Sunday 1 February 2015

A REEL-LIFE IRISH FEUD now showing in the courtS

The e100m movie house empire founded half a century ago by half-brothers Leo Ward and Kevin Anderson is in danger of fading away in interminable legal battles, writes Philip Ryan

Along-running feud between two of Ireland's most successful families threatens to call "cut" on a 50-year business relationship that produced the multi-million-euro Ward Anderson cinema empire.

The thriving cinema business established in the late 1940s by half-brothers, Leo Ward and Kevin Anderson, controls half the country's screens and revolutionised a trip to the pictures for the Irish public.

The pair, now both retired, muscled their way into the Irish movie scene as relative outsiders who could not get distribution deals on new releases to compete with Hollywood studios.

With an estimated net worth edging towards the €100m mark, the Ward Anderson clans own Dublin landmarks The Savoy and the Screen, along with the Omniplex and Irish Multiplex Cinemas (IMC) chains.

However, more than a half a century since the company's formation, the heirs to the family business have found themselves locked in what Justice Peter Kelly called an "extraordinarily bitter" dispute.

The sons of the group's founders, Paul Ward and Paul Anderson, have recently been forced into airing their dirty laundry in the courts in a bid to settle a row over the opening of a new cinema in the St Stephen's Green Shopping Centre in Dublin.

Many years ago, in a 1992 interview with American movie magazine, Box Office, Paul Ward, who lives in Mount Merrion in Blackrock, Dublin, put the company's success down to the family-run ethos of the business.

"Unlike a company where shareholders have a vote and can be turned down by the majority, this being a family-run business, any member has his chance for a say. While you might not agree, you respect his wishes," the 63-year-old businessman said.

Fast forward 20 years to June 15 this year and the same Paul Ward is storming out of board meeting in Galway telling his half-brother: "I will not take part in any meetings you are chairing," according to affidavits Mr Anderson filed with the High Court.

It seems a long way since Leo Ward packed in a promising career as a footballer with Manchester City during their heyday in the late 1930s to return to Ireland at the onset of World War II.

Back in Dublin, Leo signed a £8-a-week deal with Drumcondra Football Club, who at the time were a force in Irish football and drew crowds of more than 30,000 to Tolka Park.

Ward even turned down another chance to return to Manchester City following the end of the war and played on with the Drums until his testimonial in 1949, when £500 was raised on the turnstiles.

Soon after retirement from football and with the lights of Hollywood in his eyes, Leo teamed up with his half- brother, Kevin, who had become an accountant, and began buying the rights to films and selling them to cinemas at a profit.

Paul Anderson told the Irish Times in 2006 how in the early days his father worked as the projectionist and his mother Carmel would look after the cinema's shop with his sister, Lorna, while his brothers, Tom and David, would take the tickets and as a nine-year-old he would even work as a cashier.

The Ward children also got dragged into the family business, with Paul spearheading the clan's side of the operation in later years, while his sisters, Jean Kennedy and Carol O'Riordan, are still on the boards of various cinema companies.

Paul Ward and his wife Mary are on the board of the Dublin Cinema Group, along with Paul Anderson and his 40-year-old son Mark.

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