Locals’ disbelief at Barry Harte’s record €170m personal insolvency deal in High Court

Locals’ disbelief at Barry Harte’s record €170m personal insolvency deal in High Court

Argideen Rangers coach Barry Harte discussing tactics on the pitch prior to a hurling challenge against Kilbritain. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

“We see the Land Rover going in and out, but that’s about it,” says a neighbour of Barry Harte in the quiet West Cork village of Timoleague.

The Land Rover and an SUV sit parked outside the former parochial house where Mr Harte and his wife have lived for decades and from where he managed a multi-million-euro property and hotel empire that fell victim to the 2007 financial crisis.

Mr Harte, who this week struck a record €170m personal insolvency deal in the High Court, grew up in Timoleague but many locals were surprised to hear about the eye-watering deal when the news broke.

A close-knit community, there is the sense that people here do not welcome the national attention the news has brought to this quiet corner of West Cork.

“No one is talking, and no one ever sees him,” says the neighbour.

Some who do see him are members of the local GAA community. Mr Harte has been a stalwart of local hurling team Argideen Rangers since he was a boy, as a player and later a coach.

He is still involved in local sport and one soccer teammate said that locally he was well regarded despite the financial problems.

“He’s popular in the club and the area,” is all they would say.

In his youth Mr Harte, now 55, was a star hurler and footballer and a member of the Carbery team that won the 1994 county championship, also lining out for Cork at minor and under 21 levels.

He was educated at St Finbarr’s College, Farranferris, in Cork, where he captained the college team to a Harty Cup victory in 1984, going on to complete his education at Trinity College Dublin.

He began his career far removed from the world of multi-million-euro property deals and trained initially as a dentist, going into practice on Lavitt’s Quay in Cork.

A former patient remembers Mr Harte well from his days as a dentist.

“When I saw the news, I thought it must be a cousin of his or something,” they say. 

I couldn’t believe it was the same man. He was the most softly spoken person you could imagine.

“He always struck me as quite nervous. He would scold me for drinking too many fizzy drinks, but you would say he was a nice man really.

“You just couldn’t imagine him being this huge property developer.”

A former Farranferris pupil says he was a hero in the school that the younger boys looked up to. 

“There was certainly steel there; he was a brave hurler and yes, he was looked up to,” he says. 

“I was a few years below him, but you knew who he was, his picture was on the wall. He would have been in all the year books and all of that, everyone would remember hearing about Barry Harte.”

Property portfolio

Mr Harte founded his property company Harte Holdings in the early 1990s and gradually, through trading in pubs and other deals, the company began to gain momentum to a point where he was able to give up dentistry and become a full-time property developer.

Harte Holdings was involved in a long list of projects that included holiday homes in the West of Ireland, suburban bar and restaurant developments, residential projects in the UK, and a number of hotel and hospitality operations.

In 2006, Harte Holdings spent €50m buying three London hotels and was a shareholder in a Barcelona hotel. As late as 2011, the company acquired four hotels in the US for €145m. At its peak, Harte Holdings’ portfolio was valued at €650m.

The jewel in the crown was probably Waterford Castle and estate, in which Harte Holdings had a stake. It was redeveloped into a 310-acre resort, including an 18-hole championship golf course.

Waterford Castle and estate was redeveloped into a 310-acre resort.
Waterford Castle and estate was redeveloped into a 310-acre resort.

Such exponential growth does not come cheap, however, and when the crash struck in 2007, Harte Holdings was highly exposed.

Mr Harte had borrowed from many and various sources to finance the rapid expansion and when property values collapsed, the demise of his empire was inevitable.

He was not the only one in the area to suffer the consequences and a number of local farmers also lost small fortunes that they will likely never recoup.

A local dairy farmer told the Irish Examiner that several local farmers were affected, and most had lost everything. “There was a lot of that in West Cork at the time,” he says. “There are other ones that have been in the news too — people were trying to invest and a lot of them just got bad advice.

“They are too embarrassed to admit it, but they have lost the shirts off their backs; there are several farms that got burned and people don’t forget that.

They are trying to get by, but they are working for the banks now, hoping that one day they might get the farm back.”

As well as the farmers, other local investors, large and small, will never see any of their money returned as a result of the deal.

“That’s why people don’t want to talk about it,” says the farmer. “For a lot of people this is a very divisive thing — they won’t see a penny back and how does that make them feel?

“You can argue the right and wrongs of it but that’s what it comes down to.”

For Mr Harte, life goes on. The High Court deal allows him to retain assets of €6,000 including a computer and some clothes.

The house, which is in his wife’s name, will be sold but the Hartes will continue to live there, renting from the new owners.

The settlement also makes provision for living expenses of €2,800 per month based on Mr Harte’s declared income of €2,900 per month.

Most of his creditors will receive nothing. The lucky ones will get 0.042% of what they are owed.

Mr Harte had, through personal obligations, accrued legacy debts to Nama of €46m, and owed Ulster Bank €23m, Link Finance €4.5m, Pepper Finance €67m, and several individuals were owed up to €16m. 

The total secured and unsecured debt came to over €170.9m, the High Court heard.

Mr Harte settled the unsecured debt with a payment of €80,000 which he told the High Court was raised with the help of family and friends. Of that, €70,000 will go to creditors, €6,000 to his personal insolvency practitioner, and €4,000 to the Department of Social Protection for a redundancy payment.

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