DUP MLA fails in bid to have debt set aside

David McIlveen
David McIlveen

A Democratic Unionist MLA has failed in a High Court bid to set aside a £27,000 debt owed over an estate agency franchise.

David McIlveen was seeking to nullify a claim against him over personal loan agreement with Ulster Property Sales.

As part of his dispute against the debt it was contended that he was pressurised into signing the loan agreement under the threat of bankruptcy which would cost him his political career.

But a judge concluded that substantial grounds for granting his application had not been demonstrated.

In a newly published ruling Master Kelly said: “With his professional background, one would have expected the applicant - perhaps more than most - to understand the serious nature of contracts, whether they take the form of loan agreements or franchise agreements.”

Mr McIlveen and a business partner obtained a franchise for a UPS branch in Ballymena, Co Antrim in 2007. An annual fee of £7,500 allowed the use of the company’s name, branding and promotional material.

But within months of beginning trading Northern Ireland’s property market crashed. By 2010 the branch had accumulated a debt to UPS of up to £75,000, the court heard.

At around this time Mr McIlveen decided to stand for election in the 2011 Assembly elections.

He informed UPS of his plans and set out an “exit strategy” which, according to the judge, involved addressing the debt.

In May 2011 Mr McIlveen was elected as an MLA for North Antrim. An agreement was reached on the debt, with the court hearing that UPS granted him a loan, including interest, of more than £35,000.

It was to be repaid by 72 monthly instalments of £500.

Although Mr McIlveen made 16 payments these ceased, apparently without notice, the court was told.

A statutory demand was then served on the MLA, a move he sought to have set aside. He denied that he agreed to be liable for the central overhead costs when he entered into the UPS Ballymena franchise agreement. But rejecting his case, Master Kelly said there was no evidence that UPS threatened him with bankruptcy, other than serving the statutory demand on him.

“It seems to me, therefore, that any perceived pressure experienced by the applicant was caused by his own personal decision to stand for selection as an MLA in forthcoming elections,” she said.

Master Kelly added: “I also cannot overlook the fact that the applicant was at the relevant time a professional man engaged in business activity conducted almost entirely by contract.

“One would not, I think, have expected someone in the applicant’s position to agree to repay a debt he disputed.

“Nor would one expect him to agree to a loan facility to repay a debt he disputed.”

Refusing the application, she confirmed: “For the reasons given I conclude that the applicant has not demonstrated that the debt which is the subject of his statutory demand is disputed on grounds which are substantial.”