Bankruptcy in Britain still an option for Irish
Despite failed cases by Brian and Mary Patricia O'Donnell and Séan Quinn, the UK route is back on the agenda for many Irish people
Leicester-based Steve Thatcher is becoming used to visiting Ireland. He will be in Dublin again on January 30th for a day filled with meetings with people wanting to explore the option of declaring bankruptcy in Britain. Many of them will go ahead.
The British route is back in the headlines following the failed bid last month by Brian and Mary Patricia O’Donnell in London, and before them Seán Quinn, but Thatcher bridles at the description of his work as “bankruptcy tourism”.
“I hate the term,” he tells The Irish Times. “That is not what I do. My clients come here and do things properly. I make them fully comply. There are no shortcuts. I do not take people on who will not do it properly.”
Under European Union rules, EU citizens, bar those of Denmark, can declare bankruptcy legally in another member state if they can prove that they have established themselves there and no longer have links with their home country.
The O’Donnells tried and failed, partly because Mr O’Donnell did not reveal the existence of a £120,000 consultancy fee, but also because past paperwork showed that his links with Ireland had continued for longer than he told the court.
After the ruling by the High Court in Belfast against Seán Quinn’s bankruptcy application, Thatcher advised his Irish clients that their creditors – mostly banks – should be told of their move to Britain “three to four weeks” before a petition was lodged.
Now, following the O’Donnells’ ruling, the timetable has become longer. “Now it is two, two and a half months to make sure that we get responses back from the banks,” says Thatcher, speaking over loud lunchtime chatter in the Market Porter pub in London’s Borough Market.
“I won’t be taking people through now, even if they are ready. I’m saying, ‘You’re not going anywhere, you don’t need to rush into it, let’s make sure that we have an acknowledgement from the bank, confirming where you are.’”
It is a delicate balancing act. Debtors must give notice to creditors, but not too much to allow them to take a creditor’s bankruptcy petition against them in an Irish court – an outcome that could see them tied in legal knots for 12 years.
However, Thatcher believes the banks have little interest in stopping the majority of those contemplating bankruptcy in Britain. “I have come to the view that with the smaller cases the banks are simply not going to be taking up court time taking these individuals to court.”
Indeed, he goes further. “It is Ireland exporting its problems again, much like abortion. They won’t deal with it at home, so we’ll deal with it in the UK. Put yourself on a boat and go and sort yourself out,” he declares.