An application to wind-up Dunnes Stores will be heard before the Commercial Court next month.

The petition was brought by the builders of a Kilkenny shopping centre over an unpaid debt of €21 million.

The debt is the subject of a High Court order made last March.

Insolvent construction company Holtglen brought the winding up petition under the Companies Act after Dunnes failed to pay and "gave no reason or excuse", the High Court was told.

Holtglen's loans are now with NAMA and the court heard Dunnes had been seeking to engage with NAMA on the issue.

Lawyers for Dunnes Stores said the company was "robustly solvent" but had not paid the debt amid concerns about the Ferrybank Shopping Centre in terms of its viability and planning issues.

Senior Counsel Brian O’Moore said Dunnes appeared to have been "stampeded" into the centre as the anchor tenant while the centre was developed and would be run by an insolvent company.

He said there had been correspondence between Dunnes executive Margaret Heffernan and the chairman of NAMA Frank Daly.

In one letter, Ms Heffernan told Mr Daly it did not make sense for NAMA to seek the winding up of Dunnes Stores.

She also said it could not be NAMA's belief that Dunnes was insolvent and the presentation of a winding up petition would damage Dunnes Stores and the country as a whole.

Ms Heffernan said it was an extraordinary step for anbody, particularly a public agency, to take.

She described the centre as "an unmitgated disaster" and said it was not considered to be a viable trading centre in its current form.

In response NAMA accused Ms Heffernan of trying to "sidestep" the primary concern of of the payment of the debt.

Chairman Frank Daly wrote to Ms Heffernan to say NAMA did not believe the centre was unviable and that the failure of Dunnes to open its anchor store had seriously affected the centre's reputatution.

Counsel for Holtglen said the issues raised by Dunnes about the shopping centre were "entirely separate" and that the order of the High Court last March was final and binding.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly said he found claims about being stampeded into the centre extraordinary as there had been an arbitration process, followed by a High Court order which was not appealed to the Supreme Court.

The judge said there was a High Court order which has to be complied with and Dunnes was no different to any other litigant. "If it owes it must pay. It cannot prevaricate", he said.

A failure to comply with the statutory demand for payment meant the company was deemed unable to pay its debts, he said.

From his reading of the correspondence it appeared NAMA was saying to Dunnes "pay your debt and we can talk to our hearts content", the judge said.

The judge agreed to transfer the case to the fast track commercial court list because of the significance of the case for the 18,000 employees whose position would be in jeopardy if a winding-up order was to be granted, he said.

The case will be heard on 14 December.