Woman disputes claim by former friends €280,000 was a loan, not gift

A woman became upset several times at the High Court when disputing claims by former close friends that €280,000 given to her was a loan and not a gift.

Jacqueline Keenaghan said she had been close friends for years with Fidelma ‘Della’ Kerrigan and her sister Celine and could not understand why they are claiming she has failed to repay the money, which she said was offered by them to her “totally out of the blue” in August 2010.

Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy has heard the €280,000 was part of €750,000 compensation secured by Della about two weeks earlier over serious personal injuries suffered by her in a road accident in 2002 in which her father died.

In evidence on Tuesday, Ms Keenaghan denied claims by the sisters the money was offered as a loan after she told them she feared losing her home as a result of her husband John’s architectural business being in trouble, had problems putting food on the table, cried in front of them over money or sought money from them.

She said she had been pressed by Celine about how her husband was doing and told her he owed more than €200,000 but was working with the bank, revenue and his solicitor to address that.

“Hand on heart and on my mother’s grave, I never once asked for money from those girls, I’m not that type of person.

“We are pure straight and we pay everything and if the girls had not decided then they wanted to give us a gift we would have worked with revenue and worked with the bank.”

She was “shocked and emotional” when the sisters offered her €240,000 on August 7, 2010, but told them she could not accept it, she said. Over the next several days, the sisters repeatedly urged her and her husband to take the money but they continued to refuse, she said.

Her husband had said they could not take it because they could never repay it but the sisters persisted, insisting it was a gift, not a loan, and they must accept it, she said.

The sisters said they “loved me that much”, this was what they wanted to do and making this gift of money, plus another gift to a nephew of theirs, would make them feel better over the road accident, she said.

She and her husband agreed on August 16 to accept the money and €280,000 was given to her in bank drafts on August 30, 2010. She lodged it that day and used the vast bulk of it to pay the bank, the revenue, an accountant, VAT and miscellaneous other debts and expenses, she said.

Addressing a reference to Della being upset about Ms Keenaghan’s daughter having hired a limousine for her debs, Ms Keenaghan said her daughter sat her Leaving Certificate in 2006, four years before the money issue arose.

In her action, Della Kerrigan, (59), a single woman of Benildus Avenue, Ballyshannon, Co Donegal,  claims it was agreed and understood at all times the money was a short term loan and could be called in, allowing a reasonable period for the defendants to set up their new business.

Both sisters sought repayment in 2014 but it has not been paid and Ms Kerrigan is now on social welfare payments, the court heard.

The defendants, of Rathmore, Ballyshannon, deny the claims and say the money was a gift with the effect they have not failed to repay it. They also deny they exercised undue influence over Ms Kerrigan.

In evidence on Tuesday, Ms Keenaghan, a mother of three, said she knew the sisters from childhood as all three had grown up in Ballyshannon.

Under cross-examination by Patrick Kean SC, she was asked about a psychiatrist’s evidence that Della had suffered a closed brain injury as a result of the 2002 accident and also experienced “survivor guilt”. She was unaware of that, she said.

Asked had she any “sense of shame” about how she treated Della, she said she never asked for money and the sisters “wanted to give this gift”.

Ms Keenaghan said she herself is a “very honest, kind person”, the sort of person who “would go out of their way to give my last Rolo”.

The issue of gift tax “never crossed my mind” when the €280,000 was received because her husband was engaging with the Revenue at the time, she added.

The hearing continues.

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