Ahern: 'delighted'

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern was the unlikely source of a surprise windfall for an elderly Canadian couple who were seriously assaulted by their neighbour over 25 years ago when they lived in Dundalk.

Introducing the emergency amendment to the Court Enforcement Act which will make it more difficult to imprison a person who is unable to pay a debt, Ahern relayed a case he was involved in when he was working as a solicitor to demonstrate that in some cases people who refuse to pay a debt should be imprisoned.

Ahern said he represented the couple who "were badly assaulted by their next door neighbour in a row over a fence". Because it was one person's word against another, the gardaí would not get involved. Ahern decided to take a civil action and succeeded in getting £5,000 for the man and £2,500 for the woman. "This was a huge amount of money 20 years ago," Ahern said last month before the Dáil and Seanad rose for the summer break. "But of course the fellow never paid. I took a personal interest in the case because I felt the man who assaulted the couple should not be let off. I therefore registered the judgment as a judgment mortgage against the assaulter's property. We left it there and did not apply for an order for sale, as one is entitled to under a judgment order. I thought no more about it and the couple were never paid," said the minister.

Fifteen years later he was contacted by a solicitor who was conducting a search prior to the sale of the assaulter's house and had discovered the judgment mortgage.

"Eventually we tracked them down and I was delighted to be able to tell them that they were going to get £7,500 plus interest of 11% for 15 years," said Ahern who put the final figure at £17,500 or €22,500.