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Former dentist and hotel investor has record €170m debt write off approved by the High Court

Barry Harte (55) received the write-off in return for a payment of just €70,000 Mr Harte’s investments included his backing of the Sin Bin in Limerick, which ceased trading in 2014

Shane PhelanIndependent.ie

A former dentist turned hotel investor has had a record €170m in debts written off by the High Court.

The personal insolvency arrangement (PIA) was granted to Barry Harte (55) by Mr Justice Alexander Owens.

Mr Harte, from Timoleague, Co Cork, received the write off in return for a payment of just €70,000 to his unsecured creditors.

The write-off dwarfs the previous record of €133m set in 2018.

Mr Harte established Harte Holdings in the early 2000s, which specialised in property investment and development, primarily in the residential and hospitality sectors.

In 2007 the group was a majority stakeholder in a €141m deal to acquire four US hotels from private equity group Blackstone Group.

But the business’s main focus was in Ireland and London.

Mr Harte’s investments included his backing of The Sin Bin, former Ireland rugby international Peter Clohessy’s nightclub in Limerick, which ceased trading in 2014.

A PIA proposal, prepared by personal insolvency practitioner John O’Callaghan and presented to the court by barrister Keith Farry, said the group established a high degree of credibility in sourcing, executing and managing deals, which in turn attracted attention from investors and lenders alike.

The court heard that fuelled by lenders in the Celtic Tiger era, the group was encouraged to expand and develop its activities.

“Like many more in that space at that time, the train came to a spectacular crash in 2008, beginning with Lehman's and then the falling of the Irish banks. Effectively the team became an actual asset manager for Nama and other large financial institutions,” the PIA application said.

“Along with the banking debt, there was considerable obligations under guarantees to private investors, who had also invested in projects directly and indirectly.

“The early successes were spectacularly reversed and a position of negative equity was quickly realised with associated guarantees and an on-going obligation, whereby the team effectively became asset managers for the institutions.

“Effectively Barry and the team have continued to trade while being hamstrung with this legacy for the last number of years and have sold off all of the assets at this stage.

“This started off with a portfolio of in excess of €650m to manage.”

Despite the sell off, the court heard Mr Harte was left with a legacy debt well in excess of €100m as a result of personal guarantees which now needed to be accounted for and dealt with as part of the personal insolvency process.

The court heard that following service of a bankruptcy petition Mr Harte was introduced to Mr O’Callaghan who took on this case in an effort to find a better solution for debtors.

The court heard that over a significant amount of time, Mr Harte reached agreement with creditors NAMA, KBC, AIB, Pepper, Ulster Bank and all other secured creditors to sell properties or allow and assist receiver sales.

The court heard Mr Harte’s household income was now modest, standing at €6,173 per month.

In the arrangement, Mr O’Callaghan argued that creditors would be worse off if Mr Harte was to be made bankrupt.

Under the PIA, Mr Harte’s home, which is owned by his wife, is to be sold. However, he will be able to remain living there.

Two other properties, in Bundoran, Co Donegal and in Limerick, will be voluntarily surrendered.

Following submissions from Mr Farry. Mr Justice Owens said he was happy to approve the PIA as all statutory criteria had been met and it had been approved by the requisite proportion of creditors.

The previous record write off under a PIA was granted to former Ireland rugby international and manager Pat Whelan four years ago.

The 72-year-old, from Limerick City, 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.

He would later be heavily involved in the redevelopment of the stadium.

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.


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