Give Me a Crash Course in . . . the Gorse Hill house

Legal eagle: Brian O’Donnell hopes the Supreme Court will grant an appeal to the ruling that he and his wife, Dr Mary Pat O’Donnell, must leave the Killiney mansion. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Legal eagle: Brian O’Donnell hopes the Supreme Court will grant an appeal to the ruling that he and his wife, Dr Mary Pat O’Donnell, must leave the Killiney mansion. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

What is Gorse Hill? It’s a €7 million, 9,000sq ft mansion in the well-to-do south Dublin suburb of Killiney. Sitting on 1.25 acres overlooking the Irish Sea, the Vico Road property has an outdoor swimming pool and tennis court, plus an indoor gym and a sauna. It was the home of the former solicitor Brian O’Donnell (below) and his wife, Dr Mary Pat O’Donnell, from about 2000 until 2011, when they moved to England, leaving their four children to remain there.

Are the O’Donnells the owners? Not quite. Around 1997 the O’Donnells put in place a complex legal structure to purchase the two parcels of land that together became known as Gorse Hill. For that purpose they used an Isle of Man company called Vico Ltd.

So Vico owned the property? Yes, Vico Ltd was the legal and beneficial owner of Gorse Hill. The O’Donnells advanced funds to the company covering the cost of the land and its redevelopment. In turn they would be allowed to live at the property with their children.

And now Bank of Ireland wants it? That’s right. In about 2000 the O’Donnells began investing in property. They amassed a portfolio of office buildings and commercial premises in Dublin, London, Stockholm and Washington DC. The properties were once valued at nearly €1.1 billion, but the couple and their companies worked up debts of €900 million buying them.

And then the recession hit? When the global economy nosedived the O’Donnells were left holding large debts secured on properties whose values were falling. In January 2011 Bank of Ireland brought the couple to the High Court, looking for them to repay €69.5 million in property-related loans. The following December the bank secured a judgment of €71.5 million against the couple.

Could they pay? No. So Bank of Ireland sought possession of Gorse Hill. Back in 2006 Vico Ltd had put the property up as security against debts to the bank. In 2012 the company failed to discharge its debts, and the bank appointed Tom Kavanagh as the property’s receiver and manager.

Why didn’t the bank get possession then? By that stage Brian and Mary Pat O’Donnell had moved to England and were claiming that the house was actually held in trust for their four children, Alexandra, Blaise, Blake and Bruce. The children began proceedings but failed to convince the High Court, and subsequently the Supreme Court, to prevent the bank taking over the property. On February 2nd this year the Supreme Court told the children that they had to vacate the property by March 2nd.

But? But by now the O’Donnell parents had returned from their home in Surrey. When the March 2nd deadline passed and the parents refused to leave Gorse Hill the receiver went to the High Court to seek a trespass injunction against them. Mr Justice Brian McGovern granted this, setting a new deadline of 5pm on March 13th.

And that was that? No. Brian O’Donnell went to the Court of Appeal, which granted a stay on the injunction pending an appeal against the High Court decision. In the end the court granted a stay of a further month while it considered the appeal against the injunction.

Which takes us to this week. What did the Court of Appeal decide? On Wednesday the three-judge court dismissed the O’Donnells’ appeal, saying the bank had made a strong case that the receiver is entitled to an order requiring them to vacate the house.

When do they have to leave the house? By noon on April 29th, but the O’Donnells plan to appeal – again. The court granted a stay of a further two weeks on the High Court order, to let them seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. But an appeal can be taken to the higher court only if that court is satisfied it involves a matter of general public importance. If the Supreme Court decides it is happy for the appeal to go ahead, the four-year Gorse Hill saga is likely to continue for another few months at least.

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