| 10.9°C Dublin

'BoI courted O'Donnell. . . now it's sticking boot in'

Close

QUIET DESPERATION: The home of Brian and Mary Pat O'Donnell on Vico Road in Killiney, featuring gardens and tennis court

QUIET DESPERATION: The home of Brian and Mary Pat O'Donnell on Vico Road in Killiney, featuring gardens and tennis court

QUIET DESPERATION: The home of Brian and Mary Pat O'Donnell on Vico Road in Killiney, featuring gardens and tennis court

WHEN high-flying solicitor Brian O'Donnell sat into the confessional that is the interviewee's chair on the Marian Finucane Show last December, no doubt he thought he was doing the right thing.

Still reeling from being hit with a €71.5m judgment by the Bank of Ireland just days earlier, Mr O'Donnell threw himself on the mercy of the listening public in the hope that they would better understand his particular plight.

Given the very particular circumstances surrounding his and his wife Mary Pat's downfall, however, the "quiet desperation" he said he and others like him felt as they sat waiting for letters from the bank to arrive was never really going to resonate with ordinary people, many of whom might be struggling to meet the mortgage on a suburban three-bed semi-d.

Last Tuesday, Mr Justice Peter Kelly made his own displeasure clear in relation to Mr O'Donnell's heart-to-heart with Ms Finucane as he presided over an application by the Bank of Ireland in the High Court to cross-examine the O'Donnells about the ownership of their property empire.

Commenting on the matter, the judge said he was "not impressed" by the businessman's radio interview in which he complained about the Bank of Ireland's failure to engage with him properly given that he had now opted not to show up in court.

The court heard that Mr O'Donnell and his wife, Mary Pat, were otherwise engaged in London, having just applied for bankruptcy.

That Mr O'Donnell, a former partner with leading Dublin law firm William Fry, and his wife, an eminent psychiatrist, should have resorted to such a drastic measure finally provided proof, if such proof were needed, of the very desperation the former high-flyer had spoken of only last December.

The O'Donnells' rise had been meteoric during the years of the boom and saw their company, Vico Capital, amass an international property portfolio replete with blue chip assets in Dublin, London, Stockholm and Washington, DC. While their personal and corporate borrowings reached an eye-watering €886m in July 2010, that exposure was easily covered by the properties' collective valuation of more than €1bn in the same period.

And while the O'Donnells managed to cruise comfortably beneath the radar of the public during the heady years of the Celtic Tiger, their success didn't go unnoticed by the Bank of Ireland.

Indeed, speaking to the Sunday Independent last week, sources familiar with the matter claimed that Mr O'Donnell wouldn't be in the predicament he is in now had he simply chosen to ignore the advances of the bank as it sought to win his business.

"Brian and Mary Pat have been customers with the bank since 1976. They came to him in 2005, looking for him to consolidate all his borrowings with the Bank of Ireland. They wanted everything. It was the bank's proposal," one well-placed source said.

Commenting further on the bank's apparent desire to attract Mr O'Donnell's business, the source added: "Bank of Ireland was actually running a private equity real estate fund itself and was a competitor to Brian. He used to come across them in London. They actually bid against him on a number of assets. I think it was a case of 'If we can't beat him, let's get him to join us.'"

The cruel irony of the Bank of Ireland's recent moves against the O'Donnells hasn't been lost on those who know them.

Referring to this, a friend of the once-powerful couple said: "The bank fought for their business when things were good, pulled out all the stops, wining and dining them and showering them with praise. Now the tide had turned, the very same people are putting the boot in. It's pretty disgusting when you think about it, actually."

The Bank of Ireland appears to be determined to press for full and immediate repayment of the €75m it now claims to be owed, and has, according to sources, firmly rejected numerous proposals from the O'Donnells to pay down their debts over a period of four to five years.

It is understood that the most recent of these proposals came last February in the form of an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) drawn up by Mr O'Donnell in consultation with the London-based insolvency practitioners David Rubin and Partners. Mr Rubin is perhaps best known for having negotiated such an arrangement on behalf of Kevin Maxwell, the son of disgraced media mogul Robert Maxwell, with his creditors in 2005. With debts of stg£33m (€39.5m) and on the brink of bankruptcy, Mr Maxwell escaped financial ruin after Mr Rubin persuaded his creditors to accept a paltry 3.3p for every pound they were owed.

Mr Rubin's efforts on behalf of Mr O'Donnell with the Bank of Ireland are understood to have received a chilly response, to say the least.

"The IVA was put to the Bank of Ireland, but they refused to consider it. They refused to sit down and they wouldn't talk to Brian's advisers. They just wrote back to say the proposal was rejected," a well-placed source said.

Asked about the O'Donnells' decision to file for bankruptcy in the UK, the same source said: "They had nowhere else to go, so they filed for bankruptcy last Tuesday. It has been an horrendous experience for Brian and for Mary Pat.

"It has also been horrendous for their children. They were particularly disturbed to see the children's names published in the media. They felt as if they had been criminalised.

"Brian never thought he would find himself in this position, but he has been dealing with a bank that is on 'train tracks', so to speak. It was only ever going to go one way."

Contacted by the Sunday Independent, a spokeswoman for the Bank of Ireland declined to comment on the O'Donnells' case, citing client confidentiality.

Newspaper reports last week said the bank is understood to be exploring its options to block the couple's UK bankruptcy move. Mr O'Donnell was unavailable for comment.

Sunday Independent