Sunday 22 September 2019

Debt write-off: How Frank McNamara and Theresa Lowe returned to spotlight for wrong reasons

Write-off: Theresa Lowe and Frank McNamara win battle against vulture fund

Frank McNamara and Theresa Lowe. Photo: David Conachy
Frank McNamara and Theresa Lowe. Photo: David Conachy
Charlie Weston

Charlie Weston

There was a time when it was hard to avoid seeing Frank McNamara and Theresa Lowe on the television.

As musical director of the 'Late Late Show', appearances by Mr McNamara were a staple of Saturday nights.

He was a fixture on the top show at a time when it was broadcast on a Saturday night and had a massive audience.

His wife Theresa Lowe was an entertaining feature of Sunday nights as presenter of the popular quiz show 'Where in the World?' in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Then they faded from our screens.

Mr McNamara went Stateside where he was a musical conductor and composer. Ms Lowe studied to become a barrister at King's Inn.

Frank McNamara and Theresa Lowe pictured in 1993
Frank McNamara and Theresa Lowe pictured in 1993

They are back in the limelight now, but for all the wrong reasons.

When they ceased to appear on our TV screens the couple pursued other careers, ended up with huge debts and got themselves into serious financial difficulties when they were not able to repay them.

Along the way the couple bought investment properties, while Mr McNamara unsuccessfully tried to become a Progressive Democrats TD.

The debts ended up at around €3.7m in total.

The property bubble bursting and the inability of Mr McNamara to get paid royalties he was owed for musical compositions put paid to their ability to repay their debts.

Court hearings have been told he was owed around €1m in royalties at one stage.

Their main asset is their four-bedroom home in Dunshaughlin, Co Meath.

The couple say the house is worth around half-a-million euro, but owe almost €2.3m on it.

According to the written judgment issued by Mr Justice Denis McDonald yesterday, the couple first found themselves unable to meet their repayments in the early 2000s.

They remortgaged properties and sold others in an attempt to escape what they saw as temporary financial difficulties.

But the debts piled up. The couple, who have two dependant children, also owe €550,000 to Bank of Ireland.

Money owed to Belvedere College, Permanent TSB, Cabot Financial, First Citizen and the Revenue Commissioners is also outlined in court documents.

The mortgage on the couple's home was part of a tranche of loans sold by Bank of Scotland (Ireland) in 2014. Mr McNamara (59) and Ms Lowe (56) had a poor repayment history, so a vulture fund like Tanager was not willing to accept such a situation.

Tanager ended up getting a possession order for the home.

To avoid losing their home the couple applied for a personal insolvency arrangement (PIA), a formal debt write-off deal that has to be approved by the courts. With a successfully PIA the family home is usually retained.

The PIA was drawn up by personal insolvency practitioner James Green of McCambridge Duffy.

But Tanager was having none of it. It held the largest proportion of the McNamara-Lowe debt with a €2.3m mortgage on the family home. It voted down the PIA proposal put together by Mr Green.

This prompted the couple to use the High Court to enforce the PIA deal.

Tanager opposed this, but yesterday Mr Justice McDonald sided with the couple.

What appears to be an incredible deal will see €2.9m in debts written off, based on the couple's earning capacity and the value of the home.

The judge agreed with the arguments put forward by barrister Keith Farry that the mortgage on the family home should be written down, subject to clarifications being provided regarding an inheritance.

The couple will hand over €210,000 from an inheritance and a pension.

The judge said it "is a very significant write-down in absolute terms" but was justified on the basis of the current value of the home and current earnings of the couple.

The judge said Tanager would "not be unfairly prejudiced by the proposals".

The alternative was bankruptcy. In that scenario Tanager would have received 22c in the euro. With the PIA it will get back 27c in the euro, the judge calculated.

Irish Independent

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