Belfast Telegraph

Tycoon ordered to leave mansion

A property speculator who built up a one billion euro (£709m) international empire has been ordered to leave his former seaside mansion home after losing a long running battle against a repossession order.

Ex-solicitor Brian O'Donnell and his psychiatrist wife Mary Patricia were told by Judge Brian McGovern in Dublin's High Court they had to be out by 5pm tomorrow as they couldn't have many belongings there to gather up.

The pair, who live in Kent, had flown in to occupy their former home in Killiney, south Dublin - where neighbours include Bono and Enya - after their children lost a last-gasp legal attempt in recent weeks to keep it in the family.

They had consented in an agreement with Bank of Ireland four years ago to vacate the property if the lender sought it as security on the pair's 71.5 million euro (£52m) debts.

Dubbed the Battle of Gorse Hill, after the name of the property, the O'Donnells claimed residency rights at the lavish pile overlooking Dublin Bay after their children, Blaise, Blake, Bruce and Alexandra, lost their fight against repossession.

The luxury house was worth in the region of 34 million euro (£25m) in the boom years but is now valued at about a fifth of that.

In an 11-page ruling, Judge McGovern said the O'Donnell couple had flown back in to Dublin in an attempt to frustrate the rights of Bank of Ireland and the receiver Kavanagh Fennell to take possession.

"The defendants are, prima facie, trespassing on the property at Gorse Hill," he said.

Outlining his reasons for rejecting a challenge against a trespass order nailed to the front gate of the mansion last week, Judge McGovern said it was clear from bankruptcy hearings taken in the UK the couple lived permanently at East Haxted, Haxted Road, Edenbridge, Kent.

Furthermore, Gorse Hill was owned by a company called Vico Ltd.

In a complex arrangement, the Isle of Man-registered company's shareholding is owned by a discretionary trust set up by Mr and Mrs O'Donnell in favour of their children.

The O'Donnells, who argued they should be given a two-year notice before leaving, offered the property as security to Bank of Ireland in June 2006 for debts and companies related to them.

Also, they had consented in an agreement at the time to immediately vacate the house if the bank sought its security.

Despite their seeking to challenge the validity of the agreement, it remains "valid and binding" until such time as a court says otherwise, the judge ruled.

Mr O'Donnell said he intends to appeal against the ruling and asked for it to be set aside for six months to allow him to prepare a challenge.

But the judge declined, saying: "You have to be out by 5pm tomorrow evening."

If they refuse it is up to the bank and receiver as to what action should be taken.

The judge added that as it is not their main residence he didn't imagine they had much to gather up before leaving.

During the dispute, members of a self-styled New Land League - taking its name from a 19th century group which fought for the rights of poor Irish farmers - also occupied the property and barricaded the front gate.

In making the ruling, the judge said he took in to account they were invited on to the property by the O'Donnells and had made statements to the media which were "factually and legally incorrect" while legal proceedings were ongoing.

Cian Ferriter, barrister for Bank of Ireland, said the dispute was not a minor inconvenience to the lender, adding his clients were anxious that the repossession should be carried out in as "calm and dignified a manner as possible".

He suggested the O'Donnells and the receiver negotiate a discreet leaving.

Mr O'Donnell became a major player in UK commercial property, with an empire in the City of London, Dublin, Stockholm and Washington believed to be worth 1.1 billion euro (£800m) at one stage.

In previous hearings, he said he had paid over 700 million euro (£506m) back to banks worldwide.

He had sold 11 properties in Ireland, including houses on Merrion Square in Dublin and on Lough Corrib, in the west of Ireland, such as Gortdrishagh House, a lakeside country estate.

His Sanctuary House building in London fetched 32m euro (£23m) which was paid back to their lenders, he told the High Court.

In a separate ruling, Judge McGovern refused an application by Mr O'Donnell to crossexamine witnesses from the bank and the receiver, Brian O'Connor and Tom Kavanagh.

But he added he was not making a final decision on a number of matters raised during the application, saying those disputes should be heard at a plenary hearing in due course.

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