Derry City Council to meet charities over £10,000 ground rent debt

The latest BBC report promises to keep us up to date with any developments on the story of Raymond Saville Conolly de Montmorency Lecky-Browne-Lecky’s legacy to two charities – the Actors’ Charitable Trust and the Musicians’ Benevolent Fund.

After his death in 1961 the amateur actor’s dying wish was that the charities would benefit from revenues from his estate – including the ground rents from properties he owned in Londonderry.  There’s an account of his funeral here, an account of the auction of his belongings, and a gallery of images and newspaper cuttings.

Among the ground rents involved is for the City Swimming Baths on William Street, run by Derry City Council.

And the Council haven’t been paying the required £600 per year for some time… and it’s now around £10,000 in arrears.

The BBC are now reporting that the charities involved are to contact Derry City Council after the council issued a statement saying that they “do not have any outstanding demands for ground rent on the property and would encourage the charities to get in contact with them directly.”  The same report notes that the council issued a statement to the BBC last week saying that their “financial records did not go back that far”, but that they would be prepared to meet representatives of the charities.

Here’s the key section from the latest BBC report by Julie McCullough

The BBC has the documents to show that the council was liable to pay these ground rents as far back as 1962.

We also have the documents to show that they had been paying it sporadically as late as the early 1990s – but then the council sent a letter asking for proof that they owed the money.

They wanted a copy of the deed – but solicitor Hugh Logan – who has been looking after the estate for around 30 years – said that wasn’t something they were able to produce.

“The actual document couldn’t be turned up but the fact that the ground landlord, and we are acting on behalf of the ground landlord, couldn’t produce what is called the counterpart deed – the copy deed – the original deed would be in the hands of the person who holds the ground, ie. Derry City Council.”

And the BBC has seen a copy of that deed belonging to Derry City Council – and it clearly says on it that the ground rent is to be paid forever. [added emphasis]

So we asked the council why they had stopped paying the ground rent and if they had any intention of paying the two charities the money they owed.

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  • Pete,

    Derry City Council also has more recent history in attempting to under/not pay for use of land owned by another – The Honourable The Irish Society.

  • Might these just be the wrong sort of charities?

  • Pete Baker


    I take it you’re referring to this story?

    Edward Montgomery, The Honourable The Irish Society’s representative in Ireland, revealed that Derry City Council had been seeking a deal to secure use of a small portion of their site for the nominal rental fee of £1 a year.

    The land is on the fringe of the Society’s 28-acre Gransha marshlands nature reserve.

    Mr Montgomery said a deal has now been reached, after two years of correspondence, that will involve the council paying several hundred pounds a year.

    He said: “The council has been trying to drive this project through for some time and we said yes in principle at least two years ago. It is certainly not our fault it ended up last minute; there was a tremendous difficulty getting council to engage with us. The Honourable The Irish Society has a duty to make a proper use of their assets so it raises money for charitable projects.

    “A deal has been reached and we are talking about modest rent of hundreds per annum. The society has to account to the Charity Commissioners and its auditors for the proper use of its assets. We had to come to some sort of sensible solution. The initial council proposal of £1 per year obviously wouldn’t have looked very wise.”

    [Sinn Fein councillor Gerry] MacLochlainn had claimed: “The Honourable The Irish Society is insisting on Derry City Council paying rent for a small portion of land which is integral to the walkway.

    “The intransigence of The Honourable The Irish Society belies its supposedly charitable status and calls into question its true role within our society. I find nothing ‘honourable’ in the stance being adopted by the society.

    “Whilst Sinn Fein will not be jeopardising the very worthwhile greenway project, we do oppose being held to ransom in this manner.”

    “Derry City Council is on the threshold of major opportunities arising from the new Regeneration Plan, the City of Culture and Council’s Corporate Plan.

    “In view of this we will be demanding that the Honourable Irish Society provides Council with a full inventory of its land assets which will allow us all to establish how much of an impediment or otherwise this organisation will be towards the future development of our city and district.”

    Yet the Derry City Council website notes a £1000 donation from the society in March this year.

    Perhaps it’s an historical thing…

  • “the ground rent is to be paid forever”

    Ground rent is nothing more than an anachronistic hangover from British colonialism. Has to be “paid forever”. Lolz. Derry Council should grow a pair and do what I do when the Brit carpetbaggers come looking it – drop a penny in the poor box and tell them where to go.

  • galloglaigh

    Aren’t the people of Strabane supposed to pay Lord Abercorn land rent? I think if you ask the people of Derry who owns the city’s walls, they will say it’s the citizens. But of course, the Honourable could take them back to London on their way home!

  • Pete Baker

    “Ground rent is nothing more than an anachronistic hangover from British colonialism.”

    Of course it is Ulick…

    From the wikipedia entry on ground rent

    The contemporary accepted meaning of ground rent is the rent at which land is let for the purpose of improvement by building; i.e. a rent charged in respect of the land only, and not in respect of, the buildings to be placed thereon. It is therefore usually lower than the rent that might be achieved for a building let on the open market, and is for a far longer term of years (at least 21 years, but more commonly 99 years or 125 years, or even 999 years). However, inflation has eroded the value of most ground rents with long leases and non-rising incomes, so the value is now marginal where there is no prospect of a reversion (when the ownership of the property reverts back to the freeholder) within 150 years.

    Hence the £600 per year rate.

  • galloglaigh

    It’s a different story though when it’s charity. As the link says, it can help children, and the council need to pay the piper!

  • Pete Baker


    Aren’t the people of Strabane supposed to pay Lord Abercorn land rent? I think if you ask the people of Derry who owns the city’s walls, they will say it’s the citizens. But of course, the Honourable could take them back to London on their way home!

    Perhaps you could set out the logic of your argument rather than simply appealing for an emotional response from a section of the audience?

  • A corpse rises from the grave and believes he has the right to charge the citizens of Derry rent… forever…

    As I said Pete nothing more than a colonial hangover. Anyone who pays needs their head examined.

  • galloglaigh

    My logic being, that the people of the city own the walls. In fact the Environment and heritage agency have been maintaining the walls for quite some time. At the expense of the tax payer of course. The Honourable the Irish have no claim to anything. The land was stolen in the first place, and should be donated to the city’s council as a good will gesture.

  • Pete Baker

    “The land was stolen in the first place”

    Well, at least you’ve stated your logical argument…

  • galloglaigh

    Well it’s the truth isn’t it!

  • JH

    Some anachronistic, charming aul eccentric from a bygone era decided he liked a piece of land no-one else was claiming ownership of, or that belonged to some folks too poor to defend it, or was inherited from someone of such persuasion.

    And now we’re arguing over who should pay his heirs.

    Hopefully the Council will have the stones and the sense to do the exact same thing now and not pay any of em a penny.

  • CharlieMcCarthy29

    As is not uncommon, Mr.Baker has lost the run of himself; his arrogance knows no bounds. He needs to go on holidays or find another way to chill out before running off at the mouth.

  • Reader

    Ulick: Derry Council should grow a pair and do what I do when the Brit carpetbaggers come looking it – drop a penny in the poor box and tell them where to go.
    Most ground rent is peanuts these days. But doesn’t the option exist, if you persist, for the land owners to claim the house?
    Then, if they are being nice, they can sell it back to you for arrears (peanuts) and costs (not peanuts). So – how many years refusal have you accumulated so far?

  • The last house I owned in Ireland was leasehold with a fixed ground rent for 999 years. The Government brought in a law compelling the landholders to transfer their right to freehold for a fee. It was offered to me by the property owners but the inflation rate at the time, around 17%, meant that if I continued as a leaseholder, the future rent would be worth less than peanuts. Is that still the same situation?

  • Drumlins Rock

    Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) enshrines the right to property as follows:

    “(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property”[4]

    Going back to the plantation claiming land was stolen has rarely if ever been upheld in any court (including those of the Republic), if ownership is established then it is only exceptional circumstances where that can be overturned, with proper compensation.
    Forgetting names, histories, personalities and titles which are irrelevant ownership of this ground seems to still exist but a long term lease does also with an agreed amount, as the saying goes a deal is a deal you agree the terms you stick to them.

  • Harry Flashman

    ‘All property is theft’, now who was it said that?

  • @Harry
    Proudhon, I remember writing an undergrad essay on ‘What is Property?’ and I still agree with him. To legally own property you should either be working it on living on it.

    @Reader, I’ve been refusing to pay since 2005.

  • Harry Flashman

    By “working it” would that include leasing it to people who don’t have the means or the desire to purchase your property but who wish to make use of it nonetheless for an agreed fee?

    Or does working it solely mean a horny handed son of the soil hoeing his fifty acres and raising his crop by the sweat of his manly brow?

    What about cars and ships and mines, should they be regarded as property? Who should own them, the pilots, miners, maintenance men, drivers, passengers?

    Copyrights of artistic or literary output, should they be regarded as property? Or can anyone make use as they see fit of other people’s labours?

    Heck copyrights of industrial patents or medical technology, a free for all there too?

    Welcome back Pol Pot, like bad seventies fashion you only have to wait long enough for it all to come back into vogue.

    Man the barricades, Year Zero here we come again.

  • Drumlins Rock

    ahh vested interest Ulick! Actually I havn’t paid mine either, must drop of a few peppercorns, wonder can they be in a grinder?

    So Ulick do you also ban holiday rentals? does your rule apply to governments? commercial landlords? what if you go on hols, if you’re not “living” there do you loose ownership?

  • @Harry if you are not working it, then it’s shouldn’t your property and so free for anything else to work (without paying you for the privileged).

  • @DR I don’t ban anything, it’s a theory I happen to believe is morally fair and equitable. But hey, if it were up to me, yes I would ban landlords and rent, though it’s not very likely any of that is ever going to happen anytime soon.

  • Harry Flashman

    How do you “work” an office block Ulick? And why would you build the thing if you weren’t going to enjoy the benefits of it? What about internet cables or airlines or countless millions of other types of property that aren’t worked physically by those who own them?

    Who should own musical and literary copyrights? Or medical patents? They are not worked in precisely the same way as a landlord doesn’t “work” his property (quite apart from the fact that a landlord works his property in precisely the same way as a taxi driver or farmer or any other property owner does).

    Seriously did you give the slightest thought to your undergrad thesis or were you still full of the virtues of uneducated adolescence? What did your lecturer say about your theory?

    Have you ever owned any property yourself, including pensions or insurance policies? You do realize where they earn their dough from?

    Are you opposed to all modern thought or just property ownership? What about free speech and the right to free association? They’re kinda linked to property-ownership and are just as inconvenient to those who know better than we do.

    What about electricity and spectacles, like I say Pol Pot had a similarly dim view of them?

  • Framer

    This is one where the assistance of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission should be sought as property rights are human rights in international law (UN and European).

    For example, the European Convention on Human Rights guarantees the right to property saying ““Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law.”

  • @Harry I lend you the book if you like and you can read up on the answers yourself?

  • Harry Flashman

    No thanks, absurd fantasy fiction or totalitarian manifestos never appealed much to me.

    I’m more a fan of reasoned logic and liberal democracy.

    Not surprised that you don’t really believe in all that nonsense though.

  • JH

    Are you afraid to read it Harry?

    I’m reading Ayn Rand at the minute, and despite being a filthy socialist I’m surprised to find myself enjoying it and learning a bit from it. If you are thoroughly confident in your views and their legitimacy then you have nothing to fear from challenging them once in a while.

    I enjoy Niall Ferguson’s books as well. He basically attributes most of the west’s success to the concept of property ownership.

  • Harry Flashman

    What book are we talking about then? I’ll check it out.

    Seriously though, a book which suggests forcibly taking people’s property off them appeals as much to me as advocating racial separation, eugenics, thought police, enforced agrarianism or any of the other hellish notions that 20th Century “progressives” inflicted at bayonet point on their fellow humans and really doesn’t appeal to me.

    Liberal democracy seems to work well enough, why long for state enforced terror and property seizure? Seems like burning down a house to eliminate a small patch of rising damp.

  • Barnshee

    Er what we are talking about is a charity (as is the Hon IS )distributing funds for public benefit. Better it go to the Derry wans ? I don,t think so.

  • The Raven

    Forgive me, Pete, this is off-topic – happy for Ulick to email me on this, but…I pay £26 ground rent to a descendant of the original estate where I live. Ulick, can I reasonably refuse to pay, and if I don’t what are the consequences…??

  • Reader

    The Raven – you could always find the nearest O’Donnell or O’Neill, and send the money to them instead. Unless you think those families nicked the land off someone else in the first place.

  • Harry Flashman

    “Unless you think those families nicked the land off someone else in the first place.”

    The Firbolg demand the restitution of their ancestral lands.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Raven, ground rent is a legal agreement you signed up to when you purchased the property, but government is trying to phase it out as it is cumbersome and not overly fair, you can buy it out under legislation I believe, here is a fact sheet from the BBC

  • Reader

    Harry Flashman: The Firbolg demand the restitution of their ancestral lands.
    So it’s between the Firbolg and Ulick then. Sounds epic.