A former IRA hunger striker-turned-property tycoon has avoided going back behind bars after successfully overturning a contempt of court judgment.
Thomas McFeely – an ex-millionaire who was yesterday declared bankrupt in Dublin – has successfully appealed a judgment that he broke court orders, a three-month sentence and a €1m fine.
The ruling was delivered at the five-judge Supreme Court this morning.
McFeely, who served 12 years in the Maze Prison for shooting an RUC officer in Derry, spent 53 days without food during the 1980 hunger strikes.
The latest case centres on McFeely’s Priory Hall development in Donaghmede, north Dublin.
About 300 people were left homeless and had to be re-housed when they were evacuated from the complex last October amid warnings it was fire hazard.
The developer was ordered by the High Court in Dublin to carry out remedial works, but was sentenced and fined when he did not.
Barristers for McFeely appealed it was impossible for their client to comply with orders because he had been evicted from the site.
The Chief Justice, Mrs Susan Denham, said once the appellant was ordered off the site it immediately became impossible for McFeely to complete the work he had undertaken to do.
The judge said: "This appeal does not relate to the issue of providing a remedy for the deeply concerning situation which has arisen in relation to Priory Hall, and the position of the residents and owners who have been removed from their homes.
“This appeal relates solely to the issue of a finding of a contempt of court.
“I am satisfied that as a matter of fact he could not be held to be in breach of the order as he had been ordered by the court from the site.
“There was no factual foundation upon which to make a finding of contempt of court or a breach of an undertaking.”
Priory Hall residents had expected the developer to be arrested at the Four Courts after a bench warrant was issued for his arrest after he failed to comply with an order to pay instalments on a debt of just over €24,000 to a Dublin recruitment company.
Instead, McFeely scuffled with journalists and photographers as he left, before slamming the door of a waiting car which sped off.
Separately, his family are due to be evicted from their multi-million euro upmarket Ailesbury Road home after it was repossessed by NAMA.
Resident Graham Usher said homeowners and tenants were still in limbo and extremely disappointed with the decision.
He called for criminal charges to be brought against the developer after a judge ordered the Director of Public Prosecutions to examine the case.
“I appreciate the Supreme Court has given a judgment on a point of law, but the fact of the matter is Thomas McFeely is responsible for over 250 people being evacuated from their homes,” he said.
“Almost 100 families, nine months on, have no homes to go to.
“They lived for five years basically in a death trap because of him and he’s escaped all punishment for this.
“Nine months on, the only people who have been punished are the residents.”
McFeely began work on building sites in Dublin when he was released from prison in 1989 and made his fortune in land deals and property development – eventually buying a former embassy in leafy Dublin 4.
The Derry-born builder was made bankrupt in London earlier this year, but it was challenged by Dublin woman Theresa McGuinness, who told the court there were already proceedings against him in Ireland.
Mr McFeely claimed the legal challenge to his UK bankruptcy breached his rights as a British citizen – and maintained he was not a citizen of the Republic of Ireland.
“As a British citizen I have always objected to being forced into bankruptcy in a foreign jurisdiction purely on the basis that I have a judgment liability in that state,” said the former IRA man.
The High Court in London recently overturned the bankruptcy order issued last January and the action in Dublin continued.