Wednesday 16 October 2019

McKillen family formidable in business and courtroom


Fighter: Paddy McKillen set up an empire. Photo: PA
Fighter: Paddy McKillen set up an empire. Photo: PA
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Anyone who knows even the slightest bit about the Irish business scene knows the McKillens are not the sort of people who are easily pushed around.

Belfast-born Paddy McKillen Snr built up an empire of commercial buildings, shopping centres and stores in the 1980s before setting his sights farther afield and growing an international property portfolio stretching from London to Tokyo.

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He is considered hard-working and a tough negotiator, but with a low-key approach which for many years kept him out of the media spotlight. So much so that when he did hit the headlines as a result of a number of high-stakes legal battles, news outlets initially struggled to source a recent photograph of him.

Mr McKillen Snr faced down Nama in a landmark Supreme Court case in 2011 to prevent some €2.1bn in performing loans to companies he was associated with being transferred to the toxic loans agency.

Then came a bitter battle with the billionaire Barclay brothers, Frederick and David, when they attempted a hostile takeover of the Maybourne Hotel Group in London, where Mr McKillen had a substantial stake.

After 11 court actions in the UK, the Barclays abandoned their takeover bid and sold out to Qatari investors allied to Mr McKillen Snr in 2015.

By the signs of things, his son, Paddy McKillen Jnr, is a chip off the old block. He is just as low-key as his father and in recent years he and his business partner Matt Ryan's hospitality group, Press Up Entertainment, has become a considerable force.

It now has more than 40 businesses and employs around 1,500 in Ireland.

One of these is a company called Holtend Limited, which hit the headlines this week after the Irish Independent revealed it was being sued by a Fine Gael TD.

The company, which trades as the Dean Hotel, a trendy establishment on Harcourt Street, is not rolling over in the face of the lawsuit from Maria Bailey, chairperson of the Oireachtas Housing Committee and a close ally of Tánaiste Simon Coveney.

She claims the hotel is liable for injuries she suffered to her head, back and hip after falling off a swing in the corridor outside its top-floor restaurant in 2015. Ms Bailey was having her photograph taken while on a night out with friends when the fall occurred.

An aspect of the case that has provoked much comment is a claim by the Dún Laoghaire TD that the hotel was negligent because the swing was "unsupervised" and there were no signs telling patrons how to use it safely.

The case was briefly mentioned in Dublin Circuit Civil Court this week where there was a motion for discovery on consent. The hotel has filed a full defence against the TD's claims and she has to hand over medical records dating back as far as three years before the incident.

It does not deny the swing was unsupervised.

But it says any injury that may have been suffered by the TD was down to her own negligence or contributory negligence.

The hotel claims she was holding items in both hands when she was sat on the swing, restricting her ability to balance and preventing her from holding rope grips properly. The day details of the case were revealed by the Irish Independent, Senator Michael McDowell, a barrister and former justice minister, suggested in the Seanad that the Government's efforts to tackle claims culture could not be taken seriously when a Fine Gael TD is taking a case over falling off a swing.

"It does occur to me that we live in a strange world where civil liability can exist in such circumstances, but maybe we are only hearing a portion of the evidence," he said.

"It also occurs to me that if the Government is serious about driving down the claims culture, we cannot stand idly by when adults with two objects, one in each hand, lose their seat and fall off a swing and then claim that there should have been a supervisor looking after them, especially when it comes from somebody who has so much public influence and clear influence over Government policy in these matters."

Another interesting feature of the case is that the hotel offered to pay Ms Bailey's medical expenses, but when it sent her a cheque for €600, it was returned.

Ms Bailey is now suing not just for general damages, which can reach up to €60,000 in the circuit court, but also for special damages, which includes medical expenses.

The hotel is not commenting on the matter, but it is noteworthy that in an environment where many businesses resolve claims out of court to avoid potentially hefty legal bills, Mr McKillen Jnr's company is gearing up for a full court action.

Irish Independent

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