Businessman and restaurateur admits to ‘lots of mistakes’ in career, but says he is far from finished
Publican and restaurateur Jay Bourke will attempt to make a deal with the Revenue Commissioners to avoid being adjudicated bankrupt.
In a candid interview with the Indo Daily podcast, the businessman admitted he was in “a pretty difficult situation” having made “lots of mistakes”.
But he told presenter Denise Calnan he was far from done with business and would attempt to pay Revenue, which petitioned for his bankruptcy in January over a debt of €558,000.
The sum is just a small part of the €13.7m the High Court has heard Mr Bourke owes to various creditors.
But the 56-year-old, who at one stage had pub and restaurant interests employing more than 1,000 people, said he was disputing his biggest debt, of €12.2m.
This is said to stem from his involvement in Bellinter House, the Co Meath hotel he co-owned with the late music promoter John Reynolds.
Mr Bourke claimed the debt had already been settled, but it was still being pursued by vulture fund Goldman Sachs, which he described as a “bloodsucking squid”.
He is one of the best-known figures on Dublin’s nightlife scene.
Over the years, his interests have included Rí Rá nightclub, The Globe bar, the Front Lounge, Eden restaurant and Cafe Bar Deli.
He also spread his wings outside the capital and was involved in the Bodega bar and the Savoy in Cork and the Garavogue bar in Sligo.
But much of the past decade has been a struggle.
He got into difficulty with Revenue when he tried to offset a capital gains tax liability of around €500,000 from the sale of the Bodega against the substantial loss in value of Bellinter House.
This was opposed and he lost appeals at the Tax Appeals Commission and the Circuit Court.
Other debts related to small bank loans he was unable to pay off or from personal guarantees he could not honour following the financial crash in 2009.
To compound matters, he was disqualified from acting as a company director for seven years in 2017 after it was discovered the company behind his Shebeen Chic pub in Dublin had continued to trade while insolvent.
One possible solution to his financial problems was taken off the table earlier this week when the High Court dismissed his application for a personal insolvency arrangement, which would have wiped out the vast majority of his debts and ensured he kept his €1.4m family home in Rathmines.
The arrangement was no longer viable after a key part of the proposal fell through.
It had been proposed that between €570,000 and €750,000 would be repaid from a return on an investment Mr Bourke has in insurance brokerage XS Direct, which he expected to be floated on the stock market.
However, the plan was scuppered when receivers were appointed to the brokerage in February.
Mr Bourke told the podcast there were many things that he would, in hindsight, have done differently.
“You make the decisions you make based on the best information you have,” he said.
“You can be wrong, you can have wrong information, you can make a mistake. I’ve been in business a long time now and I’ve made lots of mistakes. You should reflect on them and think about them.”
The businessman said he had no intention of fighting the Revenue debt any further.
“So, I’m going to make an attempt to pay it and do a deal with the Revenue and that will be that,” he said.
If he can do so, it would stave off a Revenue bankruptcy petition that was stayed pending the outcome of the personal insolvency arrangement application.
He does plan, however, to fight the Bellinter House debt, which originated from loans advanced by Bank of Scotland.
Mr Bourke said the debt was taken over by Goldman Sachs and was settled for €3m.
“Everyone got a letter of full and final settlement except me. And I would argue that, in fact, it is a settled debt and I will be arguing that in court and I do expect to prevail,” he said.
Mr Bourke faces an uphill battle, though, given he accepted he owed the money in his personal insolvency arrangement application.
He spoke of the stress associated with being pursued.
“They also sued John Reynolds, who has unfortunately passed away, and they sued Hugh O’Regan, who unfortunately passed away,” he said.
“So, the consequences of these giant vultures chasing people’s estates, chasing people like me, they really are quite consequential. It’s incredibly sad.”
Mr Bourke described the situation he was in as “incredibly unpleasant”.
“I worked very hard for a long time and at the end of my 55th year or 56th year I find myself in a pretty difficult situation,” he said.
He was, however, keen to put his problems in context.
“We are not fleeing our homes. Millions and millions of poor Ukrainians have lost all their possessions and their homeland and their culture and are scared to death. That certainly hasn’t happened to me,” he said.
“But I certainly don’t enjoy it and I certainly don’t enjoy the untruth that the Bellinter debt is not a settled debt. It is a settled debt and I will be proving that in the High Court in due course.”
Asked if he had regrets, Mr Bourke said there was no businessman who did not.
“Well, I suppose I wish I’d shorted the banks,” he said. “We decided to sell a lot of property in 2006, 2007 and 2008 because we thought the economy was really overcooked.
“But we thought the banks wouldn’t go bust and they did. So there was no banking system at all. In fact, Ireland nearly went bust.
“I knew it was going to be severe, but not that severe. So, I suppose I would have acted differently if I really thought how bad it was going to be.”
In the interview, he made it clear he is far from done.
“I think, as long as you have your health and your mental health and you’re able to work and you can use the experience you have and perhaps work with some other people that bring new experiences,” he said.
“You get to my age and you wonder, what do young people want? My children are 25 and 30. When I had my first business, I was 21. So I had a better idea of what 21-year-olds wanted. How do I know now?
“I like people. I like working with people. I still love architecture, I love buildings, I love the process of building. So, I hope to be doing lots more things before I’m done.
“I consider myself lucky. So many of my friends and business colleagues ended their lives from the pressures of business and the vagaries of what goes on.”