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High Court confirms that a €280,000 loan by Della Kerrigan was not a gift
The High Court on 29th January 2019 ordered the repayment of €280,000 with interest to Della Kerrigan, a client represented by Damien Tansey Solicitors. The money had been a loan made to a couple, the Keenaghans, who subsequently argued that the money was a gift. Earlier this month, the court ruled that €280,000 given by 59-year-old Della Kerrigan to her friends John and Jacqueline Keenaghan in 2010 was a loan not a gift. The money was part of a sum of €750,000 given to Ms Kerrigan, from Ballyshannon in Co Donegal, as compensation for injuries she suffered in a road accident in which her father died. The court heard the Keenaghans, paid off all their debts, financed their children’s education, retrained as counsellors and psychotherapists, and opened a new business. They claimed the money was a gift given to them “out of the blue” when they were in financial difficulties.
Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy said the Keenaghans had chosen to deny their debt, instead of acknowledging it, and this was an enormous breach of trust. She ruled the Keenaghans must pay interest on the money, at a rate of 8% set under legislation, beginning from 2014, when Ms Kerrigan originally asked Mrs Keenaghan to begin repaying the money. The judge set out a schedule of how interest should be applied from 2014 to the date of her judgment. She said this reflected what should have happened. The judge awarded the costs of the eight-day hearing against the Keenaghans, despite a plea for “some little mercy” from their barrister Desmond Murphy, to award just six days’ costs. Ms Justice Murphy said the court had urged the parties to resolve the matter before the court came to a decision, but that did not happen. She said the whole event came before the court because of Ms Keenaghan’s breach of trust and “costs must follow the event”. This means the losing party must pay the costs. The judge refused to postpone making her final orders pending a possible appeal by the Keenaghans. Mr Murphy said they had not decided yet whether or not to appeal. He said he accepted he would be facing an uphill battle trying to convince an appeal court that the judge had made an error in deciding on the facts, but there was still a possibility he could succeed. Ms Kerrigan indicated that she had given the loan in 2010 and had asked for it back in 2014, and four-and-a-half years later, she was still waiting for her money.
The court was told of very poor financial circumstances, dependency on social protection payments and that there was no reason such difficulties should be unnecessarily continued. Ms Justice Murphy said the court should not prolong the agony any longer. She said the Keenaghans had not advanced any credible legal argument as to why a stay should be granted and she refused to postpone making her final orders.
Damien Tansey highlighted how the Keenaghans had succeeded in transferring their financial problems to Ms Kerrigan’s shoulders. Her situation was dreadful, he said, and she was utterly dependent on social welfare. Mr Tansey said the judge had highlighted the fact that the Keenaghans had significant valuable property assets. If they did not pay the amount of the judgment, it was indicated that a charge would be registered against those assets and the assets sold, in order to ensure there was a fund available to repay the money to Ms Kerrigan.
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