Mrs Coman tells court how relations with sons began to deteriorate


Mrs Mary Coman, who, with her husband, Patrick, founded the Comans pub and drinks business in Dublin, said yesterday that relations with their sons began to deteriorate after a cheque was refused to a daughter who had purchased a house.

Mrs Coman (70), said this had occurred during a "terrible time" when her husband, whom she described as the most "generous, kind and caring of all fathers", was "on a drip" in Mount Carmel hospital in 1994 and was seriously ill.

She also told the High Court said none of her sons had visited her while she was in hospital which was "pretty shocking for a mother to realise". She wanted her sons to hear that: "You don't do that to a mother."

The president of the High Court, Mr Justice Finnegan, is being asked to resolve the meaning and effect of an alleged agreement of February 5th, 2003, between Mr and Mrs Coman and their five sons, Geoffrey, John, Patrick junior, Thomas and Denis. The family business includes a pub in Rathgar, Dublin.

Mrs Coman in evidence said all her other children had separate careers. When they set up the business the shareholding was 50/50 as between herself and her husband. About 1988, it was decided to give some shares in the business to the boys.

Her husband's ambition was to die having very little. Six boys got a 48 per cent shareholding, some were in school at the time. That left 52 per cent - 26 per cent each to herself and her husband. Mrs Coman spoke of deposits being given to her children to purchase houses and said there was a total equality of treatment between all the family.

Her husband became seriously ill in 1994, a tough year for her. One of her daughters was encouraged to buy a property and had sold her house to Thomas. When the deposit on the house was to be paid the cheque was refused to her daughter, she said.

This was a terrible time as her husband was on a drip in Mount Carmel and she, with no legal knowledge, had to get involved when her daughter had been "left up the creek".

The company had refused a donation to a girl who had not even a car at the time. This was the beginning of the deterioration of relations. When another daughter was to be married in 1997, "the shenanigans" started over again. There was the same problem about a cheque and the feud became more bitter. It caused terrible tension. Her husband was one of the most "generous, kind and caring of all fathers" and it was unbelievable that "scurrilous" statements were made about him.

Following separate discussions on February 5th 2003, a settlement (now the subject of the High Court hearing) was suggested and she and her husband were eventually offered €7.05 million. She understood that a sum of €1.25 million - claimed to be advances to herself and her husband - would "be forgiven".

Mrs Coman said she believed she and her husband were to resign their directorships when they got the money. They did not agree they would resign the day after the settlement.

Her understanding was that they would get money and "walk away into the sunset". They had settled for a figure considerably below the value of the business, and if the taxman was coming then he would be calling back on other persons.

Mr Justice Finnegan interposed to say that he did not want the parties to be under a misapprehension as to his role in deciding if there was an agreement and what were its terms. While this concerned family matters, he was involved in a very small and narrow aspect of the problem and had to deal with the matters in terms of company directors and shareholders.

Mrs Coman said that, while understanding the judge's role, she was giving her views. She wanted to tell her sons that they had the best father and they should be proud of him.

She did not want it said that Mr Coman would not let go. She and he would go in half-an-hour but they had no resources.

Mr Justice Finnegan adjourned the matter to October 5th. He added that there was always time for the family "to sort matters out", otherwise he might have to give a solution with which nobody would be overjoyed.