At 11am last Monday morning, 12 motions seeking entry into the Commercial Court were due to be heard by Mr Justice Peter Kelly. More than half of them related to property, a reflection of how the market downturn has triggered a huge number of disputes in the sector.
The last of the 12 motions involved some of the best-known businessmen in the country and has set tongues wagging in Dublin business circles.
Developer Bernard McNamara and his spokesman James Morrissey, whose clients include Denis O'Brien and Irish Nationwide, were seeking to have a €50m case involving their company Varleigh against food group IAWS and Cuisine de France founder and property developer, Ronan McNamee, listed in the Commercial Court. IAWS is now known as Aryzta and led by chief executive Owen Killian.
McNamee is a well-known business figure and made millions when he and his business partner Dr Pat Loughrey signed a deal in 1997 to sell their Cuisine de France bakery business, which had become a market leader in par-baked breads, to IAWS, netting them a reported €65m.
Since then, McNamee has branched into property development and investment, becoming chairman of private equity company Signature Capital, which has invested €700m in Ireland, the United Kingdom, United States of America, and Germany. He resigned as a director of Signature in November of last year, Companies Office documents show. He has also bought property on and near Grafton Street in Dublin.
McNamara and Morrissey's company Varleigh is claiming damages in relation to a proposed joint venture that it claims led to its acquisition of the Uniphar premises in Tallaght in 2006 for €52m.
Varleigh alleges there was a plan to develop the adjoining Uniphar, Cuisine de France and IAWS sites in Tallaght which together measure about 16 acres.
IAWS's 2006 annual report states that it had entered into an option with McNamee to dispose of its site in Tallaght in 2009, following the relocation of operations to Grangecastle "for a minimum consideration of €48m". It said the payment would offset the cost of the Grangecastle facility.
"The option cannot be exercised before the year ending 31 July 2009. If the option is exercised, the amount paid to acquire the subsidiary will equate to €48m plus 50% of the increase in the market value of the land at the date of exercise," the report states.
Varleigh is expected to allege that proposals were drawn up for a joint-venture development of the sites following a series of meetings and that professionals were appointed in relation to this and a masterplan drawn up, but IAWS pulled out of the plan in the middle of 2007 and this was in breach of its legal obligations.
Varleigh is likely to claim that it was wrongfully induced to acquire the site and that it has since incurred expenses relating to the acquisition and planning-related fees of about €11.6m.
It is also likely to claim that documents drawn up in relation to the plan list IAWS, Ronan McNamee, Bernard McNamara and James Morrissey as members of the consortium. Varleigh received funding from Ulster Bank and documents related to that funding decision may be brought into the case.
In court last week, it was asserted that the difference in value of the Uniphar site if the three sites had jointly sought planning permission and been granted it, compared to if Varleigh had applied on its own was a "quantum of €80m". This is because planners allow greater densities on amalgamated sites.
Varleigh and Morrissey are now seeking damages of more than €50m related to the case, details of which first appeared in the Sunday Tribune last week.
"The way things are going the claim might get even bigger as the property market slides into the abyss," Mr Justice Peter Kelly said last Monday, before granting the motion.
"We confirm that Varleigh and James Morrissey intend to vigorously prosecute a multi-million euro breach of contract claim against Aryzta's subsidiary company IAWS and Ronan McNamee, and other issues relating to the development of lands at Tallaght," a spokesman for Varleigh and Morrissey said last week. Morrissey, who gave personal guarantees to Ulster Bank, had been in court for the motion for entry, sitting in the back row as all 11 preceding motions were heard.
Aryzta said that the case "seeking damages arising from an alleged failure to pursue a common course in planning matters relating to development properties in Tallaght" was considered by the group to be "without merit" and said a "complete defence to the claim, based on the law and the facts, is being vigorously pursued".
Repeated mention was made by their counsel on Monday to the claim being "a stale one" and that his clients were "concerned that a case like that is being resurrected".
It is likely to say that attempts at mediation prior to the commencement of the legal action meant Varleigh were not using mediation to achieve a commercial result, but instead to assert a claim for damages.
Mention was also made on Monday to Varleigh's deficit of liabilities over assets of more than €1.1m.
Mr Justice Kelly admitted the case to the Commercial Court, remarking that Varleigh's "financial standing is not a prohibition" against taking a case, but stating that the company did seem to have sat on its hands in relation to taking the case. The case is due to be heard again on 23 June.