Tom McFeely vows to 'overturn bankruptcy'

Tom McFeely is a former IRA gunman who was on republican hunger strike in 1980

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Savaged by the media and hauled before the courts, the name Tom McFeely has become synonymous with the worst excesses of Celtic Tiger Ireland.

The ex-IRA man from Dungiven, County Londonderry, has been dodging cameras, accused of being a reckless developer who has blighted the lives of hundreds.

Yet, he agreed to talk to BBC Spotlight in a sequence of meetings over several months, both on, and off, camera.

He says he has been scapegoated over Priory Hall, a major housing disaster, notorious in the history of the Irish state.

The complex of almost 200 apartments had to be evacuated in October 2011 because of fire safety concerns.

McFeely should be republican royalty; a former IRA gunman who was on the first republican hunger strike in 1980.

Start Quote

I am not one to sit down and deny that I wasn't in the IRA, or that I didn't do anything”

End Quote Tom McFeely

When asked about his IRA activities, he told Spotlight: "I am not one to sit down and deny that I wasn't in the IRA, or that I didn't do anything, of course I did, to the best of my ability at the time. In hindsight, yes, I could have been better.

"If I was going to regret it, I wouldn't have done it."

On his release from jail, he went to Dublin to restart his life as a bricklayer.

In the following years, he found huge success in the Celtic Tiger boom. He lived a life of luxury in a former ambassador's residence in an exclusive part of Dublin.

But as boom turned to bust, his debts began to stack up.

Fire trap apartments

His company built Priory Hall, an apartment complex in north Dublin, which was evacuated after a judge decided that its fire safety failings posed a severe risk.

Hundreds of people were left owing large mortgages on apartments that were effectively worthless.

Despite the damning opinions of fire chiefs and the courts, McFeely told Spotlight that Priory Hall should not have been evacuated.

And he refused to apologise.

"We are getting to the sort of the level of the gutter media again, what would I apologise for?" he said.

"I don't think it's a shoddy building, you see. I don't think it is any different than most of the other buildings in Dublin."

Bankruptcy

In the midst of the Priory Hall crisis, McFeely applied for bankruptcy in Britain rather than Ireland - effectively begging clemency as a subject of Her Majesty.

A surprising move for a former IRA man.

When asked how it squared with his former militant republicanism, he said: "Tell me something, if you were hungry tomorrow, which of the two passports would you eat to put the hunger off you?"

Workmen fixing up McFeely's former mansion on Dublin's Ailesbury Road found 200,000 euro stashed behind a bath panel Workmen fixing up McFeely's former mansion on Dublin's Ailesbury Road found 200,000 euro stashed behind a bath panel

Dublin woman Theresa McGuinness, also interviewed by Spotlight, bought a house riddled with problems, built by McFeely's company.

When he would not fix it, she sued.

But McFeely has never paid the debt.

Theresa McGuinness later fought to have his bankruptcy in Britain overturned.

She then had him declared bankrupt under the more stringent Irish regime.

Start Quote

All I can tell you is, right, it is not my money”

End Quote Tom Feely

In September of last year, workmen fixing up his former mansion on Dublin's Ailesbury Road found 200,000 euros stashed behind a bath panel.

The Dublin authorities are convinced the money was McFeely's, and have now confiscated it to pay off his bank debts.

When Spotlight asked McFeely to explain the find, he said: "Don't ask me, you may ask the people that put it there.

"All I can tell you is, right, it is not my money.

"Do you think for one moment (if) I left money behind me and I forgot about it, that even if the house was full of five or six or eight or 10 security men, that I wouldn't have went in and took it out again?"

One of the most surprising things McFeely told Spotlight is that he would one day live again on Dublin's most prestigious road.

The IRA man turned property developer intends to be back in business.

Accused of fire breaches and hiding away money, whether his reputation can ever be repaired is open to question.

BBC NI Spotlight's investigation was broadcast on Tuesday 25 February and is available to watch on the iPlayer until 4 March.

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