IN NINE days the High Court will be asked to hear of a bitter battle centred on the care of frail film star Maureen O’Hara.
The private court hearing will decide who should have enduring power of attorney, who should be her primary advocate for medical decisions and her voice when it comes to managing her estate.
It comes after one of the most difficult six months in the colourful life of the 92-year-old icon and in the midst of fresh fears for her wellbeing.
These arose as she moved out of her home in Glengarriff, Co Cork to a new life in America seven years after she was told she could never fly again.
Last Saturday, the Ranelagh-born actress left Cork for Dublin Airport. She was flown to Chicago by Aer Lingus, having been approved to fly by a doctor, and she spent one night in the city. She was then moved to Boise, Idaho, in the Rocky Mountains, where she is now living with her only grandson, Conor Beau Fitzsimons.
Maureen has been brought to Idaho by a group within her family who are looking to overturn a critical decision she made in 2006.
This was to give her friend and personal assistant Carolyn Murphy power of attorney.
This summer, after being accused of effectively misappropriating Maureen’s money by some of the family, Ms Murphy asked the High Court to intervene and either confirm her position or allow the State to protect the film star.
Ms Murphy, who has not been able to speak with Maureen since May 27, said she is worried about her friend.
“I fear for what this trip may do to Maureen. I cared for Maureen for so long and I now have no idea who her primary care giver is...
“Maureen O’Hara would never quit Ireland under any circumstances. This is the love of her life. Ireland and Irish people were the love of her life.”
One of two men who are listed in a new and competing power of attorney instruction is her nephew Charlie Fitzsimons.
He is currently in Glengarriff and said Maureen is well and made the decision to move herself. He said they were trying to treat her as their aunt, Maureen Fitzsimons, rather than the film star Maureen O’Hara. And the stress of the High Court case had become too much for her.
“Maybe people should be asking themselves what they would do in a similar situation? What if it was your mother? Your grandmother? Your sister? Your aunt?
“The Fitzsimons family acted in the best interest of Maureen and she is now safely back in the US with her grandson and his family. Maureen has two surviving sisters in the US and many nieces and nephews and good friends who are eager to see her again,” he said.
The case is due to be heard on Oct 1 and there are three outcomes:
* Her longtime friend, Ms Murphy, will be granted the right to continue with the power of attorney Maureen asked her to take on in 2006;
* The State will step in and make the Hollywood legend a ward of court;
* Or the case will be dismissed in favour of a recent decision to appoint Maureen’s Sweden-based nephew, Mr Fitzsimons, and new lawyer Ed Fickess as the guardians of her affairs.
Whatever happens it is unlikely the star will ever be back in Ireland. This makes her case highly unusual and rare that somebody would ask for enduring power of attorney to be withdrawn.
One of the key issues will be Maureen’s cognitive ability and the assessments that have been made of her by various doctors.
As recently as March, Maureen appeared on a video alongside Ms Murphy emphasising how she wanted to cement her legacy with the proposed €13m museum and acting school planned for Glengarriff.
This has now been put on hold and the foundation is effectively idle until the court hears the separate case.
But Ms Murphy said the issues were more fundamental than the aspirations of the foundation. These include the film star’s care and management of her estate.
Ms Murphy said she has spent nights in hospital beside the icon after she suffered from a number of minor strokes. Special precautions had to be made for long car journeys and she was not able to fly.
According to Maureen’s nephew, Mr Fitzsimons, she was cleared by a doctor to travel and coped well with the journey. “She did wonderfully. We had her doctor approve her to fly before she left. She travelled first class on Aer lingus. I was speaking with her on the phone and she sounded great,” he said.
Ms Murphy said that when she was asked to take on the responsibility of the power of attorney in 2006, Maureen was adamant about some things.
She did not want her estate to become a family battle and she did not want to end up “rotting in a nursing home”.
Now, she said, she feels Maureen wrongly believes that Ms Murphy has exploited her position, but has not been able to talk to her to explain her case. “I fear I will never get to see her again and she may die thinking I was just another person that abused her trust,” she said.
But Mr Fitzsimons said this latest decision, to take her to America, was done after consulting with his aunt.
“We would never have done anything without her approval. But, with the stress of the High Court date, as a family we felt she would better off in the US where she would be supported. At the end of the day it was her decision,” he said.
Mr Fitzsimons said from his point of view, “Maureen has more history in the US” than in Ireland.
Maureen had been living full time in Glengarriff since Jul 2005 when she had a stroke in Ireland and was advised against further flights.
She had suffered from short-term memory loss, was still of good understanding but had been on blood thinning medication. She had two full-time carers.
High Court papers were lodged in July after months of allegation and acrimony over Maureen’s affairs.
The had their roots in changes that were first mooted in February.
Maureen’s estate had been managed by an international team of people including an American-based lawyer, a nephew Brian Edwards, investment advisers, and Virgin Island-based accountant Pablo O’Neill.
Fractures appeared in this arrangement in February when her lawyer retired due to old age, and changes were planned for the wider team. This included the introduction of a second accountancy firm of international repute.
It coincided with an effort to consolidate her affairs so that there would be no tax or estate issues when she passed on, as she had bases in several jurisdictions.
Ms Murphy said this was necessary but provoked an angry response and preceded an allegation of elder abuse that was made against her.
This allegation centred on the suggestion that Maureen was being forced to travel to too many events on behalf of the foundation when she was not able for it.
Maureen reacted angrily, and publicly, to this claim. She told the Irish Independent she made her own decision and she went to functions because she wanted to. The case was dismissed.
This was followed by claims that money was missing. A month-long audit commenced.
Despite the allegations against Ms Murphy and the foundation, no complaint has been made to gardaí, although the family have been demanding the return of papers for them to audit again.
Ms Murphy has not spoken to her friend since May 27, when she said Maureen was upset and asked her to continue fighting on her behalf.
A week earlier the relationship was effectively severed when Ms Murphy was instructed by the family not to attend a reunion in Kells, Co Meath.
The fissure ultimately culminated in a controversial press conference in Glengarriff attended by Maureen, her grandson and her new lawyer.
Accountant Mr O’Neill had brought in the new lawyer, Ed Fickess, who released a sensational statement on Maureen’s behalf.
This alleged that Ms Murphy had breached her trust and questions were asked about what had been done with her memorabilia.
The foundation chief executive, Frank McCarthy, responded by opening its books to account for its spending.
It said there were never plans for it to own Maureen’s memorabilia but it would take them on a long-term loan to showcase in the museum.
Mr McCarthy said everything Maureen owed was still hers and would remain hers.
Although no formal complaints have been made the allegations have not been withdrawn. Maureen’s carers were let go and her legal advisers here were changed.
Mr Fitzsimons says that Ms Murphy has still failed to fully comply with the family’s audit requests.
However, Mr Murphy said she was willing to co-operate with any independent audit but would not hand over all the documents to the family when these are all she has to prove her case.
“It is the only proof and evidence that I have to prove my innocence,” she said.
Ms Murphy said the costs associated with Maureen’s life and care were high to anybody unfamiliar with her needs but they were all incurred properly. There was also a once-off tax bill from America in 2011.
Substantial property and jewellery assets belonging to the star have been sold. The proceeds of these were then locked into American-based company trusts for her daughter, Bronwyn, and Conor Beau Fitzsimons.
Ms Murphy said all of Maureen’s money was wrapped up in companies which only Maureen, her daughter, and her grandson could benefit from and, because of the star’s careful investment strategy, her assets had not been affected by the economic collapse.
Ms Murphy said she had faith in the independent accountants that were hired earlier this year to protect Maureen and she would trust the courts if requests were made for the records. “I am an open book. I am not afraid of anyone looking at the money that was spent,” she said.
In April, Ms Murphy said there was a visiting accountant who inspected all of Maureen’s books for recent years and she said spending was 98.2% vouched. She said Maureen’s costs were high as she had two full-time carers, needed a lot of support when she made trips and last year involved a large once-off tax bill.
Ms Murphy said Maureen was wealthy. The money was separated into three parts and that the principal amounts in each could not be removed by anybody.
The interest off each account would be for the benefit of Maureen, her daughter Bronwyn, and her grandson Conor Beau.
Her daughter Bronwyn is an aspect of last weekend’s events that has raised questions. Maureen left Bronwyn to live in Glengarriff. Ms Murphy said Maureen was very protective of Bronwyn and it was unlike her to make a long-term move without her.
But Mr Fitzsimons said Bronwyn made her own decision not to travel.
“The offer was given to Bronwyn to be with her mother but she decided to stay. This is where she wants to stay. Personally we are glad because we always want to come back and visit Glengarriff,” he said.
In spite of Ms Murphy’s application to the courts the competing power of attorney has complicated a situation already fraught with acrimony.
The rival instruction looked to place her new lawyer, Ed Fickess, and Charlie Fitzsimons in control of her affairs.
Mr Fitzsimons said this was how the film star preferred to operate, with two people in charge rather than one.
But he said he did not know what would happen if the High Court accepted Ms Murphy’s application for enduring power of attorney.
“We are hoping this is clear cut. I am personally hoping the judge dismisses Carloyn’s pleas and that will be the end of it,” he said.
However, Ms Murphy said Maureen would not have had the understanding to make a big decision about her care.
She said if she was not successful she would ask the court to make the film icon a ward of court. This will run into uncharted waters and complicate an already painful battle for all concerned.