Republican News · Thursday 10 August 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Galway man wins legal battle but still faces eviction

BY ROISIN DE ROSA

On Shop Street, Galway's main pedestrianised thoroughfare, teaming with cosmopolitan city life, there is a little corner house, on a patch of land measuring 18 foot by 7 foot. The house is at least 250 years old. It has little tables outside and large umbrellas for the rain. This is ``Thimble Castle''. It's become a very small take-away.

Small as it may be, there is a family of English landlords who are threatening to take the shop away. The Mullins family, who have lived and worked in this shop over the past 100 years, are facing eviction by the landlord, one Isobel Davis, who claims ownership and the right to evict the Mullins's.

Back in 1739, Galway Corporation agreed to grant a lease on this little plot of land to the sheriff, one Simon Trulock, no doubt in return for some unrecorded favours he had rendered as sheriff, or later, as coroner and burgess of the city. The rent was one shilling a year. History does not record how this lease turned into a freehold, if it did, and Trulock built a little house on the land.

A century and a half later, in 1874, Brigade Surgeon Colonel John Norman Davis's father bought some title to the premises for the sum of 88, which was added to the considerable Davis Estate of some 42 properties in Galway and county.

In 1894, the grandfather of Michael Mullins, who now runs the take-away family business, took a lease on the property for 19 per annum, from which he ran a butcher's shop and reared a family of six children. By 1899, the close of the last century, the Mullins family had paid more in rent than the Davis family had paid when they first bought the property. Nevertheless, the Mullins went on paying their rent of 19 per annum to the Davis Estate.

Letter to quit

In 1978, the Mullins received a letter from solicitors, acting on behalf of Wing Commander Davis, the Surgeon's nephew, suggesting that the rent payable should henceforth be 1,300 per annum, a 7000 per cent increase. On 1 January the following year, when Michael's father, aged 74, was lying sick in his bed, a notice to quit was summarily delivered to his mother by auctioneer Andrew Roche. He was acting on behalf of a firm of solicitors, Blake and Kenny, of which the present Minister of Housing, Bobby Molloy's brother is the principal.

``Imagine how it must have been for them,'' Michael Mullins says. ``Neither my mother nor father had gone beyond fourth class in school. My father was very sick. My mother was terrified. They had three months to quit.'' The notice to quit was of course an encouragement to accept the 35-year lease offered at the new rent.

They did nothing, and the eviction never came, because by that time the Landlord and Tenants Acts of 1978 had been passed, giving rights to tenants to buy out the properties. There was therefore doubt over the legality of the notice to quit.

Bad advice

Neither Michael Mullins' father, William, nor his wife, Rita, knew any of this. The family sought advice from solicitors Sands and Brophy, who sought barrister's opinion from no less a fry than Seamus Egan, later a Supreme Court judge, and a Galway-based barrister, Conor Fahy. They concurred in recommending that Mullins should accept the offer of a 35-year lease from the Davis estate.

Michael Mullins, who took over the shop in 1983, began to realise that this had been bad advice and in fact meant that in accepting the lease from the Davis Estate, he had foregone his opportunity to acquire the leasehold. At the time, he could have bought the fee simple, Michael says, for under 300, 12 times the annual rent of 19 which he had been paying. ``They never told me it was a ground rent the family was paying, nor did they tell me that with a 99-year lease, I had the right to buy it out.''

Michael Mullins looked for a firm of solicitors who would take High Court proceedings against solicitors Sands and Brophy and the barrister Fahy, who had proffered this mistaken advice. But, as is well known in any case where professionals are invited to challenge fellow professionals, they were hard to find.

Advertisement for a solicitor

Finally, an advertisement in the Irish Times, which said ``Solicitor wanted. Courage essential. Money no object'' brought some 90 replies, though it remains unclear whether it was courage or expenses which was the attraction. Michael Mullins selected Ray Gilmartin from Kirby and Gilmartin, and away they went with a plenary summons in 1992, against Solicitors Sands and Brophy, and Barrister Fahy.

Finally ,the case came to the Four Courts last June, listed to be heard before Judge Peter Kelly, who has a the reputation of being judge who doesn't suffer fools, bureaucrats or incompetents kindly.

The defendants spared themselves the publicity and settled the very morning out of court with a payment of 75,000 damages to Michael Mullins, split between both defendants. ``It was a great victory, against all the odds,'' says Mullins. ``But above all the result shows that I am a fighter and will stand my ground. I won't concede to the injustice of all of this.''

Davis Estate carries on

Immediately after the case, Bobby Molloy's brother, Michael Molloy, ``specifically divested himself of the Davis Estate so far as Michael Mullins is concerned'', and handed the file to a firm of Dublin solicitors. Nevertheless, he continues to deal with the rest of the Davis Estate, which is still dealing in several properties in Galway and is hoping to realise substantial sums on what remains of the estate, including a property up the road from Trimble Castle on sale for around one quarter of a million pounds.

``It's the Dáil I blame for this,'' says Michael. ``They took over the republic for which men had given their lives, and yet they have done nothing to end this usury by absentee landlords, selling property over the heads of those who have lived there for years. What was the republic for if it was not to stop this injustice, and all the suffering that it brings?

``My parents endured years of hardship rearing us children. It wasn't easy. Yet they struggled to pay the rent, and now after all these years, Isobel Davis wants to evict us. It is a disgraceful situation. It's time the government brought it to an end. One thing is sure. I'll not be moving out of here.''

BY ROISIN DE ROSA


Contents Page for this Issue
Reply to: Republican News