Wednesday 22 January 2020

Jerome Reilly: Developer describes 'life in hell' as AIB seeks €17.4m

Debt is a cancer that is eating away at Tom Darcy's health and his happiness, writes Jerome Reilly

Tom Darcy doesn't want sympathy -- nor does he think he will get it from a public now deeply cynical about property developers. He and his wife Antoinette owe AIB -- and by extension, the taxpayer -- €17.4m.

The Darcys shot for the stars. They wanted to be the next big thing in the property market, building some of the largest one-off homes in the smart enclaves of Dublin's northside riviera. But they have crashed and burned.

Now, after exhausting their remaining resources paying €200,000 on legal fees, they can no longer afford a solicitor or barrister and are defending themselves against the bank.

It's not working. Last week the Darcys made their 14th trip to the courts to hear Mr Justice Brian McGovern give AIB a possession order for four of their properties.

The Darcys gambled and lost and they must pay a price, many will say. Yet it is hard not to feel some empathy with a couple who worked their socks off to make a business work but are now at the point of losing everything they have put together in a 31-year marriage.

Fighting for the family home and the business they built has been a life-destroying enterprise. It has left the once ebullient Tom Darcy fighting against depressive illness. They haven't had a decent night's sleep in four years.

And every morning the sound of yet another legal letter dropping into the hallway is dreaded.

"We have absolutely no life. Originally, when we moved in here -- Myra Wood in Malahide -- after our family home, Woodview in Grey's Lane in Howth, was destroyed by fire, we had creditors calling to the door. The banks had closed off the accounts. There was nothing we could do.

"We owed the money but we had no access to it. It got to a stage where we were living in fear because you owed so many people money and you were dealing with the embarrassment and indignation of not paying what you owed," says Tom.

"I've met people who have walked past me and didn't realise it was me; I've lost two-and-a-half stone already, my hair is completely grey and I probably look 60, not heading on 50.

"It has had a detrimental affect to our relationship. I met my wife when she was 14 and married her when she was 16. We're married 31 years on April 30. What we have to look forward to now is being evicted, so obviously it has destroyed, absolutely destroyed our relationship.

"We are together, yes, but obviously we are enduring immense pressure. We call it 'our living hell'. For the last four years we've lived in hell."

Last week the High Court heard that Tom Darcy had borrowed money to build designer family houses of between 4,500 and 8,500sq ft.

The court also heard that Mrs Darcy, a qualified and highly regarded interior decorator, had signed documents but was not a property developer. Mr Justice McGovern described the properties as "huge by any standard".

Mr Darcy said he was seeking the case to be adjourned because he and his wife want to challenge a €17.4m summary judgement against them.

Counsel for AIB pointed out that Mr Darcy had only filed documents to contest the judgement last week, even though it was made in February 2011.

Mr Justice McGovern asked if the €17.4m judgement had come as a shock. Mr Darcy said that he did not care as he had lost three members of his family and was on medication for depression. He disputed that he owed any money and accused the bank of reckless lending.

In his affidavit, he alleged that AIB failed to exercise due diligence and skill and had failed to adhere to established banking rules and guidelines. Mr Darcy also claimed that the bank "comprehensively vacated" its duty of care to both him and his wife.

He alleged also that the bank took actions contrary to the Financial Regulator guidelines of 2006.

In essence, Mr Darcy's case is that the bank should never have given him the money in the first place.

Among the properties ordered for repossession was Woodview, a house at Grey's Lane, Howth which the couple had spent €200,000 rebuilding with unlawfully built glass-atrium-style additions.

The court heard that Woodview had subsequently been substantially damaged in a fire and the couple had moved into the Myra Manor home. Woodview is being rebuilt pending the release of funds from an insurance payout.

Mr Justice McGovern said: "When people took risks, they had to accept the consequences when circumstances changed -- and sadly they have."

Two days after the judge made his ruling, the Darcys received another letter to inform them that following the High Court decision, AIB was now seeking the money that had been paid by an insurance company on a claim made after the fire which destroyed the family home -- monies to be used to reinstate Woodview, which remains a shell.

"I have three things to do. I have to appeal to the Supreme Court and then seek a stay of execution for the possession order. I have already lodged a notice of motion to set aside to judgements by the AIB which I listed in my first affidavit in relation to the recklessness of the banks at the time," he said.

Mr Darcy knows that he lost precious time because he was in no fit state to think about the legal challenges following the the death of his two brothers, both from heart attacks. He says their deaths knocked him for six.

"We all seem to go at 50 and I'm 50 in August and my mother passed away as well last year, so that was obviously another big blow,"

Nevertheless, he is determined to fight on for himself, Antoinette and their three children in an attempt to save the family home.

"I don't want sympathy but I do need help, if some lawyer is willing to help," he says.

He has set up an email:

Sunday Independent

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