Northern Ireland

Bill Wolsey buys 15 NI pubs in administration for £8m

Leading NI publican Bill Wolsey has bought a chain of bars for £8m.

Mr Wolsey, best known as owner of the Merchant Hotel in Belfast, bought the 15 pubs out of administration.

They include the Portaferry Hotel, the Esplanade in Bangor and the Tipsy Toad in Lisburn, and are now all part of a company called North Down Leisure.

The bars were previously owned by a group of four Bangor-based companies, Wen Inns, Dee Inns, Scandown Developments and Scandown LLP.

The four firms were placed into administration in May after their attempts to sell the bars failed.

Bank of Scotland Ireland (BoSI), which was the main lender to the four companies is likely to lose about £10m as a result.

However the directors of those four firms, who include property developers Bill Rush and Noel Murphy, had given the bank unlimited personal guarantees meaning they can be pursued for that money.

The price paid for the chain reflects the huge fall in the value of licensed premises in Northern Ireland.

The Portaferry Hotel, which had a book value of £1.3m was sold for £725,000.

The last two years have been some of the toughest the pub trade in Northern Ireland has experienced.

A series of pub groups have collapsed into administration and a significant number of landlords have been bankrupted.