A High Court judge has lifted the licence suspension handed down to Ballybay Mart in Co Monaghan last week by the Property Services Regulatory Authority (PSRA), however, the mart must comply with a number of conditions set out in a court order.
On Tuesday, president of the High Court, judge Mary Irvine, heard the case between the PSRA and the owners of Ballybay Mart, Corcaghan Co-op Agricultural and Dairy Society Ltd. She stated that a “very new regime needs to be put in place” to ensure the clients funds are protected.
“We know that on the last occasion the deficit or debtors were about €480,000 or €490,000 and cheques had been written which if presented for payment, and the debts not paid, would have left the respondent in debt to the tune of €690,000.
“The financial situation was very delicate indeed when the matter came before the court, but on the basis that the parties have come to this negotiated oversight programme … I am happy to lift the suspension on the basis proposed,” she said.
Trade out of its difficulties
The court heard that the mart “wants to effectively trade out of its difficulties” and counsel for the PSRA, Hugh McDowell, set out the conditions which the authority expects the mart to abide by.
“My instructions are that the authority is amenable to taking whatever position will best assist the mart to resolve its difficulties and resolve the issues with its client account.
“If there is an application made to lift the suspension, I am not instructed to oppose that application. But I am instructed to ask the court to effectively take a supervisory role as to the mart's immediate future. What I would ask is that the court would put in place certain conditions around the suspension being lifted,” he said
The court will be acutely aware that this is literally the talk of the town in the local community, and that’s not the authority’s fault and it’s not the court’s fault obviously
The PSRA asked that the "respondent will put in place an independent third party auditor, or accountant would be appointed, to oversee and manage its client accounts”.
The second condition is that “the respondent agrees not to provide credit to purchasers at the mart".
The third condition is that the respondent would "undertake to notify the authority immediately when it becomes aware of any concerning issue or development regarding the client accounts".
The fourth condition is that the respondent will provide a weekly report in writing to the authority by close of business every Friday, beginning this Friday, where it would confirm that the mart is complying with the other conditions made as part of the court order.
In that weekly report it must also “include a comprehensive update on progress in relation to the investigation and resolution of client accounts issues, the position in relation to the recovery of debts, governance generally, its financial situation and give the current level of the deficit of the client account,” McDowell said.
He continued: "The final request the authority has is that it is at liberty to respond to any queries to confirm as to the status of the licence of the mart, that the authority may say that the licence is not suspended but is subject to the oversight of the High Court.
“If the respondent is willing to comply with those conditions, authority won’t object to the suspension being lifted."
Counsel for Corcaghan Co-op, Ken Connolly, said: "Whilst the committee accepts entirely the position that it finds itself in, it’s important that for the individual committee members, who are all decent, hard-working people in the Ballybay community, that the court would know that there is no question of malfeasance whatsoever.
“What has happened is that there was poor financial governance in respect of a former CEO who has now tendered his resignation and who has left the respondent organisation,” he said.
Judge Irvine interjected, saying: “Surely Mr Connolly poor financial governance goes beyond Mr Grimes [the former CEO], I think it’s too simplistic of you to say the problems all rest with one person and once he’s gone off the pitch, so to speak, we can assume everything is regular and business will be conducted in accordance with regulation and duty of care.”
Connolly said the committee would have to accept that entirely and that they “do accept there is culpability all around”.
He added: “Immediately that it became known to the committee that there was such serious difficulties they did take legal advice, a letter was sent to the authority.
“My clients are very happy to give the undertakings that have been suggested by the authority, if the court is minded to lift the suspension,” he said.
Talk of the town
“The court will be acutely aware that this is literally the talk of the town in the local community, and that’s not the authority’s fault and it’s not the court’s fault obviously, but in order for this mart to survive, they must attempt to reopen immediately and restore public confidence.
“It’s a very busy mart, it’s probably the busiest mart in the northeast of the country. It’s a huge community resource and huge generator into the local economy,” he said.
The case is back in for mention next month.