Irish firm uses computer threat to win government fee war

Irish firm O'Donovan & Co has taught a stern lesson to government departments that do not pay bills on time by sending the sheriff round to seize equipment for outstanding fees.

Eire's social welfare minister Dermot Ahern was forced to seek an injunction in the Dublin High Court to prevent the sheriff removing his office computer and furniture to meet the outstanding debt.

The minister won his injunction – but O'Donovan & Co had its outstanding bill settled within days.

The dispute arose from a lengthy test case establishing the right of equal treatment for women which the solicitors took out against the Department of Social Welfare.

The firm was eventually paid costs of around #250,000 and subsequently sought interest of #61,000 because of the department's delay in settling the bill. After further negotiations failed to see the interest paid, O'Donovan & Co, with the approval of the courts, called in the sheriff.

According to Pat Crowley, a partner in the five-year-old practice, it had taken the action because it “was tired of being messed around”.

He said: “Generally we find that government departments pay reasonably promptly, but this was different because so many different parties were involved. We didn't really expect the minister's computer and furniture to be seized – it was simply a warning shot.”