Revealed: Former Ireland rugby international got €133m write-off – but vast majority of debt deals were ‘much more modest’

At the weekly sitting of the High Court’s personal insolvency list last Monday, some €22.6m in debt was written off in three arrangements approved by Mr Justice Cian Ferriter.

ne of those was a debt-settlement arrangement (DSA) obtained by property consultant Matt Bruton (52).

DSA’s are debt-resolution mechanisms which deal with unsecured debts – loans not backed with collateral.

Like most businesspeople coming to the court seeking large write-offs of personal debt, Mr Bruton’s financial woes dated back to the financial crisis of the late 2000s when the value of development land he had purchased collapsed.

The write-down approved by the court for the Sandymount-based company director amounted to €18.6m.

While the sum may seem large, it was only the second largest write-down approved by the court in 2022. Former property developer Eamon Murray (59) had €19m written off under a personal insolvency arrangement (PIA), which deals with both secured and unsecured debt and is designed to safeguard the family home.

The Cavan businessman’s financial difficulties arose from the demise of a property and construction development firm.

In court filings, he said he decided to engage a personal insolvency practitioner for advice when he was faced with repossession proceedings after losing “everything but the family home”.

Mr Murray spoke of the “stress and turmoil” caused by the unsustainable debt and how it had hung over him for 15 years.

But those sums are dwarfed by the largest PIA ever approved by the courts, which saw €133m owed by former Ireland rugby international and manager Pat Whelan written off in 2018.

The 72-year-old was once one of the most prominent property developers in the midwest and was well known for his exploits on the sports field, where he was a member of the Munster team which defeated New Zealand at Thomond Park in 1978.

Mr Whelan, from Limerick city, would later be heavily involved in the redevelopment of the stadium.

He declined to comment on his experience of the personal insolvency process when contacted by the Irish Independent.

According to court filings, he got into financial difficulty “due to the economic downturn and recession” of the late 2000s.

His largest creditor was Nama, which was owed €120m.

Among his smaller creditors was former Ireland rugby captain Paul O’Connell, who was in a group of investors who provided €1.5m for a property investment scheme.

They would only receive a tiny fraction of what they invested as the overall pot for creditors from the debt deal was just €390,000.

The second largest debt write-down went to another midwest businessman, former quarry operator Enda Whelan (48), from Ennis, Co Clare.

His debts included €56.4m owed to Nama, mostly due to personal guarantees given to Anglo Irish Bank in respect of companies in the Whelan Group.

In a legal filing, he said the economic downturn and collapse of the building industry resulted in the liquidation of his companies which left substantial borrowings for which he was personally liable.

Mr Whelan said he became “instantly insolvent” when the guarantees were called in.

He said the impact of these debts, which hung over him for almost a decade, were “considerable” and included “great stress” and difficulty in getting a proper night’s sleep.

While the large write-downs are eye-catching, personal insolvency practitioners say such debt deals are just a small fraction of what is being dealt with by the system and that the vast majority of write-offs are much more modest.

This is a view echoed by Insolvency Service of Ireland director Michael McNaughton.

“The bigger, more high-profile, cases tend to get reported in the newspapers,” he said.

“But I would say for every high-profile case there are 10 pretty ordinary mortgage holders who got into trouble through no fault of their own getting a solution.”

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