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Breifne leaves on his own -- all thanks to his mother

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Breifne
O'Brien leaving the Criminal Courts of Justice

Breifne O'Brien leaving the Criminal Courts of Justice

Breifne O'Brien leaving the Criminal Courts of Justice

HE was one half of the poster couple for the Celtic Tiger years, a staple on the charity circuit, and an aficionado of vintage Aston Martins.

When Breifne O'Brien, 51, was charged with theft of €11m following a three-year fraud investigation last Thursday, his high society friends were nowhere to be seen. In the District Court, the only familiar face, apart from his lawyer's, was his mother's.

Petite and elegant, Mary O'Brien was a discrete if incongruous figure in the front row of the public benches, guided in by a man who remained by her side as Judge Cormac Dunne worked through his morning's list.

There was the man who developed a "bad habit" of carrying knives. The young women accused of robbing men after approaching them with offers of sex. The man accused of becoming violent with a garda who found him asleep in the doorway of a funeral parlour on Camden Street. Their lives seemed a world away from Mr O'Brien's.

His family home is Carrigrohane Castle in Cork, where he married his now estranged wife, Fiona Nagle. The couple lived in a Victorian pile on Silchester Road in south Dublin, where they once entertained 200 friends for a family christening.

At 12.19pm, Breifne O'Brien stepped into a different realm. His name was called, a door opened, and his elegant figure emerged in the dock. He was lightly tanned and dressed smart-casual in a navy blazer and a grey wool V-neck over a blue shirt.

He placed a bunch of papers before him, settled himself behind the Perspex screen and glanced around. He seemed calm.

Detective Sergeant Martin Griffin from the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigations said he had arrested Mr O'Brien at the Bridewell garda station at 9am that morning and charged him with 19 counts relating to theft and 19 to deception. In answer to all the charges, Mr O'Brien said 'not guilty', the detective said. The sum involved was €11m. The alleged injured parties were Martin O'Brien, Pat Doyle, Evan Newell, Louis Dowley and Daniel Maher.

Mr O'Brien listened, head tilted, and at one point, he put on steel-rimmed oval spectacles and leafed through his bundle of pages.

Matters turned to bail. The sergeant had no objection. Mr O'Brien had relinquished his passport and confirmed that he resided at his address -- an apartment in Monkstown. Mr O'Brien's mother, Mary O'Brien, was present and was willing to stand bail, the court heard.

At this, the woman sitting in the front row of public benches raised a hand to indicate her presence. Eyes turned on this petite figure dressed in a smart knitted jacket, navy dress and matching shoes, and clutching a small handbag.

Mr O'Brien's solicitor, Moirin Moynihan, told the judge that Mrs O'Brien had come to court with €2,000 in an account but could access more.

Judge Dunne wanted to be reassured that Mrs O'Brien wasn't acting under pressure.

"A mother standing as surety can sometimes be an involuntary and an emotive decision as opposed to a rational, cold . . . decision," he said.

She began to reply but the judge asked her to step into the witness box. He pressed her again. Was she under any duress, emotionally or otherwise?

"No I am not," she replied. "But I would like to know the amount."

"The amount would be a sum in the region of €10,000," he said and repeated his concerns about "emotive coercion".

Mrs O'Brien was adamant: "I'm not being put upon to do it."

The case was adjourned to November. Mr O'Brien was released on bail. As he rose to leave the courtroom, he turned towards his mother and put his hand out, motioning her to stay put.

Afterwards, Mr O'Brien emerged from the court offices and took the lift to join his mother in the coffee shop on the first floor.

Photographers grouped outside the building. The shot they wanted was mother and son. Mr O'Brien eventually faced them alone.

Carrying a tan leather briefcase, he took the stairs rather than the lift to the ground floor, strode across the empty hall towards the exit. He looked straight ahead, passed the snapping photographers and into a waiting blue taxi.

Mrs O'Brien also faced the photographers alone. She appeared in the hall some minutes after her son departed, taking in the daunting crew of photographers outside as she checked to see if her taxi had arrived. She started walking. The automatic glass doors parted. Cameras went off all around her. She got into the same waiting taxi that minutes earlier had whisked away her eldest son.

Sunday Independent