Businessman and former Dunnes Stores boss Ben Dunne has died at the age of 74.

RTÉ News understands that Mr Dunne died suddenly while holidaying in Dubai. He is survived by his wife Mary and four children.

Mr Dunne was best known for being a former director of Dunnes Stores supermarkets and more recently he ran a chain of gyms around the country.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has led tributes to Mr Dunne, saying: "I was deeply saddened to hear that Ben Dunne has died.

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

Ben Dunne, left, with former taoiseach Charlie Haughey (Pic:

The youngest of six children, the businessman was born into the Dunnes Stores family empire led by his father Ben Dunne senior and was initially seen as the future of the company.

But a series of controversies resulted in that view eventually changing in dramatic circumstances.

In 1981, while on a trip to visit a company outlet, Mr Dunne was kidnapped by the Provisional IRA and held captive in Co Armagh for seven days.

Eventually, a ransom was paid, securing his release.

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Mr Dunne returned to the family enterprise, but just over a decade later he returned to the headlines when he was arrested in 1992 for cocaine possession and soliciting while on a golf holiday in Florida.

In the immediate aftermath of the incident, the businessman told RTÉ "I have no one to blame but myself" and committed to making changes to his lifestyle.

But the scandal resulted in a rift within the family business and eventually to the end of his Dunnes Stores links after his sister Margaret Heffernan bought out his share of the company for just over IR£100 million.

The controversy deepened when records of payments from business accounts by Mr Dunne were obtained by journalist Sam Smyth.

Ben Dunne in 1997 (Pic:

The transactions involved some payments to prominent politicians, including then Fine Gael minister Michael Lowry and former taoiseach Charlie Haughey.

By 1997, the payments investigation had led to the establishment of the McCracken Tribunal and resulting Moriarty Tribunal into financial issues involving politicians, and which dominated political discourse for more than a decade.

In his evidence to the tribunal, Mr Dunne confirmed the transactions.

As the controversy began to subside, Mr Dunne in later years made a number of new business ventures.

Read more: Larger-than-life 'Big Ben' remembered for business prowess

The most successful and high-profile was his Ben Dunne Gyms enterprise as he attempted to make inroads into the burgeoning Irish fitness market.

But despite his subsequent success past controversies were never far from view, with the businessman discussing his previous experiences in a number of TV, radio and newspaper interviews.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald also paid tribute to Mr Dunne, writing on X, formerly Twitter, "we will never see his likes again".

"Very sad to hear of the sudden death of Ben Dunne," Ms McDonald said.

"My thoughts are with his beloved family. He was a good man who cared about people."

Speaking on RTÉ's This Week, journalist Sam Smyth, who wrote a book about Mr Dunne called 'Thanks a Million Big Fella', compared the Dunnes to the Trump family in the US.

Mr Smyth said the perception of him changed when he gave an interview where he apologised in 1992 and said that having spent time with Mr Dunne and Charles Haughey, both men were "very different".

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