Dearbhail McDonald: Death-trap builder appears immune from accountability
BANKRUPT builder Tom McFeely walked away from a death trap, leaving 256 residents stranded and taxpayers nursing a bill of at least €10m over the condemned Priory Hall apartment complex.
The former IRA hunger striker narrowly avoided jail last year after he won his appeal to the Supreme Court against a three-month prison sentence and €1m fine for contempt of court.
And he dodged jail yet again yesterday when Dublin District Court struck out a long-running debt action by personnel company MCR.
MCR stood little or no chance of getting monies from McFeely, who was declared a bankrupt in Ireland last year after an unsuccessful bid to be adjudicated a bankrupt in the UK.
The significance of the case by MCR lay in the firm's initial court bid, seeking to jail McFeely for failing to comply with an instalment order made earlier.
The firm succeeded in putting McFeely in the stand on several occasions to quiz him about his business affairs, including international properties and money transfers.
The case concluded yesterday, just days before he was expected to be quizzed over an alleged Isle of Man "money trail".
During one appearance – and after his Ailesbury Road home was seized after court action by the National Assets Management Agency – McFeely produced a newspaper clipping with a photo of his eviction.
"I cannot remember the Brits, even during the worst years of the Famine in Ireland, show-boating when taking someone's property," he said. Though the settlement is a boost for construction recruitment company MCR, it represents a lost opportunity for residents of Priory Hall and taxpayers nursing a €10m refurbishment bill – a bill that does not include the costs of providing accommodation for the residents following their October 2011 evacuation.
That matter is still before the Supreme Court.
Although the MCR case was just a district court matter, it represented the biggest opportunity for McFeely to be held publicly accountable over his role and that of his company in the Priory Hall saga.
McFeely seems immune from public scrutiny, another example of the two-tier criminal justice system and the accountability gulf that has opened up in the wake of the financial crisis.
For those who commit social welfare frauds, there is a prison door.
But it seems for men whose companies build death traps, there is a government guarantee to absolve them of their responsibilities.
McFeely has twice avoided jail for contempt, but his greatest crime is his contempt for those whose lives he destroyed and the taxpayers left to pick up the pieces.