‘Land grab’: Couple sue over ownership of Co Laois garage used to house exotic pets

Alan O’Neill and June Finnegan claim developer has threatened them and damaged disputed Portarlington property with a JCB

A couple has launched High Court proceedings against a developer and its principals due to a dispute about the ownership of a garage where exotic pets including scorpions, chameleons, and an alligator are kept.

Alan O’Neill and June Finnegan, from Crann Nua, Edenderry Road, Portarlington, Co Laois, have sued Drumgoan Developments Limited and Noel Martin Senior and Darren Martin, who are alleged to be the firm’s owners and operators.

The couple claim the defendants, who have asserted they own the garage adjacent to the couple’s home of 20 years, have threatened them and damaged the disputed property with a JCB.

The couple claim they purchased their home and paid an additional fee for the garage in the Crann Nua estate, which was built by Drumgoan in 2005. Despite paying for it, the couple say the garage does not appear to have been properly conveyed to them due to an oversight by their former solicitor.

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They accept the garage is on land that has been registered to Drumgoan since last year. The couple were unaware of the issue until recent months.

The couple claim the defendants have engaged in a “land grab” and have made demands for money from them and their neighbours, who also have garages in the estate.

In a sworn statement to the court, Mr O’Neill said that on February 21st last he heard “a loud hammering on the wall of the garage, and found two men smashing the walls of the garage with power tools”.

Another man arrived in a JCB and said he intended to drive it through the wall, despite being informed that the plaintiff’s had pets in the garage. He said he was given a piece of paper that said the defendants owned the garage, and that the men were directed by Darren Martin.

After the JCB drove through the garage, causing substantial damage to it, Mr O’Neill called An Garda Síochána. While the officers told the men to leave the scene, he said gardaí indicated they would not be getting involved as it was a civil matter.

The couple say that for 20 years they have used the garage to keep and breed pets including reptiles such as chameleons and a female caiman alligator. They also keep tarantulas and scorpions in the garage. They have insulated the garage and expended sums to keep it at a certain temperature.

As a result of the damage done to the property, Mr O’Neill said many of the animals have been moved and it is unlikely that they will breed this year.

Mr O’Neill also said in his sworn statement that Noel Martin Snr sent his family a significant number of threats, which the plaintiff says are designed to intimidate his family into acquieseiing to the defendant’s plans. He also claims the defendants have been driving their vehicles near his home, “for no particular reason other than to intimidate” the plaintiff’s family.

When Mr O’Neill’s solicitor sent a cease and desist letter to the defendants, Noel Martin Snr said in reply that the solicitors letter was “waffle”, the animals “belonged in a zoo” and threatened to report the plaintiffs to Tusla.

Seeking the injunction Ruaidhrí Giblin BL, instructed by solicitor Paul Kelly, for the couple, said it is his clients case that any purported claim the defendants are making over the garage “should be made through a solicitor”. Counsel said his client is entitled to orders to protect the property and restrain the defendant and his agents from interfering with their enjoyment of their property.

The matter came before Mr Justice Mark Sanfey on Wednesday who, on an ex parte basis, granted the couple a temporary injunction restraining the defendants or their servants and agents from contacting or communicating with the plaintiffs.

The judge said he was prepared to grant the couple permission to serve short notice of the proceedings, where they seek other orders against the defendants. He said that while he had only heard from one side in the dispute, the communications from the defendants “did not put them in a good light”.

The matter will return before the court next week.

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