As Jim Mansfield Snr lay down to die the vultures were circling and, according to his one-time trusted employee, his son and heir had opened the doors of the manor and let them in.
But as Jim Mansfield Snr lay down to die the vultures were circling and, according to his one-time trusted employee, his son and heir had opened the doors of the manor and let them in.
So goes the evidence of State Witness Martin Byrne, the former head of security at Citywest, who has spent four gruelling days under cross-examination in the witness box at the Special Criminal Court.
Byrne, who began working for Mr Mansfield Snr in 2005, has painted an incredible picture of what was going on at stately Tassagart House in Saggart, Co. Dublin, around the time the patriarch was losing his battle with a terminal illness. Mansfield Snr died at the house on January 29, 2014.
At that point, the Special Criminal Court has heard, a convicted fraudster James O’Gorman, known as ‘The Fat Man’, had his feet firmly under the table with an office on the ground floor and was living in a converted stable outside.
O’Gorman, according to Byrne, was assaulted on New Year’s Day by Real IRA thug Nathan Kinsella, who was in and out constantly and using it like his “place of business”.
Following the assault, Byrne says, The Fat Man moved an INLA mob in to help Jimmy Mansfield Jnr wrestle back ownership of land and a hotel.
One of two men named in court as part of the INLA ‘security’ was Tallaght man Gareth Byrne – a convicted terrorist known as ‘Red Gar’.
Earlier the court heard that Jimmy Jnr had previously hired representatives of the New IRA as he was under threat from the Wall traveller group and another outfit described as ‘the Kavanaghs’.
It was also alleged that at one point he paid the Real IRA €2,500 a week in protection money.
There is no doubt that it is hard to follow all the different terrorist factions being described by Byrne – who is now in the Witness Protection Programme with his family. Even he has quipped that there was so much switching and changing between the dissident groups that he could barely “keep up with them”.
At the same time, he has also described the odd meeting of worlds that he says went on with the Mansfields. When asked how he knew a detective with whom he spoke on the day that he, Byrne, was kidnapped by ‘Border Fox’ Dessie O’Hare and convicted murderer Declan ‘Whacker’ Duffy, he said he knew him from events at Citywest.
“I dealt with him for many years. He was part of the SDU (Special Detective Unit) and I was head of security for Citywest. We had many events.”
And it is that that goes to the very heart of this most unusual case.
Mansfield Jnr has denied having any role in the kidnap of Byrne in June 2015. On a number of occasions his lawyer Bernard Condon SC has put it to Byrne that he is a liar and a fantasist.
Byrne insists that he is not and the State agrees. Not only is he the prosecution’s chief witness but evidence has emerged that he has given 16 statements to the Criminal Assets Bureau who raided Tassagart and other properties linked to Jimmy Mansfield Jnr in January 2015.
At that point O’Gorman was still living on the grounds and working from the family home but negotiations between Jimmy Jnr and his father’s old business pal Kevin McGeogh had totally broken down, Byrne says.
He had earlier told the court that Mansfield Snr had cooked up a plan with McGeogh to get back three key assets from the receivers – Finnstown House Hotel, houses at Saggart Court Lodge and a site known as Paddy Reilly’s Field. With the help of financier builder Gerard McGreevy, from Newry, the plan seemed to be working until the negotiations fell apart amidst threats, broken promises and the intervention of terrorists – hired, the Special Criminal Court has been repeatedly told – by Mansfield Jnr and O’Gorman.
According to Byrne when senior Real IRA man Alan Ryan died in a hail of bullets in 2012, Byrne attended the funeral – to represent Jimmy Mansfield Jnr who wanted to go himself. Afterwards, the court heard, his sidekick Nathan Kinsella was also shot but was back regularly at Tasaggart by late 2013. At that point he was such a frequent visitor that Byrne says he was using Tassagart House as his “place of business”.
On New Year’s Day in 2014 Kinsella and The Fat Man had a run-in and O’Gorman texted Byrne to say he’d been assaulted in the house.
Byrne has claimed that after the patriarch passed things got worse and a group purporting to be from the IRA burst into the house “around February or March” threatening to kill him.
“They said I had interfered in business The Fat Man was doing,” he told the court. He claimed that he, Byrne, and the INLA faction there were there to “help Mansfield Jnr get his property back”.
Martin Byrne’s evidence is complex but he describes working for Mansfield Snr like working for “the family”. It was an employment, he has stated, where workers could be called on to do any job and where business dealings were discussed. “It was a very open family,” he said.
The witness has described the day he was kidnapped by O’Hare, Duffy and five cohorts as the “day that changed my family's life and my life forever”.
The trial continues.