The plight of Tom McFeely, who made millions as one of Ireland's biggest property barons, but now bankrupt, is seeking justice in the British courts.
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Tonight on Spotlight...
the first television interview with a former IRA gunman
who made millions in property,
now bankrupt, denounced for building a death-trap
that left hundreds of people homeless.
But he says he is the victim and he is certainly not sorry.
We are getting to the level of the gutter media.
What would I apologise for?
Back in September, workmen fixing up this house on one of Dublin's
most prestigious roads made an incredible discovery.
200,000 euro stashed under a bath.
Thousands of 50 euro notes had been stuffed into bags
and hidden behind a bath panel on the ground floor.
The authorities believed the money belonged to this man -
the former owner of the house, Tom McFeely.
Once an IRA hunger striker,
after prison, he made a fortune on the property market.
But he is now bankrupt, evicted from his former mansion,
and he has been accused of hiding much more money than this
from everyone he owes.
A lot of money was found in your house.
Around 200 grand. Where did it come from?
Don't ask me. You may ask the people who put it there.
All I can tell you is that it is not my money.
Do you think for one moment I left money behind me
and I forgot about it?
That even if the house was full of five, or six, or eight, or ten
security men, that I wouldn't have went in and took it out again?
That money matters, because it lay hidden at a time
when Tom McFeely owed millions -
much of that debt springing from
notoriously substandard building projects.
It was my money, he took it from me.
Was he in a position to pay it back?
Absolutely. Absolutely. There is no doubt about that.
We have learned that even his former bank thinks
he has hidden assets, but he says he is being persecuted
by Dublin's elite simply because he was in the IRA
and because he is from Northern Ireland.
I don't have anything at all.
Not even a bank account, not a penny, not anything.
-Does he still have money?
-I believe he does.
I believe it is very well hidden.
I have discovered evidence that, as his Irish empire was collapsing,
Tom McFeely was paid millions of pounds in London...
..money traced back to Northern Ireland
that has now disappeared offshore.
Take the camera out of my face, friend. Camera out of my face.
Pursued by the media,
hunted in the courts and now in disgrace,
Tom McFeely has been dodging the cameras for years.
But I have been meeting him on and off camera
over recent months.
This is his only television interview,
giving his account of his rise and spectacular fall -
Provo, property mogul and now national pariah.
Tom McFeely is the son of a cattle dealer,
born into a family of 13 in Foreglen, near Dungiven.
When the Troubles began, he was working as a bricklayer in London.
He came home and became a committed gunman and bomber.
I am not one to sit down and deny
that I wasn't in the IRA,
or that I didn't do anything.
Of course I done to the best of my ability at the time.
In hindsight, yes, I could have been better.
You could have been better?
Using the word better in the context of the IRA...
I could have been more efficient, yes.
What does more efficient mean in the terms of the IRA?
I could have done more than I done.
'It is difficult to see how.'
Tom McFeely was caught with a bomb,
escaped and was recaptured with guns.
In 1974, he blasted out of Portlaoise Prison,
and spent two years on the run.
He was caught again after a robbery and armed siege near Greysteel.
Like many IRA members of the time, at his trial,
he refused to recognise the court, because it was British.
Sentencing him to 26 years, the judge called him
"a dangerous, intelligent and vicious young man".
Do you regret any of the actions you carried out?
No. Why would I? If I was going to regret it, I wouldn't have done it.
Some people, with the passage of time, come to another view.
Why would...? If you come to another view in the passage of time,
then it was wrong do it in the first place.
I don't believe it was wrong.
I regret being in a position that I would have to do it, yes.
I wish I hadn't had to have done it. Do I regret it? No.
Tom McFeely spent 12 years in the Maze Prison.
It was there that he first met another IRA member,
He was a serious senior IRA figure
within the prison.
I met him in 1982 and developed a strong relationship with him,
a strong personal friendship with him.
He was very intelligent, very courageous,
he probably was the most fearless individual
that I had ever met in my life.
McFeely was at the forefront of the IRA in jail.
Among the first to refuse to wear prison uniform,
he spent almost four years on the blanket and dirty protests,
then joined the IRA's first hunger strike in 1980.
-Seven Republican prisoners began a hunger strike.
They say it can be ended only by the granting of their demands, or death.
Tom McFeely refused food for nearly eight weeks
but the Republican leadership called off the protest.
You know, the saying, "It's not those who can inflict the most,
"but those who can endure the most."
To be quite honest, I would rather inflict it than endure it.
When he was released in 1989, Tom McFeely left home
and went back to the building trade.
His destination was Dublin,
and during the Celtic Tiger's building boom,
everything he touched appeared to turn to gold.
When I went to Dublin, I put the same determination into succeeding
as I done to everything in my life.
He formed an unlikely partnership
with polo-playing Dubliner Larry O'Mahony.
Their first major development was this west Dublin hotel.
They also turned a nearby car park into tens of millions of euro,
described as one of the shrewdest property deals of the Celtic Tiger.
At one point, Tom McFeely was worth an estimated 320 million euro.
I had a sort of pride in Tom.
Because I had seen him at the bottom of the pile
in the prison, from the point of view of the prison administration
beating him and the torment that he went through,
and then, in some way, he rose to the top.
But that was his game.
Tom could master things that he set his mind to.
The former IRA prisoner, now a multimillionaire,
didn't forget his friends from jail.
I phoned him one day as a last resort,
because I didn't want to work in building, and I said,
"Tom, have you any work?"
and his response was, "Yeah, come down,
"nobody from the H Blocks will ever be refused a job."
So, without doubt, he seen an old friend right.
He was exceptionally generous, I thought.
Because he could have easily said there'd be no work, but he didn't.
12 years after leaving prison, Tom McFeely was able to splash out
the equivalent of £3 million on a new home, a former embassy.
This is one of the most sought-after addresses in Dublin.
If you've got a house here, you can count among your neighbours
developers, ambassadors, financiers, judges -
even a former Taoiseach has called it home.
So, when Tom McFeely bought his house here,
what he was saying was - "he had arrived".
Not bad for a former IRA hunger striker.
The house contained an etching by Picasso,
and, according to McFeely, real gold leaf on the ceiling.
Quite a turnaround from a man who once belonged to the
League of Communist Republicans.
He says that beneath those wealthy trappings,
he was still a committed socialist.
-Do you still have...?
-I still have them.
I would still... If tomorrow we could implement some
sort of socialist republic in Ireland,
I would be in the front of it.
I would be in the vanguard of it. I would have no problem...
Anything and everything I have,
I would put my shoulder to the wheel, yes.
'But Tom McFeely's attitude to sharing his wealth only went so far.
'One person who wasn't getting his proper share was the Irish taxman.'
Why did you have to be chased for eight million euro,
nine million euro nearly?
Why did I have to be chased from the taxman?
I don't know anybody at all... that would avoid paying tax
if they could get away with it.
I think I paid, since I was went to the Free State, 67 million of tax.
This a capitalist system we are living in
and everybody takes everything they can get. That is nature of it.
But Tom McFeely got into more trouble
than run-ins with the taxman.
Huge failings at his developments were exposed
when Ireland's building boom turned to bust.
This empty shell of apartments in Dundalk
was built by Tom McFeely's company six years ago.
Now it has been gutted by vandals.
The reason it is empty is that it had to be evacuated.
It had failed a string of fire safety checks
that should have stopped anyone living here in the first place.
But when tenants started moving in, Dundalk's fire chief was alarmed.
In September 2009,
I became aware that the premises,
20 units, were occupied
and still the work hadn't been done,
so I was really concerned at that point. It was very bad.
It was so bad that we immediately decided to serve a closure notice,
which is the most severe thing we can do
in terms of enforcements of fire safety requirements.
20 tenants evacuated in 2009 at your Dundalk development?
-What was that about?
It was about the car park, smoke in the car park.
If there was a fire in the car park...
they said there wasn't enough extraction in the car park.
-Do you consider that serious?
It could be rectified by the simple measure of cutting a hole
in the wall of the car park, which allowed the air to come through.
That proposed solution would certainly not
have made the building safe.
It wouldn't even have dealt with one of our requirements.
Fire safety would soon become a much bigger problem for Tom McFeely,
embroiling him in a scandal of national proportions -
one that made hundreds of people homeless
and had tragic consequences.
This is Priory Hall - a McFeely development in north Dublin.
In October 2011, a judge was so worried about the fire risk here,
that he ordered its swift evacuation,
with fire engines standing by.
More than 200 people were made homeless.
-Will you come back here?
-Never, I would rather sleep in the street.
Apartments here cost in excess of a quarter of a million euro,
and former residents spent the next two years facing mortgage
arrears on properties they could no longer live in -
homes that had become effectively worthless.
It was terrifying,
because, basically, our lives were turned
upside down over the course of one weekend.
Myself and my wife owed hundreds of thousands of euros.
Suddenly you're starting to wonder, are we,
for the first time in our lives, going to fall into these
huge financial difficulties, have nowhere to live,
and be stuck with this massive mortgage on a death-trap?
For one former resident, the pressure apparently became too much.
Father of two Fiachra Daly took his own life last July.
His partner Stephanie Meehan spoke publicly about his death,
which happened days after they had received another warning
about their mortgage arrears.
We had accumulated 19,000 plus
arrears on our moratorium.
And the usual letter that goes with it that your home is at risk...
We didn't have a home.
-Let's talk about Priory Hall.
This has got more to do possibly with politics than anything else, right?
-It might have something to do with building construction.
-I do not believe that Priory Hall should have been evacuated.
Because it was not the fire trap they said it was -
no problems there that could not have been rectified.
In Celtic Tiger Ireland,
a strict UK-style system of building control just didn't exist.
Contractors certified their own work as being up to standard
and Tom McFeely maintains that the people
he hired passed Priory Hall as being fit for purpose.
This is all the documentation certifying everything.
Is it not your duty, Tom, to ensure a certain quality standard?
Just one second. We will get to that.
This stuff went to everybody.
Are you telling me that I personally should stand round
watching 200 apartments getting built and I am going to see everything?
For the people who lived in Priory Hall, that rings hollow.
The fact of the matter is,
256 people in Priory Hall lived in severe danger for years.
Those 256 people lost their homes all because corners were cut.
What everyone really wants to know is,
do you apologise to the residents of Priory Hall for what happened?
We are getting to the level of gutter media.
-What would I apologise for?
-A shoddy build.
I don't think it is a shoddy building, you see.
I don't think it is any different
to most of the other buildings in Dublin.
McFeely's business partner, Larry O'Mahony,
was cleared by a court of responsibility for Priory Hall.
But Tom McFeely says he's been seen differently
because he is a Republican from the North.
Anthony McIntyre worked at Priory Hall
dealing with residents' complaints.
Tom McFeely's old comrade says he's got it wrong.
We have failed our residents completely.
I have made many mistakes in life.
I am full of regrets.
But Priory Hall figures highly.
Not because I feel responsible, because I didn't build it,
but I feel I let them residents down.
Priory Hall has cost Dublin City Council
an estimated four million euro in security and rehousing costs.
It became an unavoidable issue for the Irish government after
Stephanie Meehan spoke about Fiachra Daly's death.
They should have dealt with it two years ago.
Then we wouldn't be in this mess.
There wouldn't have been millions of taxpayers' money,
and, most of all, we wouldn't have lost a life.
Tom McFeely does not see how he can be in any way
responsible for Fiachra Daly's death.
Why didn't everyone else not commit suicide? In Priory Hall?
What was the difference there?
We are getting into something here and we are
arguing about something which is very emotional
and stressful on his family that is left behind, and it shouldn't be.
I am not to blame for his suicide.
I've spoken to Stephanie Meehan about Tom McFeely's interview.
She told me she doesn't bear him any ill will.
Fiachra Daly's death forced the Irish government to step in to help
Priory Hall residents reach a settlement with their lenders.
The inescapable irony is that Fiachra Daly killed himself
over a debt that was not much more than the money found
in Tom McFeely's former home.
-How does that make you feel?
-Terrible, absolutely terrible.
That money could have saved Fiachra Daly's life.
There is no other way to explain it.
With the problems of Priory Hall headline news
and arguments flaring over who was responsible for the residents,
Tom McFeely pulled an unexpected move.
He quietly asked the courts to make him bankrupt, not in Ireland,
but in England.
He told the bankruptcy court there he had only £5,000 to his name.
His debts amounted to almost £300 million.
Why did you apply for bankruptcy in Great Britain?
Why did I apply for bankruptcy in Britain?
By dint of what the Free State done in the 1920s,
I am a British subject.
I don't like it, I won't like it till the day I die,
but that's not the point.
People will find it curious that you fought
and almost would have died for the Irish Republican Army,
and yet you chose to avail of bankruptcy of the Queen.
Tell me something...
If you were hungry tomorrow,
which of the two passports would you eat to put the hunger off you?
People will hear that as a faintly unbelievable statement,
given that you fought to rid Ireland of British rule,
-then you applied for bankruptcy in Britain.
-Of course I did.
You think there is something strange about that?
I was working here, living here. What would you have me do?
The fact is, bankruptcy in Britain is much more lenient
than in the Republic of Ireland,
and other Irish developers have used it as an escape route.
In Tom McFeely's case, it meant he could wipe out his many debts
and be back in business in only one year.
But this woman wouldn't let him get away with it.
Theresa McGuinness was owed over 100,000 euros,
after she sued McFeely for another shoddy build.
But he hadn't paid her when he declared himself bankrupt.
Tom McFeely went to the UK
and tried to pull a very smart job
off on the UK court system by declaring himself bankrupt.
The fact that he was living in his palatial house, paying nobody,
you can't live like that.
You're not allowed to live like that.
Theresa McGuinness decided to challenge
Tom McFeely's UK bankruptcy.
She and her partner Gerry investigated McFeely's finances.
But, unable to afford big legal bills,
Theresa chose to represent herself in court.
Tom McFeely didn't realise
he had met his match,
and didn't realise that he had met
somebody who was far stronger than he would ever be.
Theresa McGuinness argued in the UK that Tom McFeely should be
facing his debts back in Dublin.
Remarkably, the former IRA hunger striker said it would
breach his human rights to expose him,
as a British citizen, to the punitive laws of Ireland.
Theresa McGuinness won
and McFeely's claim to a UK bankruptcy was thrown out.
She then had him declared bankrupt under the tougher Irish regime.
Bankruptcy in itself is supposed to be the solution.
It is not a punishment.
In what way was the solution for Theresa McGuinness
bankruptcy in Ireland, or bankruptcy in England,
apart from begrudgery, spite?
What good did it do her?
We showed Theresa McGuinness what Tom McFeely said about her.
What good did that do her?
'She got the better of this Northern IRA man? Is that what it's about?
'Because that is what it seems to be about.'
Poor Tom, he is really feeling sorry for himself.
-Is that what it was about?
He says you got the better of him as a Northern IRA man.
I honestly have never used his Northern Irish connections
or activities ever, ever, in any of my court proceedings.
-So what's going on in Tom's head?
-He's insane, absolutely insane.
-So when he says that?
-He's looking for sympathy.
He will never get sympathy from me.
Tom McFeely owes millions.
He says he has nothing and can't pay anyone back.
But is that really true?
Some of the people he owes think he's actually hidden away far more
than the money found under the bath.
It's a view shared by his own bankers.
I'm in London looking for what's believed to be
the source of Tom McFeely's secret money.
In the mid-2000s, Tom McFeely bought a patch of land in London.
Now, not just any patch of land,
a potentially very lucrative patch of land in the East End,
close to where the forthcoming Olympic Games were going to be held.
And on it, he built this. It's called Athena Court.
Once valued at almost £90 million.
Though he bought the land and built the tower block,
Tom McFeely says it's not his.
Yet he has been accused of siphoning off
huge sums of rental money from it.
This firm of letting agents nearby were paying him
£32,000 a week to rent out the flats, according to a court case.
Money that McFeely says didn't go to him.
Were Filtons taking rent for you?
-They weren't taking rent for me. They were taking rent.
What difference does it make who it was for?
McFeely was connected to the payments two years ago
when the letting agents were taken to court.
The judge said that there was a strong suggestion that one
substantial payment had been intimidated out of them,
by Tom McFeely.
When we caught up with McFeely a second time,
he said that was all wrong.
Show me the person that was intimidated.
Just show me the person that was intimidated.
Get him, get the person that I intimidated, please get him.
Show them to me. Where are they?
I called the letting agents to ask about this
and they didn't want to talk.
So just how much money was at stake here?
How much has Tom McFeely been accused of hiding?
According to court records, the answer was found tucked away,
not in London, but back in Northern Ireland.
Campsie, outside Londonderry.
This is where Tom McFeely based another of his companies.
In the company's e-mails were the records of the London rent deal,
and the total amount is staggering.
An e-mail sent here showed that those London rents
came to a total of £2.9 million.
£2.9 million paid at a time when Priory Hall was a mess
and Theresa McGuinness was still owed her money.
But who has that money now?
Tom McFeely denies it was paid to him.
He says it went to a company called Ashwood Enterprises.
It's based on the Isle of Man.
The question is, who controls Ashwood?
Because it's based in the Isle of Man,
the owner's identity is a secret.
Inside this building are the corporate service providers
who, until recently, ran Ashwood for its real, hidden owners.
Now, obviously they know who that is,
so I'm going to try to find out a bit more about it.
My name's Ciaran Tracey. I'm here from the BBC.
I would like to see someone from Ashwood Enterprises?
The people in here wouldn't give us any details about Ashwood.
But we know Tom McFeely's family was connected to the company.
His brother Derek was once a director of Ashwood.
And there is someone else who knows
who benefited from that £2.9 million.
Do you know who the beneficiary is?
-Of course I do.
-Why the secrecy?
There is no secrecy. The bottom line is it is none of my business.
People say you are the ultimate beneficiary.
People have said a lot of stuff about me, led by the mob.
But some of the people saying it were Tom McFeely's own bankers.
Bank of Ireland has alleged that Tom McFeely is behind Ashwood.
And in written submissions to a London court,
it said he has hidden money.
And we've learned that the Irish official overseeing McFeely's
bankruptcy has made the same accusation.
Tom McFeely denies it. And says they haven't got a shred of evidence.
A representative of Ashwood has written to us.
He says Tom McFeely is telling the truth
and the London rents wound up with Ashwood.
He wouldn't tell us who controls the company,
but he says it's not Tom McFeely.
Tom McFeely says the bank knows who really got the money.
He says they've only accused him of controlling Ashwood because the
Irish government's bad debt agency, NAMA, is trying to discredit him.
The only option the court is left now is trying to prove that I am Ashwood.
That is what NAMA is doing at the moment. And I am not Ashwood.
No, and I never was Ashwood.
And it was probably set up three or four years
before I even knew about it.
Who ended up holding those £2.9 million in rents remains a mystery.
-Have you been hiding any assets?
-No, listen to me.
Everybody has been looking. I am in bankruptcy for just over two years.
If there is anything that I have had for two years,
I'm sure somebody would have found something.
That he still have money?
I believe he does, I believe it is well hidden
and I believe he is playing a waiting game.
The time will come when people will take their eyes off Tom McFeely
and he will be free to operate.
Tom McFeely and Ashwood remain closely connected in one respect.
Together they are going back to court to argue that the London
apartment block was illegally taken by NAMA.
That will bring the former IRA man back to the courts of the Queen.
I expect to get justice and the law in England.
That is something for an Irish Republican to say.
People will see a lot of legal action, and say,
"If you are bankrupt, how you funding this?"
I am finding it from friends, there is a lot of...
The lawyers are doing it pro bono. And I have asked people for money.
Everybody is not against Tom McFeely, you know.
I am not going to be like a politician
and claim that everybody loves me, they don't.
But there is a lot of decent people in the country,
a lot of decent people.
Most of what has been recovered from Tom McFeely's properties
has gone towards his bank debts.
Spotlight has learned that NAMA sold off Athena Court earlier this month.
The new owner's identity is also hidden offshore.
The proceeds of the sale, for just over £30 million,
will go towards paying off what Tom McFeely owed the banks.
Even the bulk of the cash under the bath
has also gone to cover bank debts.
Fiachra Daly's partner and their children were given 5,000 euro
from that stash,
thanks to the generosity of the house's new owners.
Theresa McGuinness has received nothing.
Will you ever get your money?
No, but I have closure. It is done, dusted.
OK, I do not have the money I was owed, but life is not about money.
I can sleep, I have a good lifestyle.
Thomas McFeely doesn't, really.
From the Troubles to the Celtic Tiger, Tom McFeely has lived
at the forefront of Ireland's worst excesses.
But he claims he will prove he has been victimised,
regain his fortune and one day live again at Dublin's best address.
Oh, I know I can get the bankruptcy overturned.
What was done was illegal - I have no doubt.
It was this IRA man from the North, no-one will say anything,
he was notorious, he was this, that, everything,
so let's kick him.
But I am not going away.
I ain't going away, I'm here, I'm around.
Former IRA hunger striker Tom McFeely made millions as one of Ireland's biggest property barons. Now he's bankrupt after a string of scandals - and seeking refuge in British courts. Ciaran Tracey reports.