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Sunday 11 December 2016

O'Donnell children can be quizzed about gifts given by parents

Blaise and Alexandra O’Donnell and their siblings can be questioned under oath about gifts
Blaise and Alexandra O’Donnell and their siblings can be questioned under oath about gifts

Retired solicitor Brian O'Donnell's adult children face questioning in court over a number of gifts given to them by their parents, including a first edition of James Joyce's Ulysses bought for €42,500 in 2007.

The items also include a painting by Leo Whelan entitled Waiting, which was bought by Mr O'Donnell and his wife Mary Patricia for €306,593 in 2007, the High Court heard.

Whether these and other antiques and artworks were gifted to the O'Donnell children can now be the subject of questioning in court as part of the bankruptcy of their parents, Ms Justice Caroline Costello ruled.

Oath

Blake, Bruce, Blaise and Alexandra O'Donnell can be examined under oath about the gifts by lawyers for the court official appointed to handle their parents' bankruptcy, the judge said.

Only Bruce was in court yesterday. He said his father and Blake, who normally represent the family, were in the UK.

Official assignee in bankruptcy, Chris Lehane, sought the examination order in relation to the contents of the former family home, Gorse Hill, in Killiney, Co Dublin.

Last January 28, on foot of a warrant obtained by Mr Lehane and the bankruptcy inspector, a search was carried out of Gorse Hill and certain items were seized.

However, Mr Lehane had said there is confusion about the location of individual assets. Items such as the Whelan painting were not in Gorse Hill during the search as Mr O'Donnell said it was loaned to him by the children and was in his rented property in East Haxted in England.

Ordering the examination of the O'Donnell children under oath, the judge also rejected an application by the family for the quashing of the January warrant and the return of the items seized.

She said the warrant had already been executed and the matter had already been appealed. The O'Donnells could not seek rescission of a High Court order while at the same time appealing the matter.

Ms Justice Costello said that when Brian and Mary Patricia O'Donnell came to a settlement agreement with Bank of Ireland in 2012 in relation to a €71.5m debt, the solicitors representing them told the bank that they (the solicitors) were holding certain contents of Gorse Hill until the legal proceedings over the debt were finished.

The solicitors also said that if the O'Donnells failed to achieve relief in those proceedings, they "will renounce all and any claims" to the contents of the house.

After they were declared bankrupt, Mr Lehane sought information from the O'Donnells in relation to the acquisition and disposal of a number of personal items with a combined potential value of millions.

Ms Justice Costello said Mr Lehane's office identified personal chattels with an acquisition of €1.5m, the majority of which did not appear to have been accounted for by the O'Donnell parents.

Mr O'Donnell ultimately indicated that many of the items were gifts to the children and were part of the settlement agreement reached with Bank of Ireland, the judge said.

Incumbent

However, the O'Donnells now maintain most of the valuable items were not in fact part of the settlement agreement and did not accept they form part of the bankrupt estate.

Judge Costello rejected an application by the O'Donnells for liberty to cross-examine Mr Lehane and for disclosure of documents held by him. This application was based on a "fundamental misunderstanding" of the relevant part of the law governing bankruptcy, she said.

In granting Mr Lehane his application to question the O'Donnell children about the Gorse Hill contents, the judge said it was incumbent on the children to provide such information as is necessary to establish their alleged title to the chattels which may be part of the bankrupt estate.

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