Thug John Gilligan's home could become refuge for battered women
FEARS over the massive fall in property prices may prompt a rethink over the disposal of the Jessbrook equestrian centre, which was the prize asset in crime boss John Gilligan's portfolio.
The development of the centre at Mucklon in north Kildare in 1995 and 1996 cost €1.5m and it was regarded as the biggest indoor equestrian centre in the country.
But it is likely to fetch a fraction of the cost if the Government presses ahead with its plan to put it up for sale early in the year.
Officials are now looking at a suggested plan that the centre, which is due to go for auction along with 40 acres of land, could be retained by the State and used as either a national sports arena or converted into a complex for the community.
There is growing support for the view that a state-owned centre would be a fitting memorial to journalist Veronica Guerin, whose murder in 1996 led to the introduction of the proceeds of crime legislation and the setting up of CAB.
It has also been argued that if the CAB is successful in seizing an adjoining house, currently in the name of Gilligan's wife, Geraldine, it could be retained and turned into a refuge for battered women.
The 3,000-seater arena has never been used and is completely enclosed with "the best of thermal roofing".
It is estimated that the development work included €300,000 on the seating and €400,000 on steel. It includes 38 stables and an apartment.
It would cost another €300,000 to restore it to its original condition.
The Criminal Assets Bureau took control of Jessbrook after a 16-year court battle and was finally given the go-ahead to dispose of it by the Supreme Court in November.
Jessbrook, which is located between Timahoe and the outskirts of Johnstownbridge, near the Kildare-Meath border, was then handed over by law to Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin and passed on to the Office of Public Works to finalise the appointment of an auctioneer and a date for sale.
Holding on to the centre for sporting or social usage, rather than selling it off and putting the money into the exchequer, is likely to require a minor change in current legislation.
Gilligan, who is serving 20 years for drug trafficking, is due for release from Portlaoise Prison at the end of August and the authorities are hoping that the lengthy fight through the courts over his assets will have been completed by then.
The CAB's prospects of securing the house has been given a boost by a recent key decision of the Supreme Court that it can seize the family homes of gangsters. The judgment was given in a case involving counterfeit clothes dealer John Kelly, who had been convicted of possession of cannabis for sale and supply but was acquitted on appeal.
Lawyers for his partner had argued that she and their two children should be allowed to remain in the house at The Belfry complex in Inchicore, Dublin, as they had a constitutional right to live in the family home. But the Supreme Court ruled against her.
That decision ended a case that had been fought through the courts since May 1997 when the bureau obtained a short-term freezing order against the property from the High Court.