Former Dunnes Stores boss Ben Dunne dies aged 74

Ben Dunne
Ben Dunne

Irish businessman Ben Dunne, who formerly headed up the Dunnes Stores supermarket chain and was once kidnapped by the IRA, has died aged 74.

It is understood Mr Dunne died suddenly while in Dubai.

He is a former boss of the Irish retail chain, which was established by his father Ben Dunne senior, and more recently ran a chain of gyms.

His successful business career was disrupted by a number of notable controversies including the kidnapping, an arrest for cocaine possession and a scandal involving payments to former taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Charles Haughey.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar led tributes to Mr Dunne, saying he was “larger than life”.

"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."

The youngest of six children, Mr Dunne worked in the family Dunnes Stores business from a young age.

He was one of the company's leaders when he was kidnapped by the Provisional IRA in 1981.

He was held in County Armagh for seven days before a ransom was paid to secure his release.

Ransom payment unknown

He recalled the incident in an interview with Irish broadcaster RTÉ in 2014.

“I was on my way to open a Dunnes Stores in Portadown,” he said.

“A car did a U-turn in front of me and I swerved past it. I stopped the car and these people got out of the other car.

"I thought they were coming to apologise but they had balaclavas and submachine guns and the rest is history.”

He added that he did not fear for his life, saying he asked repeatedly whether he was going to be killed.

“On the fourth time, one of them turned around and said if we were going to kill, we would have have done it already. I have a fairly logically brain and that calmed me down.”

He said he did not know how much was paid to secure his release and that his father refused to tell him, but that it was “far less” than the IR£1.5m that was reported to have been paid.

Following the death of his father, Mr Dunne took over the running of Dunnes Stores but his leadership was derailed in 1992 when he was arrested for cocaine possession and soliciting while on a golf holiday in Florida.

After the incident, he told RTÉ he had no one to blame but himself and committed to making changes to his lifestyle.

'Never see his likes again'

In 2014, he said: “There were times I didn’t want to be Ben Dunne and I wanted to forget about it for a while. It was delinquency.”

A year after his arrest he was bought out of his share of the company by his sister Margaret Heffernan, ending his links to Dunnes Stores.

Subsequently records emerged of payments made from business accounts by Mr Dunne to prominent politicians Charles Haughey and then government minister Michael Lowry.

These revelations led to a series of investigations – the McCracken Tribunal and then the Moriarty Tribunal – into financial issues involving Irish politicians, which dominated headlines for more than a decade.

In later years, Mr Dunne invested in a number of new ventures including a chain of gyms.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald paid tribute to Mr Dunne, saying "we will never see his likes again".

"My thoughts are with his beloved family. He was a good man who cared about people," she wrote on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter.