The High Court has ordered the arrest of three siblings who have refused to comply with a court order to leave their family home after possession was granted to a bank.
Michael Anthony, David and Geraldine McGann were evicted from the farmhouse at Falsk, near Strokestown, Co Roscommon, in controversial circumstances in December 2018. But after an attack by masked vigilantes drove security guards from the farm, the three reoccupied it and have remained there since.
Yesterday, following an application from KBC Bank, Ms Justice Leonie Reynolds ordered that gardaí arrest them and bring them to court to explain why they had defied a court order restraining them from trespassing.
The bank was previously granted possession of the house and farm due to debts of €430,000 owed by Michael Anthony McGann. Rossa Fanning SC said the bank's application for the attachment and committal of the McGanns was being made "with enormous reluctance".
He said it was a matter of "absolute last resort in circumstances where the defendants had singularly refused to comply with the order". The court was told a letter had been sent to the bank, purportedly signed by Michael Anthony and Geraldine McGann and bearing fingerprints in ink.
Mr Fanning said it was a difficult letter to understand and made reference to the "living men and women of the house of McGann". The barrister said it contained a claim the bank had committed "serious torts" against the McGanns and would hear from them at a later date to quantify their losses, injuries and damages.
They did not appear in court and they were not legally represented. A number of their supporters were present.
Mr Fanning said one of them, former garda Kevin Taylor, had handed a document to lawyers for the bank before the hearing. The document was handed into the judge by solicitors for the bank. Mr Taylor left the court when the document was raised by Mr Fanning and declined to return when the judge inquired if he wanted to be heard.
Mr Fanning said Mr Taylor appeared to attend hearings "perhaps as the eyes and ears" of the McGanns, while they themselves elected not to come to court. Granting the bank's motion, Ms Justice Reynolds said the McGanns had been given every opportunity to comply with the order made last October.
She adjourned the proceedings for three weeks, but said the court would deal with the matter if the siblings were brought before it sooner. At an earlier hearing, the bank argued the rule of law was at stake in the case.
The eviction in December 2018 gave rise to the vigilante attack, a lawful protest in Strokestown and a number of arson attacks on KBC Bank branches. The attack left three men hospitalised and several vehicles were set alight.
A dog also had to be put down. There is no suggestion the family had any involvement in the vigilante attack or any of the arson attacks that followed. However, the order for their arrest could give rise to further protest, as they retain a large amount of support, particularly among anti-repossession groups.
Around 50 people, including local supporters and members of anti-repossession groups Anti-Corruption Taskforce, the National Land League and the Common Law Information Centre gathered in Falsk last November when the deadline for complying with the anti-trespass order passed.
KBC and its predecessor IIB Homeloans began pursuing possession of the home and farm in 2008 following the failure of Michael Anthony McGann to pay his mortgage.
His debt to KBC of €430,000 includes €190,000 in arrears.