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Mother (93) has right of residence upheld despite judgment against son

Any failure to properly provide for Eithne Ryan ‘lies squarely’ with her son, says judge

A 93-year-old woman is “perfectly entitled” to continue residing at her family home regardless of a judgment for €779,000 against her son, who owns the property, the High Court has ruled.

Ms Justice Teresa Pilkington said any failure to properly provide for Eithne Ryan’s right to support and maintenance “lies squarely” with her son Bryan Ryan, who owns the house and attached 135-acre farm over which there is a debt of €1.4 million to Bank of Ireland (BoI).

She was giving judgment in a case brought by Mrs Ryan against BoI seeking orders in relation to her right of residence and support arising out of a will made by her late husband Laurence Ryan in which he left the family home and farm at Bunker Hill, Cratloe, Co Clare, to Bryan. He left €20,000 to his wife and said she would have a right of residence and support in Bunker Hill for life.

The bank had argued that, with a debt of €1.4 million, it was not beyond the bounds of possibility that the €779,000 debt to the mother, which was the valuation of her right of residence/support, would be utilised to cancel the bank’s ability to recover the debt.

Declaration sought

Mrs Ryan had sought a declaration that her right of residence and support ranked as a first charge, in priority to the bank’s charge over the property.

The bank brought a counterclaim against both Mrs Ryan and her son seeking a declaration that her right of residence only related to the house and not the farm. It also argued any charge in her favour did not take priority over its registered burden on the property.

Ms Justice Pilkington said, before bringing the proceedings seeking a declaration in relation to residence, Mrs Ryan had, in 2015, sued her son requiring him to support and maintain her in Bunker Hill in accordance with her husband’s will. She also sought an order requiring Bryan Ryan to carry out all necessary works or repairs on the houses.

Mr Ryan did not contest his mother’s proceedings saying through his lawyers he did not “wish to drag a family dispute involving his mother before the courts, especially where he has no obvious grounds to defend same”.

In 2016, the court gave judgment in favour of Mrs Ryan against her son for €779,225, which included valuing her right of residence and support at €428,000, €281,000 for repairs to the house and another €60,000 specifically for repairing the roof.

‘Impressive lady’

Ms Justice Pilkington said it did not appear any steps were taken by Mrs Ryan to enforce that judgment. Mrs Ryan, who the judge described as “an impressive lady and well able to keep up with her activities at that time”, had made it perfectly clear she had no intention of moving out of the house, although she did not give evidence.

It was forcibly argued on behalf of the bank that her right of residence proceedings were “part of a strategy” designed to affect the ability of the bank to recover monies on foot of the charge it has on the property, she said.

This was “not a matter for this court”, but Mrs Ryan was entitled to reside in Bunker Hill and responsibility for it lay squarely with her son, Ms Justice Pilkington said.

She was satisfied the burden on the property in Mrs Ryan’s favour extends only to the house. There was therefore no necessity for the court to consider the bank’s application regarding the rectification of the registering of that burden, she said.

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