| 11.9°C Dublin

The auctioneer and the OAP


TYNTE HOUSE: James McEvoy, son of Colm, paid €12m for the house along with 145 acres of land in Dunlavin, Co Wicklow

TYNTE HOUSE: James McEvoy, son of Colm, paid €12m for the house along with 145 acres of land in Dunlavin, Co Wicklow

TYNTE HOUSE: James McEvoy, son of Colm, paid €12m for the house along with 145 acres of land in Dunlavin, Co Wicklow

Today, let me tell you the tale of an auctioneer and an elderly lady.

It has a sad beginning, but a happy ending.

Colm McEvoy is a mega-rich auctioneer from Kildare. He is an establishment figure. Colm is even a member of the Irish Auctioneers and Valuers Institute, the regulator which looks down its nose at others in the same racket.

So McEvoy is an industry insider.

Back in 1996, the elderly lady, Mary Maher, of Naas, Co Kildare, wanted to sell a piece of land to secure a nest egg for her old age.

She asked Colm, the local auctioneer, to value it.

Colm obliged. According to evidence in the High Court last week he valued it at £110,000. It was claimed in open court that the land was worth three times as much.

Unfortunately for Mary, Colm sold it for £110,000.

It was alleged in court that Colm sold the land to a company with which he was connected. Shorthand for an auctioneer selling property to himself.

What an allegation.

Worse still, it was further alleged that he failed to tell poor Mary of his connection with the buying company, Westland Properties.

What an allegation.

Daily Digest Newsletter

Get ahead of the day with the morning headlines at 7.30am and Fionnán Sheahan's exclusive take on the day's news every afternoon, with our free daily newsletter.

This field is required

Westland Properties is listed as being owned by James and Mildred McEvoy. Last week Colm told me that he was the "James" in question, not his son James. His own full name is James Colm McEvoy.

All sorts of other allegations were made against Colm McEvoy. Including suggestions that he had misadvised Mary about the development potential, the current zoning and the likely density levels applying to her land. He denies them.

Whatever the truth of the allegations, for some reason, Colm made a secret settlement with Mary. The details only emerged because he failed to honour the agreed payments on time.

Mary's successors took Colm to court to enforce payment. Last week the lid blew off the can of worms. The cover of a gagging clause exploded.

If the case had not come to court, no one would ever have known what sort of confidential payments auctioneers are making to bury odd activities of this sort.

The proceedings were sensational, revealing that Colm had secretly agreed to pay Mary €1.7m in compensation.

On Wednesday, every detail of the deal emerged into the public arena when a judge ordered Colm and his estate agency to pay over the second instalment of €857,824 to successors of the now deceased Mary Maher. A truly phenomenal sum.

Last week I spoke to Colm. He admitted that he should have told Mary that it was he who had bought her land. He confessed that the buyer, Westland Properties, was owned by his wife and himself; but he robustly defended the price.

"I paid over the odds," insisted Colm unrepentantly.

A bit peculiar that he was then prepared to fork out €1.7m in a hush-hush deal; but according to Colm the land had been profitably developed later.

Colm even offered to forward an independent valuation from Lisneys auctioneers suggesting that the land was actually worth marginally less than the £110,000 which he paid for it. Suddenly he, and not Mary Maher, was the victim!

The valuation from Lisneys was apparently dated 2004 and was full of the familiar nonsense about how land values were much lower in 1996. Lisneys are fellow members of the IAVI.

"Lisneys are top of the pops," insisted Colm enthusiastically.

No doubt he is equally enthusiastic about their gentle regulator, the IAVI.

According to IAVI boss Robert Ganly, the institute has been aware of the McEvoy problem for three-and-a-half years.

The complainant's solicitor had informed them. And what did our toffee-nosed friends in the respectable wing of the auctioneering industry do to investigate?

You guessed it. Nothing.

Ganly maintains that the IAVI disciplinary boys decided on legal advice and with the agreement of the complainant's solicitor, to wait until an earlier threat of court proceedings was resolved.

Amazingly, they were never told that the issue had been settled behind closed doors. The next time they heard anything about it was, apparently, last week when it hit the courts.

In the meantime, they did nothing. They must never have even made an enquiry.

What a cop-out. It is the Institute which should be in the dock.

No wonder the IAVI is about to be stripped of its powers in the Auctioneers Bill.

Mr McEvoy told me that he never passed a single exam to become a member of the "Institute". Ditto his licence.

Not his fault. Just further evidence that anyone can become an auctioneer and that membership of the IAVI offers laughable comfort to the buying public.

Ganly told me the IAVI will now investigate the case!! Three-and-a-half years too late.

Mr McEvoy has been happily buying and selling land in the intervening period.

He now faces an IAVI investigation. What a threat. The IAVI has the most comical disciplinary structure ever boasted by a self-regulating body for underqualified clowns.

The composition of its disciplinary committee verges on the farcical. It is self-regulation at its worst.It has 11 members. A majority, seven, including the chair, must be from its own "National Council", all auctioneers. It must then approve three other members chosen from all the usual suspects.

Reliable old insitutions have been hauled in to make up the numbers. These include -- God help us -- IBEC, the Law Society of Michael Lynn and Thomas Byrne fame, the clubby Bar Council and even worse, the Institute of Chartered Accountants, which has lost most of its regulatory powers due to its own flaws.

As an additional obvious sop, a couple of consumer groups are thrown into the mix, but happily the president of the IAVI may veto any of them if he decides they are not suitable!

It took the courts, not the IAVI, to deliver posthumous justice to Mary Maher.

The verdict should have hurt Colm McEvoy. Maybe, but in a strange twist last week it emerged that the McEvoy family is as rich as Croesus.

James McEvoy,untainted by the massive payout, son of Colm and a key figure in McEvoys auctioneers Newbridge Office, has just bought a beautiful pad -- Tynte Park in Dunlavin, Co Wicklow -- for one of the highest prices paid so far this year.

Mr McEvoy forked out a cool €12m for the mansion on 145 acres of land near Dunlavin, Co Wicklow. Let us hope that he did not ask his father to advise him on the zoning.

Mary Maher could have warned him against that.