An Irish developer who started out with “£1 in his pocket” in London just under two decades ago but who went on to build up a multi-million-euro property empire has been forced to pay his ex-wife £14.2m (€16.5m) as part of a divorce deal.
n a rags-to-riches tale, Brid Gallagher (44) and Donal Gallagher (50), both from Donegal, met around 2003.
But after years of living a lavish lifestyle with high-end cars and properties regularly snapped up by the couple, she filed for divorce on St Patrick’s Day in 2020.
Ms Gallagher, a primary school teacher yesterday secured a £14.2m (€16.5m) divorce settlement in London against her husband.
The high-stakes case involved properties in Ireland and the UK as well as a share in a hugely successful construction company.
Mr Gallagher’s business success allowed them to enjoy a lavish lifestyle, where money was “never an issue”, the court was told.
“The financial history of the marriage is a story of ever-rising prosperity and ever-increasing standard of living,” noted Justice Nicholas Mostyn, who heard the case.
“The business was, and is, extremely successful,” he said.
So successful, indeed, that it helped fund the purchase of a clutch of properties in Ireland and the UK, while Mr Gallagher splashed out on a collection of classic cars in Ireland, including a Porsche and a Bentley.
The former husband and wife have, between them, spent almost £1.7m (€2m) on legal fees arguing over their assets, an amount the judge described as “extraordinary”.
The assets owned by the former couple include a 50pc stake in construction firm Galldris, which was co-founded by Mr Gallagher.
The court placed a £56.7m (€65.6m) equity valuation on the entire business. Their matrimonial home in the UK was valued at £2.6m (€3m), while there are four properties in Ireland valued at a total of £1.1m (€1.3m).
Those Irish properties include what was described as a “much-loved matrimonial holiday home” that was valued at £131,000.
Brid Gallagher is to retain the £2.6m matrimonial home and has also been awarded a property in Ireland and a £12.1m lump sum. Of that lump sum, the court has directed that Mr Gallagher pay her £3.1m by July 1, and a further £9m by July 1, 2024.
He must also pay almost £22,000 a month in maintenance to her.
Mr Gallagher is also a director of Donegal-based Edenmore Farm Meats, a former abattoir business. The company is in liquidation.
Edenmore’s liquidator has sought a declaration from the High Court in Ireland that the directors of the firm, including Mr Gallagher, are guilty of reckless trading with the intent to defraud creditors. That case is due to come again before the High Court in Dublin in November.
The directors are expected to fully contest the application by the liquidator.
Mr Gallagher had asked the UK court to prevent him or his Galldris company from being named in the settlement proceedings related to his divorce, arguing that sensitive commercial information about his business would be in the public domain.
His lawyers also expressed concerns about how naming him in the case might impact legal proceedings in Ireland.
“Aspects of the husband’s evidence and his approach to the prospective liability arising from an Irish lawsuit against him could be exploited and used for collateral purposes and prejudice his position in those proceedings,” Mr Gallagher’s lawyers had argued.
“The nature of the allegations could expose the husband to criminal sanction, including imprisonment.”
But the judge agreed that if “very rich businessmen are in court fighting at vast expense with their ex-spouses over millions, then the public has the right to know who they are and what they are fighting about”.
Unable to thrash out between themselves how their assets should be distributed, the Gallaghers went to the High Court in London to ask a judge to divide the spoils of their marriage. Ms Gallagher had contended she should receive an overall award of £18m. “This was in the spectrum of possible awards,” said the judge. Mr Gallagher had proposed she receive just £6.6m, which Justice Mostyn noted “was not” in the spectrum of possible awards.
He heard how the former husband and wife had met around 2003 or 2004. At the time, she was undertaking a postgraduate teaching diploma, while he was living and working in London.
He had moved there, the court was told, with “just £1 in my pocket”, and started work as a labourer. By the time he met his future wife, he had already branched out on his own with a business partner, jointly establishing Galldris and having acquired a number of investment properties.
After the pair met, they began a long-distance relationship. She completed her studies and then taught at a primary school in Dublin for a year before moving to London in 2005 to live with her future husband in his one-bedroom council flat.
They were engaged a year later and married in 2008.
By 2005, Galldris was still operating from a Portakabin, but its fortunes were on the up. Still, Brid Gallagher kept working as a teacher in London and continued to do so, on and off, until 2019, despite the wealth she and her husband had accumulated.
Turnover at Galldris soared. In 2005, it was close to £6m and made a pre-tax profit of £327,000 that year. In the 12 months to the end of last March, turnover was £107m (€124m), while it made a pre-tax profit of almost £2m.
Ms Gallagher told the court the family had enjoyed “a very comfortable standard of living – money was never an issue”.
She noted how she had contributed towards renovating and refurbishing previous family homes, worked as a teacher and been involved in the property development business.
But the marriage soured. They separated in late 2019 and a petition for divorce was filed by Brid Gallagher on March 17, 2020. A decree nisi was granted in March last year. A decree absolute has not yet been granted.
The London court heard that she has racked up £714,000 in debts, mostly connected with the legal action in the case. She has a litigation loan that is being charged at 14pc interest.
“It is emblematic of the wastage of money that it seems has plagued this case that the wife should have been forced to take out a high-interest litigation loan rather than being provided with monies on account of her award,” the judge said.
“Financial remedy litigation seems to be fast heading for Ritz Hotel status – so expensive that it is only accessible by the very rich,” lamented the judge.