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Gorse Hill mansion still 'home' for now as O'Donnells await decision

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Brian O'Donnell with two of his children, Blake (centre) and Alexandra, leaving the Four Courts yesterday after judgment was reserved following a High Court hearing. Picture: Courts Collins

Brian O'Donnell with two of his children, Blake (centre) and Alexandra, leaving the Four Courts yesterday after judgment was reserved following a High Court hearing. Picture: Courts Collins

Brian O'Donnell with two of his children, Blake (centre) and Alexandra, leaving the Four Courts yesterday after judgment was reserved following a High Court hearing. Picture: Courts Collins

Brian O'Donnell with two of his children, Blake (centre) and Alexandra, leaving the Four Courts yesterday after judgment was reserved following a High Court hearing. Picture: Courts Collins

Brian O'Donnell pulled a Latin phrase from the annals of his legal training. "Nemo judex in parte sua," he said, smoothly and fluently, before translating it for those of lesser knowledge: "A judge should not be a judge in his own cause."

"In our own case, we say so because of family interests of yours where your wife sued Kavanagh Fennell," he informed Mr Justice Brian McGovern, referring to the firm of receivers appointed by the Bank of Ireland.

The judge looked up at once and could not but interrupt the flow of Mr O'Donnell's submission.

"Sorry, my wife never sued Kavanagh Fennell," he said.

It was a somewhat startling beginning to Mr O'Donnell's High Court challenge to the trespass order which the bank has taken against Mr O'Donnell and his wife, Mary Patricia.

He spoke in copious volumes and for much of the day.

The clock stood at ten to four when Cian Ferriter, for the bank and receiver, finally rose and managed to answer most of Mr O'Donnell's "big points", as he described them, within the last 10 minutes.

The solicitor-turned-property-developer once held all the cards on a €1.1bn monopoly board which spanned the US, London, France, Sweden and a total of 11 properties in Ireland, including a house on Merrion Square and a carpark.

Another acquisition had been Gortdrishagh - an old landed estate in Oughterard, Co Galway.

"A very nice place on the lake in Lough Corrib," as Mr O'Donnell yesterday observed, still with a shade of pride.

And then there was Gorse Hill.

Though owned by Vico Ltd, a company held by his children, he claimed he and his wife have had a right of residency there since 2000.

"That's over 15 years," he emphasised.

His accent had unmistakeable British undertones and Mr Ferriter pointed out that he had told "every court here and in the UK" that his main home is now in Surrey.

Referring to his bankruptcy hearing in London in 2012, Mr O'Donnell said: "At that time, we were very fortunate to have very large companies with very large assets."

The bank's "main thrust" back then was that the couple should return to Ireland, Mr O'Donnell contended.

"Why don't you go back to Ireland; why don't you live rent-free; why don't you exercise your right of residence ... we know the situation at Gorse Hill," he claimed they had said.

That wasn't quite as Mr Ferriter viewed it.

And he vividly depicted a picture of Mr O'Donnell "perched in a castle tower behind walls" and sending his mercenary "gallowglasses" from the self-styled New Land League out to be a "mouthpiece" on his behalf.

"Mr Davitt must be turning in his grave," he said, in a reference to the original 19th-century body that had fought for security of tenant farmers.

And he suggested that there would be "no prejudice" against Mr and Mrs O'Donnell because "they can get back on the plane that they came over on at the weekend and return to their permanent home".

With the judge reserving his decision, Gorse Hill with its two swimming pools, stone lions and fancy gravel is still home for the O'Donnells - for now.

A seasoned legal observer believed a decision will be made within a week.

After the hearing, Jerry Beades of the New Land League orchestrated proceedings, arranging for Mr O'Donnell to pose for photographs.

Mr O'Donnell was concerned for the privacy of his children, he explained.

He arrived back at Gorse Hill shortly after 6.40pm and waved briefly to members of the press.

And then in a most unfortunate continuation of the drama, as he drove towards the gates New Land League member John Martin called out: 'Go back. That's my foot'. Later he said it went "very close" but "no damage was done to my foot at all".

Irish Independent