Saturday 18 November 2017

Commercial Court is back to housing those good aul Irish barneys

Set up in the nascent, halcyon days of the Celtic Tiger (the first, real export-led one kids, not the later, hallucinogenic property one) the Commercial Court was meant to enhance Ireland's international reputation as a country that dealt with business rows elegantly and efficiently. (stock photo)
Set up in the nascent, halcyon days of the Celtic Tiger (the first, real export-led one kids, not the later, hallucinogenic property one) the Commercial Court was meant to enhance Ireland's international reputation as a country that dealt with business rows elegantly and efficiently. (stock photo)
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

It's back to business for the Commercial Court, the jewel in the crown of Ireland's legal system, which fast-tracks big business disputes - those valued at a mere €1m and over.

Set up in the nascent, halcyon days of the Celtic Tiger (the first, real export-led one kids, not the later, hallucinogenic property one) the Commercial Court was meant to enhance Ireland's international reputation as a country that dealt with business rows elegantly and efficiently.

Justice delayed and all that.

Instead, the Commercial Court became the graveyard of the aforementioned tiger, a kind of high-class debtors' court that granted judgments to banks as quick as those banks had issued their voluminous, heady and toxic loans in the first place.

Now, with much of the detritus of the bust processed, Nama'ed or passed on to the vultures for enhanced carrion management, the Commercial Court has gone back to its roots of handling ordinary decent rows of a more familiar - and familial - kind.

Last week saw the entry into the Commercial Court list of a truly spectacular row involving the well-known publican Frank Gleeson of Mercantile fame who claims he has been subject to a "calculated and systematic campaign of shareholder oppression" wholly denied by his alleged oppressors.

Gleeson was one of those souls who appeared to have emerged intact from the near collapse of the banking/property sectors. That was when his Mercantile group, including my old Trinity College haunt Cafe en Seine - or Cafe Insane as I fondly recall it - merged with the Capital Bars Group to become arguably the biggest hospitality group in the country.

Now the merger is beset with regrets and recriminations as Gleeson is being sued for close to €5m by the majority shareholders of the newly enlarged entity. A vituperative flurry of allegations and denials rained down last week when the opening salvo of the dispute came before High Court judge Mr Justice Brian McGovern. The previous week, Judge McGovern was at pains to implore one of Ireland's best-known retail families to bring their dispute far away from the Four Courts.

That was when Greg O'Gorman, son of Kilkenny Group founder Marian O'Gorman, sued his mother in the Commercial Court amid claims that he had been left financially destitute after he was "summarily dismissed" from his role as the group's marketing director last summer.

The opening salvo in that dispute - the mother-and-son row centres on whether sole shareholder Marian O'Gorman holds the business on trust for her four adult children, including Greg O'Gorman - revealed that Marian's husband of 40 years faced dismissal after allegedly breaking into a Spanish villa owned by the company but used as a family holiday home for decades.

Unsurprisingly, Judge McGovern pleaded with Marian and Greg O'Gorman to mediate their succession differences rather than have their private family business discussed in open court for consumption by les tricoteuses such as you and me.

That's the thing about the Commercial Court, you see: it's public and efficient, sometimes ruthlessly so.

As well as having sharp rules and tools to get to the heart of disputes and prevent the costly trial-by-ambush tactics that had plagued court actions in the past, the big business division of the High Court has a tendency to flush heat and light out in a flash. It's no surprise, therefore, that the Commercial Court and its twin levers of speed and publicity, have given birth to a quieter era of alternative dispute resolution, including mediation and arbitration.

We might, as a fella from Mayo once said, just well be the best small country in the world in which to do business - we're also still capable of throwing out a good aul Irish barney when we need one too.

Time to take a punt on the next chair of CRH

Succession of a less turbulent kind is also occupying the minds of those who like to take a punt on CRH plc, the building materials giant led by chief executive Albert Manifold. Will CRH's next chairman be a female or a foreigner, neither class of whom have occupied that hot seat to date?

Paddy Power Betfair (who else?) is taking punts on CRH's next chair. Out front at 5/4 is Heather Ann McSharry, daughter of former EU commissioner Ray McSharry who has been on the board since 2012 and is well accustomed to shattering glass ceilings.

Hot on her heels is fellow board member Pat (PJ) Kennedy who joined the CRH board in January 2015. Not quite a foreigner, the Irishman spent more than 30 years overseas at SVH, one of Holland's largest family owned multi-nationals where he served as executive chairman.

I'm not putting my money on builder-turned TD Mick Wallace who has come in at 250/1. Nor will I be placing any bets on US President Donald Trump at 500/1.

Although anything's possible in this post-truth world.

And if he builds that wall...

Sunday Indo Business

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