Dunnes Stores has had its knuckles rapped yet again by the High Court over its behaviour in relation to Ferrybank shopping centre on the Waterford/Kilkenny border. It has happened so often at this stage, the retailer's senior management would do well to wear thick gloves to the Four Courts.
Dunnes signed an agreement with the centre’s developer in the heady days of 2007 to anchor the scheme, but, as the High Court has acknowledged in previous judgments, it has spent much of the time since trying to get out of this boom-time deal.
Justice Max Barrett, in making an award for costs on Wednesday against Dunnes in relation to a case it took against An Bord Pleanála over Ferrybank, said the retailer had "an ulterior motive" in seeking to overturn aspects of the centre's planning permission – to get out of its contractual obligations. The judge said Dunnes had abused the process of the court.
Funnily enough, that's the charge Margaret Heffernan levelled against Nama, which now finances the centre's developer, back in 2012. Then the State agency backed its client as it sought to have Dunnes wound up over an unpaid €22 million arbitration award after it reneged on the deal to anchor Ferrybank.
Dunnes eventually paid up in that case, but only after Judge Peter Kelly scolded it in court: "Why not pay the debt due? Dunnes Stores is no different to any other litigant. It must pay its debts. It cannot prevaricate, any more than any other litigant."
In the most recent case Justice Barrett memorably accused Dunnes of acting, in the context of Ferrybank, in a manner "worthy of Lewis Carroll", the author of Alice in Wonderland.
Whether it is over Ferrybank, or the Point Village or Tallaght in Dublin, or Gorey shopping centre in Wexford, Dunnes has not been shy in recent years about fighting its corner in court if it feels it has been disadvantaged in a property deal. In its court battles it has had only moderate success.
Dunnes recently became the largest grocer in the country by market share, toppling SuperValu. Imagine where it might be if it quit the pointless distraction of fighting everybody and got on with the job?