A media circus in south county Dublin has highlighted the efforts of Ireland’s super-rich to defy legal moves to seize their assets.
A Dublin lawyer who borrowed his way to a property portfolio worth over a billion euro, purchasing himself a [euro]30 million mansion in the process, is refusing to leave the estate.
A receiver was appointed following a failed Supreme Court appeal against repossession of the house to repay over 70 million euro in debts. To prevent repossession, Brian O’Donnell then barricaded himself into his mansion at Gorse Hill on Vico Road.
A small group of property-speculators-turned-activists who describe themselves as the “New Land League” turned up to help blockade the estate. A media scrum gathered outside the grounds, before suddenly pushing their way onto the lands.
Inveterate television broadcaster Vincent Browne who led the charge then posed for a photograph by the pool.
The bizarre spectacle took place not far from the property of O’Donnell’s rock star neighbour, Bono, which also overlooks Killiney Bay.
Although O’Donnell has been reluctant to speak to the media, the leader of the ‘New Land League’, Jerry Beades, has acted as a representative of the family.
Beades is a former member of Fianna Fail’s leadership and was a close associate of Bertie Ahern when the former Taoiseach was in politics. He has himself challenged by Ulster Bank over loans it valued at 3.5 million euros.
Their campaign is a far cry from the original Land League, which campaigned for the rights of agricultural tenants in the late 19th century.
Beades later infuriated television viewers when, on Browne’s TV show, he described the O’Donnell family home as a ‘bog standard, simplistic’ house.
“You’re ridiculous”, Browne laughingly replied. The comments were made as part of a testy exchange between the broadcaster and Beades, who was repeatedly told to “shut up” by the left-wing commentator.
But the serious issue of repossession and eviction looms underlies the half-hearted attempts to evict Ireland’s rich and famous.
Evictions remain a taboo subject as a result of the abuses of colonial landlordism, dating from the time of the Great Hunger and before. But now, thanks to profligate bank lending and property speculation, well over a hundred thousand properties are in a state of legal limbo.
About 110,000 residential mortgage accounts were classified as in arrears at the end of 2014. Mortgage holders have hoped for for a write-off of their debts, but over 1,400 properties are now listed for repossession, a number which is climbing on a daily basis.
While the evictions of Ireland’s working class families continues with little media attention, particularly for those who rent, the question of banks moving against upper- and middle-class homeowners is a much greater controversy to Ireland’s mainstream media.
Government officials are now working desperately to expand a mortgage-to-rent scheme for those in debt, to switch from owning their home to renting the home as social tenants on relatively low rent.
Participants no longer own their home or have any financial interest in it but they can remain in residence. The scheme’s main attraction is that participants are not threatened with the loss of their home. But the thought of returning to the rented sector, after rent prices have rocketed out of control, horrifies homeowners.
The Minister for Environment Alan Kelly said this week that he would be seeking to introduce a framework to give rent certainty to tenants, but with few details. Sinn Fein TD and Housing Spokesperson Dessie Ellis TD has said that high rents need to be dealt with without delay.
“The Minister and his government have consistently said that they would not introduce any such measures, even ridiculously claiming that to regulate the rental market would be unconstitutional,” he said.
“We know that was rubbish so why has it taken so long for the government to even admit some action on rents was needed?”
WATER PRISONERS REFUSED VISITS
Meanwhile, protests have continued for the release of the ‘Tallaght Five’, anti-austerity protestors jailed recently for breaching a court order to stay away from the installation of water meters.
Three who remain jailed in Wheatfield prison who are still campaigning for a transfer to Mountjoy prison, have now had their visits refused.
“The Lord Mayor of Dublin Christy Burke had his visit blocked and had to go and seek approval from The Minister for Justice Francis Fitzgerald before been allowed to visit us,” said spokesperson Derek Byrne.
“Paul Murphy TD has also been blocked from visiting us, what is apparent is the political interference and political policing which is taking place in reference to our case.”
The group has welcomed the passage of a motion put to Dublin City Council to demand the immediate release of the four currently behind bars. The motion was supported by 27 votes in favour to 22 opposed, with 10 abstentions.