Snow turns to hailstones as air of mystery shrouds activity in Court 19


Furtive glances and sombre suits the order of the day as Minister’s lawyers secure private court hearing, writes MARY CAROLAN

THE EFFECTIVE nationalisation of Allied Irish Banks came about with a whimper, not a bang, in a tiny courtroom on the fourth floor of a building in a near-deserted Four Courts complex as a flurry of snow fell early yesterday morning.

As most of Dublin went about last-minute Christmas shopping, just before 9am, a small group of lawyers walked across the Four Courts courtyard to Áras Uí Dhálaigh, where they had scheduled an early morning hearing before Ms Justice Maureen Clark in Court 19.

Their faces fell and worried glances were exchanged as two Irish Times reporters arrived, having got wind of the early application just minutes earlier.

Despite furtive exchanges between the lawyers in a bid not to give anything away in front of the media, any doubt about the nature of their business was dispelled by the large number of black lever arch folders, the distinctive signature of the Arthur Cox law firm, lawyers for the Minister for Finance.

The small group of about 10 people was unable to get any further until the judge’s usher used her swipe card to open the door to the lobby of Áras Uí Dhálaigh.

Next stop was Court 19 on the fourth floor, a small courtroom with sweeping views across the city which has witnessed mainly family law cases with all their attendant misery and rows over distribution of assets.

This application was also about assets – the loss of assets – on a much grander scale.

At 9am, the judge walked into the courtroom through the main entrance as the judge’s chambers were locked, another reflection of the unusual nature of this hearing and the fact that it was occurring when the courts had closed for the Christmas break and at least two hours before any emergency applications would normally be heard.

David Barniville SC, in a suitably sombre suit, said he was appearing with Niamh Hyland SC for the Minister for Finance and was making an application under Section 9 of the new Credit Institutions (Stabilisation) Act in relation to “a financial institution”.

Mr Barniville said he wanted to have the application heard in camera on grounds it involved issues of “extreme commercial sensitivity”.

He added that he also wanted his application to exclude the media heard in private.

When the judge asked had these issues not already been aired on news bulletins since 7am, Mr Barniville remarked that the issues which ran in the media were not the particular issues involved in the application.

The judge, addressing the “members of the press”, said this was new legislation and counsel for the Minister was asking the court to have it heard in camera.

When this reporter asked for a short adjournment to allow The Irish Times to consider a challenge to the application to exclude the media, the judge said that would negate the powers of the Minister under the Act and added that she had been told these were “matters of commercial urgency”.

The media and a solicitor who said he had a watching brief for another party, whom he did not identify, were then excluded while the judge heard the application for a private hearing.

At 10.30am, the courtroom doors opened and the lawyers came out to tell the media a court order had been made. That order and a redacted affidavit (an affidavit with sections removed) would be made available later, they said.

Outside, the flurry of snow had turned into hailstones.