Solicitor 'sparked rent fears'
Suspended lawyer touted for work with unsolicited letters to pensioners
Published 13/10/2010 | 05:00
A SUSPENDED lawyer has been accused of "preying" on the elderly by sending out unsolicited letters regarding the ground rent for their homes.
Ruairi O Ceallaigh (39) sent the letters to residents of a Dublin suburb just weeks before the High Court suspended his practising certificate and froze his bank accounts.
The lawyer had used almost €2.4m of clients' money, much of which was left to the Catholic Church, to gamble on stocks and shares.
It has now emerged he sent unsolicited letters to residents in Cabra offering to assist them in buying up the freehold interest in their properties, even though some have leases running for the next 100 years or more. Many never had any dealings previously with Mr O Ceallaigh or his legal firm Sean O Ceallaigh & Co.
"Older people in the area got a fright when they got the letters and some thought they would be out in the street," angry resident Patricia McGrath told the Irish Independent.
"He was trying to make a quick buck by preying on elderly people. I think the letters were disgraceful."
The letters were issued just weeks before the leasehold issue hit national headlines when a row erupted in Rosses Point, Co Sligo, after an English couple -- whose family left Ireland up to 90 years ago -- laid claim to ground rents there.
The Cabra residents written to only own the leasehold interest in their property, which means they own just the building and not the land it is on.
The lease agreements are from Dublin City Council and are for 150 years. A number were entered into in the 1970s.
In the unsolicited letters, Mr O Ceallaigh offered a service to residents to convert their property from leasehold to freehold, meaning they would own the land and buildings outright, for a fee of €650.
Copies of each resident's property folio, which the solicitor obtained from the Land Registry office, were included in the letters.
The letters asked residents to contact him to make an appointment.
Mr O Ceallaigh was unavailable for comment last night and is no longer involved in the legal firm. His brother, Cormac, who is a partner in the firm, defended his brother's actions and said it was never the firm's intention to upset anyone.
"We have had a few people phoning up to complain, but in the main the response has been positive," he said.
"Most people have been very grateful for being informed about this. One of the key things people want in life is security."
Cormac O Ceallaigh also denied there was anything unethical about sending unsolicited letters to residents who were not clients of his firm.
"It is no different from an auctioneer putting a flyer in someone's letterbox asking if they want to sell their home. People can put it in the bin if they want," he said.
The High Court heard last month that as well as gambling clients' money, Ruairi O Ceallaigh had been involved in the double mortgaging of four properties.
Following an application from the Law Society, Mr Justice Peter Charleton suspended his practicing certificate.
The judge dismissed the Law Society's application to make similar orders against Cormac O Ceallaigh, stating that there was no evidence to suggest he was anything other than an innocent party in the matter.