A woman choked back tears several times in the High Court when disputing claims by two former close friends that €280,000 given to her was a loan rather than a gift.
Jacqueline Keenaghan said she had been friends for years with Fidelma 'Della' Kerrigan and her sister Celine. She could not understand why they were claiming she had failed to repay the money, which she said was offered by them "totally out of the blue" in August 2010.
Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy has heard the €280,000 was part of a €750,000 compensation award made to Della about two weeks earlier over the serious personal injuries she suffered in a road accident in 2002. Her father died in the incident.
In evidence on Tuesday, Ms Keenaghan denied the sisters’ claim that the money was offered as a loan after she told them she feared losing her home as a result of her husband John’s business being in trouble, had problems putting food on the table, cried in front of them over money or sought money from them.
She said she had been pressed by Celine about how her husband was doing and told her he owed more than €200,000, but was working with the bank, Revenue and his solicitor to address the problem.
“Hand on heart and on my mother’s grave, I never once asked for money from those girls, I’m not that type of person,” Ms Keenaghan said. “We are pure straight and we pay everything and if the girls had not decided then they wanted to give us a gift we would have worked with revenue and worked with the bank.”
She said she was “shocked and emotional” when the sisters offered her €240,000 on August 7th, 2010 but told them she could not accept it. She said that over the next several days the sisters repeatedly urged her and her husband to take the money but they continued to refuse.
Her husband had said they could not take it because they could never repay it but the sisters persisted, insisting it was a gift, not a loan, and they must accept it, she said.
Ms Keenaghan said the sisters said they “loved me that much”, this was what they wanted to do and making this gift of money, plus another gift to a nephew of theirs, would make them feel better over the road accident.
She and her husband agreed on August 16th, 2010 to accept the money and €280,000 was given to her in bank drafts two weeks later. She lodged it that day and used the vast bulk of it to pay the bank, the Revenue, an accountant, Vat and other debts and expenses.
Regarding a reference to Della being upset about a limousine being hired to take Ms Keenaghan’s daughter to her debs, Ms Keenaghan said her daughter sat her Leaving Certificate in 2006, four years before the money issue arose.
In her action, Della Kerrigan, (59), of Benildus Avenue, Ballyshannon, Co Donegal, claims it was agreed and understood at all times that the money was a short term loan and could be called in, allowing a reasonable period for the defendants to set up their new business.
Both sisters sought repayment in 2014 but it has not been paid and Ms Kerrigan is now on social welfare payments, the court heard.
The defendants, of Rathmore, Ballyshannon, deny the claims and say the money was a gift with the effect they have not failed to repay it.
They also deny they exercised undue influence over Ms Kerrigan.
Ms Keenaghan, a mother of three, said she knew the sisters from childhood as all three had grown up in Ballyshannon. After she married, the sisters regularly called to her home, they would all socialise together on occasions and were “like soulmates”.
Under cross-examination by Patrick Kean SC, Ms Keenaghan was asked about a psychiatrist’s evidence that Della had suffered a closed brain injury as a result of the 2002 accident and also experienced “survivor guilt”. She said she was unaware of that.
Asked had she any “sense of shame” about how she treated Della, Ms Keenaghan said she never asked for money and the sisters “wanted to give this gift”.
Ms Keenaghan described herself as a “very honest, kind person” who would “go out of their way to give my last Rolo”.
The issue of gift tax “never crossed my mind” when the €280,000 was received because her husband was engaging with the Revenue at the time, she added.
The hearing continues.