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McFeely tried to save his skin, not Ireland

The former IRA hunger striker and Priory Hall developer only thought of money and himself, writes Julia Molony

Sometimes all it takes is a little financial squeeze to turn a self-styled freedom fighter into a hypocrite. Just ask Tom McFeely. Once an IRA hunger striker, he's now a bankrupt developer and, in an astounding volte-face, has this week been waving his British passport and pleading for mercy in a UK court.

"I am not a citizen of the Republic of Ireland," he told the court in no uncertain terms. Striking words from an ex-IRA man, no? Perhaps, but it makes more sense when you consider that under stringent Irish bankruptcy laws it takes 12 years to be granted a discharge. In the UK, however, it's just one year.

"As a British citizen," he went on, "I have always objected to being forced into bankruptcy in a foreign jurisdiction purely on the basis that I have a judgement liability in that state."

You might remember Tom McFeely as the property developer behind the scandal of Priory Hall, the now vacant development in north Dublin.

Though not technically a citizen of Ireland, as he likes to remind us, that didn't stop him rapaciously pursuing his business interests here in the flush days.

He threw up a block of flats without bothering with regulation fire-proofing and sold them off at top dollar at the height of the boom.

McFeely had arrived in Dublin at the end of the Eighties having been released from the Maze (he served 12 years for the attempted murder of an RUC officer during a gun battle) with just a couple of hundred quid in his pocket. But he started working in construction and grew an empire of sorts from there.

It was going well for him for a while, he had several developments around the country and he moved his family into a palatial home on Ailesbury Road. He's also reported to own a hotel and a holiday home in the Algarve.

Meanwhile, the Priory Hall residents were struggling with flooding and structural problems. Eventually, after lengthy investigations and appeals, the 249 residents -- many of them families with young children -- were told their homes were unfit for habitation, issued with an evacuation notice and given 24 hours to pack up their belongings and move into hotels.

Walking into Priory Hall, where water tide-marks scar the walls, and the flats now lie empty, is a shock. It looks like a monument to the kind of unregulated building and crooked profiteering that might be allowed to happen under a corrupt government in a developing country. But it happened here, under the noses of Dublin City Council, and the directions of an unscrupulous developer.

In the aftermath of the case, which turned the lives of the residents upside down, leaving them homeless, McFeeley was fined €3,000 and given a six-month suspended sentence. In January of this year, he was declared bankrupt. According to Theresa McGuinness, the Priory Hall resident who has been pursuing him in the courts, he responded by moving swiftly to the UK and declaring bankruptcy there.

Speak to the residents of Priory Hall and most will tell you this added insult to injury. The man in charge had disappeared and they were left floundering without any sense of recourse or justice. Many of them are still paying mortgages on now worthless homes. Understandably, they would like to see the man responsible for what happened in jail. If that can't happen, then financial censure would be the next best thing.

Luckily, the British courts provided cold comfort for McFeely. Though before the judge overturned his appeal out of hand, he must have been feeling pretty grateful that the united Ireland he'd been fighting for during that gun battle that landed him in jail hadn't actually come to pass.

If it had, there would be no running to Britain hoping for leniency because he'd blotted his copy book at home. And no sense at all in running for cover among his former colonial masters.

He was once a hunger striker, but he's now a cautionary lesson in the danger of claiming the high moral ground on any issue. You never know when self-interest is going to kick in and those ideals you once held fast to might turn around and bite you. In this case, McFeeley's political allegiances seem to have buckled under the force of his own greed.

Viewed in the kindest possible light, one could possibly imagine that McFeeley has long since had a change of heart. Perhaps age, experience and wisdom got to him. Perhaps he renounced his past and embraced British citizenship in a spirit of reconciliation. Maybe it's just unfortunate timing that the moment he decided to declare this publicly coincided with the moment in which he was also up against the wall financially and looking for the easiest way out.

It seems unlikely, though, doesn't it? It looks more suspiciously like breathtaking hypocrisy. McFeeley used to be a patriot, apparently. Yet in his handling of Priory Hall, he sold his fellow countrymen down the river to make a buck. And when it all came back to bite him, he turned to his former enemy to save his skin.

Sunday Independent