Westport House may have to be sold, family told

Mayo County Council’s ability to secure estate after Nama withdrawal is in doubt

Westport House in Westport, Co Mayo.

Westport House in Westport, Co Mayo.

 

Doubts have been raised about Mayo County Council’s ability to secure Westport House’s future almost three months after the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) withdrew loans secured on the estate from a €1 billion portfolio sale.

Sources close to the Browne family, who have owned it for almost 400 years, have indicated the house and its contents may have to be sold due to continued uncertainty over the debt on the adjoining estate.

The family met advisers yesterday and are said to be “frustrated and disappointed” that no substantial progress has been made in negotiations between Nama and the local authority.

It is understood the family were told that for “legal and other reasons” they might have to contemplate the sale of the house and contents on the open market.

The estate’s gross value is just over €12 million, according to probate documents.

Former owner Lord Jeremy Altamont died in 2014, and the High Court issued letters of administration last August to accountant Con Casey and solicitor Dermot Furey, who are dealing with the late Lord Altamont’s probate.

The Browne family, descended from Grace O’Malley, still own the house and immediate land, but some 380 acres of the estate were put up as security on a loan of €6.5 million taken out by the late Lord Altamont in 2006.

The loan, which amounted to over €9 million last year with interest, was included by Nama last year in its Project Arrow portfolio.

Tourist potential

The Westport House estate loan was withdrawn just 24 hours before the €1 billion portfolio sale to American investment fund Cerberus for about 12 per cent of its original value.

Confirming the withdrawal in late October 2015, Minister of State for Tourism and Mayo TD Michael Ring said negotiations were taking place between Mayo County Council and Nama.

Mr Ring defended his intervention against criticism from Fianna Fáil, saying that section 4.1.1. of Nama guidelines permit a sale to be concluded without open marketing “where a Government entity or State/semi-State body has approached Nama, or any of its subsidiaries, to purchase a real estate asset for legitimate reasons in the public interest”.

Last night, Mr Ring said he was “confident” issues relating to Westport House would be resolved, adding that “logistics” were being sorted out.

A spokesman for Nama said that discussions with the local authority were ongoing.

The spokesman confirmed that a draft contract had been sent to Mayo County Council which it was awaiting comments on.

Estate agent

Mayo County Council was unavailable for comment, but it is understood it will only be able to proceed if it receives funds of about €1 million from the Government to acquire the loan.

A consultancy study commissioned by the council and published last September estimated that the house and estate generated almost €1.7 million in direct expenditure to the exchequer and local economy last year and €50 million in indirect investment to the county and wider region.

The house and contents were valued by London-based auctioneers and estate agents in advance of a possible sale last year, with advertisements having been at an “advanced stage”, according to family sources.