Athlone Town soccer club can now draw down a €200,000 government grant for a proposed new astro-turf training pitch, following an agreement in the High Court.
The court had been asked to make an order directing Athlone Town Stadium Ltd, which developed the €3m-plus, 5,000-seater stadium, to consent to a charge being created over Athlone Town AFC’s leasehold interest in the property. While that issue was resolved yesterday by consent, before Mr Justice Richard Humphreys, an overall dispute as to ownership of the stadium rolls on to a full High Court hearing, yet to be listed.
The club had secured the sports capital grant for the new facility at Lissywollen, Athlone, but, before it could draw down the funds, the minister for sport had sought the making of a charge against the 35-year lease which the club holds from the stadium company.
The club, through its secretary, David Dully, in the overall proceedings, seeks to remove Declan Molloy, of Garrynafela, Athlone, Co Westmeath, as trustee of Athlone Town Stadium Ltd, in which he is a 97% shareholder. The company is a defendant in the overall proceedings, in which the FAI is a notice party.
Dully, in a grounding affidavit on behalf of the club, claimed that while the stadium company was the legal and beneficial owner of the development, it was to hold title subject to a trust in favour of the club, which had been founded 130 years ago and was the oldest soccer club in the Republic of Ireland.
Since 1927, its home had been St Mel’s Park, but, under UEFA regulations, it could no longer continue playing there. The FAI obliged the club to move to a new stadium, which would have to meet required criteria if it was to continue playing League of Ireland football.
The purpose-built stadium was undertaken in conjunction with the club and the community, on an 8.5-acre site at Lissywollen. The National Lottery funded development costs to the extent of €2.8m, together with generous public donations.
Mr Dully said St Mel’s Park had been swapped with Westmeath County Council for the new grounds at Lissywollen and claimed the title of the new stadium was to be held for the benefit of the club and the local community. He alleges that, unfortunately, the stadium company — when registering title — failed to acknowledge it was holding title by way of trust for the club.
He said ownership of the stadium became an issue in early 2013, when the major shareholder, Mr Molloy, believed to have donated €500,000 to the development, claimed a right to be able to sell the stadium without any resort to the club, which then began investigations to establish ownership. The club claims a deed of trust was executed in April, 2015, in favour of the club, but a disagreement arose over the lease.
Mr Dully stated that, in an effort to achieve a compromise, it had been agreed that John Delaney, CEO of the FAI, would act as mediator, but terms of settlement had not been achieved.
In the High Court, yesterday, it was acknowledged, by a consent order, that the stadium company agreed without prejudice to the lease being registered and it would not be stopped from disputing the standing of David Dully to bring the overall proceedings in his own name for, and on behalf of, the beneficiaries of the trust. The overall proceedings remain adjourned.
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