Saturday 18 November 2017

Gay Byrne in 'bitter' legal battle over Dublin investment property

Broadcaster Gay Byrne Photo: Colin O'Riordan
Broadcaster Gay Byrne Photo: Colin O'Riordan

Aodhan O'Faolain

A business partnership involving broadcaster Gay Byrne is locked in a bitter legal battle to prevent an “aggressive” fund selling the partnership's €13.5m investment property in central Dublin.

Rossa Fanning SC, for the Firstwood Partnership, told the Commercial Court on Friday the Launceston fund had "contrived" a default last year on a fully-performing 20-year loan made to the partnership in 2000 to buy a block of offices , retail units and car park at St Andrew’s Lane.

His clients, including the “best-known broadcaster in the country”, are not professional investors, counsel said.

They are professional people aged between 60 and 80 who got involved in this investment in 2000, funded via a loan from Anglo Irish Bank due to expire in 2020. 

The partnership comprises Gay Byrne, senior counsel Anthony Kidney, two solicitors - Eric Brunker, now retired, and Stephen Hamilton – and Dermot Murphy of Clonskeagh Motors.  

This fund, having bought “bundles of loans” at a discount, tries to make “a quick profit” by either identifying default or enforcing security, Mr Fanning said. That might make “good business” for them but the court should not permit it at the expense of his clients’ entitlements. 

The fund acquired the partnership’s loan from State-owned IBRC in 2014 for an undisclosed sum and about €6.7m is outstanding on the loan, due to expire in 2020, counsel said.

The fund was not at risk of not getting its money as the annual rental income is some €920,000 and the “high-quality” property was valued at €13.5m in 2014, with no suggestion of a “cataclysmic” fall in commercial property values in Dublin since.

There was no default here because his clients had not fallen behind on payments agreed under an amortisation schedule with Anglo and the fund “contrived” the alleged default, he said.

Firstwood’s proceedings are against Launceston Property Finance and a receiver appointed by it over the property,  Stephen Tennant of Grant Thornton. Interim orders were granted in October 2016 and later efforts to settle the dispute in mediation failed.

On Friday, Mr Fanning asked Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy for injunctions , pending a full hearing later, restraining the receiver dealing with the property.

His clients want to continue to receive rent from the property to meet tax and other liabilities and make loan repayments as agreed with Anglo.

Opposing the application, Declan McGrath SC, for the fund, said this property was essentially bought as a pension investment and this case appeared to be about the investors not wishing to be forced to sell it three years earlier than they wished. 

The reality was rent paid to the receiver would merely be used to reduce the borrowings of the partnership, he said.

The court was effectively being asked to “rewrite” the loan documents and to find the “sophisticated” commercial agreements made by the borrowers and lenders do not mean what they say, he said. 

Asked by the judge what about the course of dealings between Anglo and the borrowers before the fund bought this loan, counsel said that did not advance the plaintiffs case.

He said the loan agreements clearly provided all rent monies must be paid to the bank to meet interest and principal payments.

While the fund could not dispute Anglo knew, following the financial crash, not all the rental income was going towards interest and principal repayments, such knowledge did not amount to a formal agreement to vary the original agreements, counsel said.

The issue was not whether Anglo considered the loan in default but whether it was legally in default, he said. “It is in default.” 

After the hearing concluded on Friday, the judge said she hopes to rule next week.

Online Editors

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News