Jailed anti-eviction activist is a serial litigant who stood for the Dáil

Ben Gilroy has been involved in at least 16 legal actions, mainly by or against banks

Ben Gilroy, of Navan, Co Meath, arriving at the Four Courts  before he was jailed. Photograph: Collins Courts

Ben Gilroy, of Navan, Co Meath, arriving at the Four Courts before he was jailed. Photograph: Collins Courts

 

The decision by Mr Justice Brian McGovern to imprison Ben Gilroy for contempt on Wednesday is the latest in a long list of clashes between the serial litigant and the High Court.

Gilroy, an anti-eviction activist, has been involved in at least 16 High Court actions, usually brought by or against banks, and has been found in contempt three times.

The most recent finding of contempt came in 2017 when a judge found Gilroy had insulted and threatened the court and its officers in a case involving AIB.

Gilroy had stated he felt “threatened by members of a semi-secretive society wearing wigs and black cloaks” who believe they are “superior to other members of society” and who “act in a clandestine fashion to hide their criminality”.

As in the two previous findings of contempt, Gilroy avoided imprisonment by apologising to the court. This time he was ordered to do 80 hours of community service.

On Wednesday, the High Court heard Gilroy failed to complete the community service. He responded he was happy to do the work but could not because one of the court documents incorrectly identified the title of AIB.

‘Deliberate’ breach

Mr Justice McGovern had had enough. He found there was a “deliberate and conscious” breach of the community service order and jailed Gilroy for three months for contempt. The prisoner was then taken to Mountjoy for processing.

Last October, in a separate but related High Court case, Gilroy was banned from taking further cases against AIB without the permission of the court’s president.

To do this, the court made use of a relatively obscure legal provision called an “Issac Wunder order” which allows a judge to forbid a serial and vexatious litigant from taking further cases.

It also banned Gilroy from AIB headquarters and from acting as a “McKenzie Friend” – the term for a non-legally qualified person who assists another in court. The judge ruled it was “probable” that Gilroy was taking payments for acting as a McKenzie friend in breach of the rules of court.

The ruling arose from a case taken by AIB against Seamus McQuaid who was being assisted by Gilroy. AIB is attempting to recover a €3.35 million debt from Mr McQuaid.

The bank has alleged Gilroy prevented it from recovering the debt by helping to move his assets into a “trust”.

“It is a feature of Mr Gilroy’s successive written and oral applications to the court that he repeatedly pursues the same arguments that have already failed, and are bound to fail again,” Mr Justice Robert Haughton wrote.

Online activism

The judge also quoted from Gilroy’s anti-eviction online activism, including a post reading: “We should all use the Defence of The Dwelling Act and just wait for anyone coming through the door and blow their head off with a gun, maybe that is the answer.”

Gilroy’s treatment of the lawyers and staff of AIB was also cited by the judge. One of the bank’s solicitors went to the Garda and put in place security arrangements at her home following a letter from Gilroy.

Gilroy, a former bodyguard, has stood as a Dáil candidate on two occasions for the Direct Democracy Ireland party. In the 2013 Meath East byelection, he surprised many with a relatively strong showing; coming in fourth and comfortably beating the Labour candidate.

In recent years, Gilroy has also campaigned on a variety of populist issues. He has spoken out against abortion, the EU and vaccinations and is an ardent supporter of failed presidential hopeful Gemma O’Doherty.

He has recently become involved in one of the Irish versions of Yellow Vest movement and was involved in protesting against the eviction of the McCann family in Strokestown, Roscommon last month.