Belfast Telegraph

Tycoon wins eviction postponement

A property speculator who built up a one billion euro (£709 million) international empire has won another week staying at his former seaside mansion home in the latest twist to a long-running repossession saga.

Brian O'Donnell and his psychiatrist wife Mary Patricia had been ordered by Dublin's High Court to leave the lavish pile, known as Gorse Hill, at Killiney, overlooking Dublin Bay, by 5pm today.

But in yet another turn, the ex-solicitor secured an eleventh hour Court of Appeal stay - or postponement - on the pair's eviction until next Thursday.

The three-judge court agreed, just hours before the O'Donnells were expected out of the home where neighbours include Bono and Enya, to allow them remain on to prepare for a full appeal hearing against the High Court trespass order.

Judge Sean Ryan said the stay was granted only on the basis the pair would be ready to go ahead for the hearing at 2pm next Thursday.

Mr O'Donnell, who turned up at the hearing 16 minutes late, excusing himself and blaming the traffic and printer problems, agreed: "Yes, we will do that."

The pair, who live in Kent, had flown in to occupy the mansion - worth in the region of 34 million euro (£25 million) in the boom years but now valued at about a fifth of that - 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 (£52 million) debts, but now dispute that deal.

In what has become known as the Battle of Gorse Hill, Mr and Mrs O'Donnell claim permanent residency rights at the house.

Before the Court of Appeal today, representing himself, Mr O'Donnell said he has lodged 22 grounds for appeal to the trespass order in papers handed to the court.

"We think we have good grounds," he said.

"Because of the salami-type litigation taken by Bank of Ireland these issues have never been looked at in the round."

Mr O'Donnell accepted he lived in the UK - at East Haxted, Haxted Road, Edenbridge, Kent - but said he and his wife have a "permanent right of residence" at Gorse Hill since October 2000.

Asked if he spends any time ordinarily in Ireland, Mr O'Donnell said: "We are back and forward all the time because of litigation."

Mr O'Donnell said he has been sued by Bank of Ireland in four jurisdictions over the past five years and disputed claims by the bank's barrister that the facts were incontrovertible.

Cian Ferriter SC, for Bank of Ireland, said there were no bona fide grounds for appeal.

The O'Donnell couple's permanent home is in England and they artifically created an occupation and orchestrated a blockade at Gorse Hill, after their children lost their challenge, he said.

Gorse Hill is 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.

Mr Ferriter said if the bank were allowed to seize it, it will not be sold within the next couple of weeks.

This would ensure the O'Donnells would not suffer any financial loss in the event of a successful appeal, he argued.

"They can return to their home and prosecute their appeal and they will have suffered no material prejudice, " he said.

The barrsiter said the "balance of justice" favoured the reciever, Kavanagh Fennell, taking possession as ordered by the High Court this evening.

But in a one-page affidavit read out in court, Mr O'Donnell said he and his wife were "bombarded with tomes of papers" in their challenge and didn't have enough time to respond.

They were given impossible time limits to properly defend themselves, he said.

Judge Ryan, Judge George Birmingham and Judge Garrett Sheehan agreed to a stay on the trepass order until next Thursday.

Mr O'Donnell was accompanied in the Court of Appeal by Jerry Beades, a spokesman for the self-styled New Land League - taking its name from a 19th century group which fought for the rights of poor Irish farmers - who had occupied Gorse Hill and barricaded the front gate.

Mr Beades interjected at one stage, saying he hasn't been allowed to defend himself during numerous court hearings.

But Judge Ryan ordered him not to interrupt proceedings.

"I take a very liberal view of who one sits with in court but there are limits," he said. "Counsel is entitled to present argument without interuption, and so it will be."

None of the O'Donnell children, who had been at previous court hearings, turned up.

In an 11-page ruling handed down yesterday, High Court Judge Brian McGovern said the O'Donnell couple had flown back into Dublin in an attempt to frustrate the rights of Bank of Ireland and the receiver to take possession.

They were trespassing on the property at Gorse Hill, he said.

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 (£800 million) at one stage.

In previous hearings, he said he had paid over 700 million euro (£506 million) 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 32 million euro (£23 million) which was paid back to their lenders, he told the High Court.

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