Thursday, July 21, 2022

High Court reporters

A daughter of the late businessman Nigel O’Flaherty and her husband, who are in dispute over a loan related to their Dublin home, are allegedly seeking to involve Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty in a “smear campaign” against IBRC, it has been claimed in the High Court.

Nicola Little, daughter of Mr O’Flaherty who died in 2016, and her accountant husband Shane Little, are suing IBRC and two funds alleging that Irish Nationwide Building Society (INBS) breached a written commitment in 2004 to replace a bridging loan with a long-term loan. INBS loans were transferred to IBRC in 2011.

The original bridging loan for €2.4 million for the purchase of their home at De Vesci Terrace, Monkstown, Co Dublin. That loan was paid off in 2013.

However, they say that the failure by INBS to convert that loan to a long term home loan was in breach of repeated promises to do so, involved the charging of excessive interest and forced them to sell off a property at Marlborough in London.

Ms Little is one of five children of Nigel and Geraldine O’Flaherty. Mr O’Flaherty, who left an estate valued at €59 million, along with his brother Michael, were heirs to the Volkswagen and Mercedes franchise for Ireland.

They turned the O’Flaherty Holdings family business into an international conglomerate with business interests in Ireland, Europe and the US.

The Littles’ proceedings, against IBRC (in special liquidation), Launceston Property Finance (in liquidation) and by order of the court Pepper Finance Corporation (Ireland), to which the IBRC loan was eventually transferred, began in 2014. In 2019, the High Court made a ruling in relation to redactions by IBRC of documents sought by the couple.

Moves to bring the main case to trial continued.

On Thursday when the case was for mention, Rossa Fanning SC, for IBRC, said although the Littles, who he described as “persons of very significant means”, had served notice of trial in March 2020, the solicitors originally acting for them had now ceased doing so, and they have a new firm representing them.

However, counsel said, while the case was ready for trial the Littles have now brought an “extraordinary” application to the court seeking that certain documents be released for delivery to “the Clerk of the Dáil, or other relevant persons, including Pearse Doherty TD”.

This was a “comically inept tactic” to try to make the defendants settle in an attempt to cause a “smear campaign with Pearse Doherty”, he said.

It was unsurprising the previous solicitors came off record rather than make such an application though happily for the Littles a new firm of solicitors was happy to go along with this “remarkably strange” approach, he said.

It had nothing to do with the trial and was an effort to create public controversy in another forum, he said.

Time required

Mr Justice Charles Meenan said as it was suggested the case would take six to eight days to hear, it was a requirement of the court that such matters had to be first case managed in the hope that the time required could be reduced.

Shane Aherne BL, for the Littles, said the new solicitors began representing the couple three weeks ago and, as it was a matter which the experts will have to consider, it could take longer than six to eight days.

The judge said both the application for release of documents and case management of the main proceedings could be heard on the same day in October.

In their action, the Littles seek, among other things, damages for breach of contract, breach of duty, misrepresentation and a declaration that under the 1995 Consumer Credit Act the loan is unenforceable. Alternatively, they seek the setting off of the amount due to them in damages against any continuing liability that Mr Little may have on foot of the 2004 loan.

They say they received their first statement on the family home loan facility in December 2009 after an INBS official had “falsely and wrongly” claimed there had not been any obligation to provide long term finance.

The outstanding loan on the family home was redeemed in 2013 but there remained some €1.1m in other loans, which were called in November 2014 and which were ultimately sold to Pepper Finance.

The defendants deny the claims.

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