host to guests included Queen Victoria and Grace Kelly.

Host to the 2005 and 2006 Irish Open golf championships, the club won this year’s European golf resort of the year award. One of its two golf courses was designed by British Open and US Masters champion Mark O’Meara, while the other – a favourite of 2008 PGA double Open champion Pádraig Harrington – was designed by Ryder Cup star Colin Montgomerie.

As well as playing host to golf stars, Carton House – in which property tycoon Paddy Kelly has a major investment – is also a favourite haunt for lavish corporate bashes.

The most notable of these was hosted by under-fire jobs agency FÁS, which splashed out €1,637 for flowers at a dinner at the venue – where room prices start at €220-a-night – that cost many times more.

AIB is due to take a group of bankers there this week for a lavish Christmas knees-up. Members of the club include Boyzone singer Ronan Keating – who is also a shareholder – and EU Commissioner Charlie McCreevy. The investigation is not the firstcrisis to befall Carton House.

In 1923, an IRA unit plotted to burn the place down but they were stopped in their tracks when a member of the Fitzgerald family brought a painting of Lord Edward Fitzgerald to the door.

He told them to call off their plot because they would only end up destroying what was once home to a revered Irish patriot.

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