Belfast Telegraph

Game is up on mansion, tycoon told

A solicitor-turned property speculator refusing to leave a seaside mansion at the centre of a repossession order in one of Ireland's most affluent neighbourhoods has been told "the game is up".

Brian O'Donnell left the luxury residence known as Gorse Hill, at Killiney, south Dublin, this morning to attend a High Court hearing into his fight against eviction.

The court was told Mr O'Donnell and his wife, psychiatrist Mary Patricia, 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 70 million euro (£52m) debts.

Barrister Cian Ferriter, for Bank of Ireland, said the couple were using the courts as a "tactical manoeuvre" and were refusing to accept a clear legal agreement.

"He's either unprepared or unable to accept the fact that he has these liabilities, he has no right to reside in Gorse Hill, and the game is up," he said.

Mr Ferriter said the O'Donnells, who are claiming residency rights at the mansion, had consistently told courts in the UK and Ireland during bankruptcy proceedings that they were living permanently in East Haxted, Kent.

They flew in to Dublin on Friday to occupy the house overlooking Dublin Bay after their children were given short service from the courts last week, the senior counsel told the High Court.

"It is a Walter Mitty assertion at this stage," Mr Ferriter said.

The house is owned by Vico Ltd, an Isle of Man company.

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

Three of the four children - Blaise, Blake, Bruce and Alexandra O'Donnell - who had been living there, left after losing a Supreme Court fight against repossession late last year.

Mr O'Donnell said he and his wife have to be given two-year notice before leaving, under an agreement over the ownership of the property.

But Mr Ferriter accused him of flinging around allegations of fraud, criminality and deception without any evidence in an effort to "kick the bank down the road".

He accused Mr O'Donnell of being perched in a castle tower behind walls and sending his "gallowglasses" from the self-styled Land League, who have occupied the lands, out to make statements to reporters.

In a reference to Michael Davitt, of the original Land League which fought for the rights of poor Irish farmers in the 19th century, Mr Ferriter added: "Mr Davitt must be turning in his grave."

Mr O'Donnell, who 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, said suggestions he was not paying his debts were not true.

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

Banks said they would take 7m euro (£5m) for his Sanctuary House in London, but they "held on" and got 32m euro (£23m) for it, which they paid back to their lenders, he told the High Court.

"We have paid over 700 million euro (£506m) back to banks worldwide," Mr O'Donnell said.

"The only problem is with this bank that has persecuted us for the last five years."

Mr O'Donnell said he has been repeatedly refused details from the bank and the receiver Fennelly Kavanagh for information on money received from assets he has already given up.

"At this moment, I don't know how much I owe," he said.

The former solicitor said he has not been given his constitutional and legal rights to put forward a defence to a trespass order, and was being handed impossible timescales to respond to orders.

Mr O'Donnell claimed further pressure was being heaped on him and his wife with as many as 65 journalists and satellite trucks parked outside the house.

"The thing is an absolute circus," he said.

"We have people invading the house, people running down the driveway.

"We've been working through the night while the media are camped outside the house. Gardai have had to do drive-bys to protect us."

On Tuesday, a trespass notice was fixed to the gates of the luxury house, worth in the region of 34 million euro (£25m) in the boom years but now valued at about a fifth of that.

It is due to be handed over after a four-year battle with Bank of Ireland over property investment debts and an unsuccessful attempt by the O'Donnells to be declared bankrupt in the UK.

Mr O'Donnell denies he has barricaded himself and his wife into the house.

A trespass order can only be made by someone who is in possession of a property, which at the moment is only him and his wife, he argued.

Furthermore he said no repossession order was ever made against the couple personally or Vico Ltd.

Previous rulings of the court over the Gorse Hill dispute do not apply to him and his wife, as they have never been named in any previous actions, he added.

Judge Brian McGovern rejected an application by Mr O'Donnell to adjourn today's case.

Mr O'Donnell had asked the judge to stand down - or recuse himself - over claims he could be perceived as having pre-judged the case when he told son Blake O'Donnell on Tuesday's hearing that he could do it the easy way or make it difficult.

Also, Mr O'Donnell claimed the judge's wife and her siblings had been involved in proceedings with Kavanagh Fennell during the wind-up of the Ryan Partnership, in which she was involved.

But the judge rejected the claims, saying he had no involvement, and was not biased, while borrowings from the Bank of Ireland to the partnership had been paid off some time ago, with no outstanding liability.

Judge McGovern has reserved his judgment on the case, and a separate application by Mr O'Donnell to cross-examine witnesses from the bank and the receiver.


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