Politics

Publican Jay Bourke seeks €12.5 million debt write-off in court bid

Dublin publican and restaurateur Jay Bourke is seeking High Court approval for a financial arrangement to write off the bulk of his debts totalling €13.7 million.

The 55-year-old has asked the court to sign off on a personal insolvency arrangement – a financial rescue for heavily indebted borrowers – that would see him retain his home in Rathmines and escape about €12.5 million in debt that would be written off.

Mr Justice Mark Sanfey agreed to take the case into the High Court after Circuit Court Judge Verona Lambe transferred it to the higher court because of the sums of money involved.

Mr Bourke sought help from a personal insolvency practitioner John O’Callaghan of KPMG after the Revenue Commissioners petitioned for his bankruptcy over debts of more than €500,000.

He has turned to the courts to challenge an investment fund which opposes the arrangement.

The fund holds most of his debt – some €12 million – stemming from his involvement in Bellinter House, the hotel he co-owned in Co Meath with the late music promoter John Reynolds.

A well-known figure in Dublin’s nightlife scene, Mr Bourke has operated popular bars and restaurants in the city including The Globe and Rí Rá, The Front Lounge, Eden Restaurant, the Cafe Bar Deli chain and the Pantibar. He also ran venues in Cork, Sligo and London.

Earlier this year, his Berlin D2 bar lost its operating licences after video footage circulated online showing customers and staff in the restaurant flouting Covid-19 guidelines in August 2020.

Mr Bourke told The Irish Times on Wednesday that his income has been “decimated” because of the restrictions imposed on bars and restaurants during the pandemic.

“If you are a publican and all your shops are closed, you don’t exactly have an income,” he said.

He maintained that the €3 million sale of Bellinter House in 2016 amounted to “full and final settlement” of the hotel debt bought by the investment fund from Bank of Scotland (Ireland) but that “contingent debt” arising from personal guarantees on that debt “don’t go away.”

He described personal insolvency arrangements as a means “to rehabilitate businesspeople”.

Keith Farry BL, for Mr Bourke, told Mr Justice Sanfey at a court hearing on Wednesday that the publican secured an adjournment in the bankruptcy court allowing him to seek protection from his creditors by devising the personal insolvency arrangement to address his financial difficulties.

The judge heard that the total debt involved in the case amounted to €13.7 million.

The court was told that the Revenue and the bank lender that holds the mortgage on Mr Bourke’s home have both agreed to personal insolvency arrangement but that a “large unsecured creditor” voted against the plan at a creditors’ meeting on October 28th.

Mr Bourke wants to challenge that objection through a “section 115a” appeal under the personal insolvency regime that allows a debtor to seek to overrule the opposition of a creditor.

Mr Farry told the judge that he needed to “short circuit” the application into the High Court to meet a 28-day deadline to lodge the appeal following the creditors’ meeting.

Earlier this year, gardaí lodged an objection to the renewal of the various annual licences held by the popular Berlin D2 restaurant and bar on Dame Lane in Dublin city centre after the footage appeared from the event advertised as a “Very Boozy Baked Brunch With Your Buds.”

The video showed a masked staff member dancing on the bar and pouring shots into the mouths of dancing customers during the afternoon event attended by more than 40 guests.

District Court judge Marie Quirke found that the event was clearly in breach of public health guidelines necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic at the time. The bar is appealing the ruling.

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