Saturday 20 December 2014

FG councillor has 'no regrets' about Lissadell battle that cost millions

Greg Harkin

Published 29/04/2014 | 02:30

Fine Gael Cllr Joe Leonard, whose motion led to the court battle over rights of way in the grounds of Lissadell House, Co Sligo. Photo: Sell8/James Connolly
Fine Gael Cllr Joe Leonard, whose motion led to the court battle over rights of way in the grounds of Lissadell House, Co Sligo. Photo: Sell8/James Connolly
Lissadell House, Co Sligo
Edward Walsh and Constance Cassidy, owners of Lissadell House, leaving court. Courtpix

A FINE GAEL politician whose council motion led to a multi-million-euro legal battle over rights of way to an historic home has said he has no regrets and would do it again.

Sligo county councillor Joe Leonard criticised a Supreme Court ruling that just 265m of 5.2km of pathways at Lissadell House were public rights of way.

The home's owners, barrister couple Eddie Walsh and Constance Cassidy, had described a council report on the affair as a 'whitewash' before yesterday's special meeting of Sligo County Council.

They spent €13m of their own money buying and restoring the house in the north of the county. They closed the house to the public in 2009 as the legal battle ensued.

Cllr Leonard, however, said his 2008 motion to include four rights of way in the council's development plan – which led to the legal proceedings – was taken on behalf of local residents.

"Isn't it rich that the roads are now privatised and the taxpayer picks up the cost?" he told the heated council meeting.

"The roads have been used for more than 100 years; it was my role to articulate those concerns. I represented the community. I did the right thing; my conscience is clear and I would do it all again," he said to shouts from other councillors.

Labour Party councillor Jimmy McGarry, a supporter of the Walsh-Cassidys, said: "You're responsible for this bill."

Earlier Cllr Leonard had told Cllr McGarry: "Every big house needs a yapping lapdog."

The Labour councillor criticised the report presented to the council by the recently-appointed County Manager Ciaran Hayes, saying the report had sought to blame the Walsh-Cassidys for initiating legal proceedings.

He said the family had been left with "no choice" by the actions of the council which, documents showed, had taken legal advice as far back as 2004.

Cllr David Cawley described his Fine Gael party colleague Cllr Leonard's contribution as "quite incredible", saying the council owed the Walsh-Cassidys an apology.

Mr Hayes said the full costs of the case had not yet been assessed and it would be 2015 before they were settled.

Sligo council, already saddled with €88m in debts, has been ordered to pay its own costs and 75pc of the Walsh-Cassidys' costs.

'WHITEWASH'

Councillors passed a motion asking Mr Hayes to meet with the Walsh-Cassidys to "build bridges" between the parties in the hope Lissadell House would reopen. However, the estate's owners say they remain aggrieved at how the council handled the case.

"The (Sligo County Council) report fails to address the background to the actions taken by Sligo County Council against Lissadell and our family and we believe it is no more than a whitewash. It does little to inspire confidence for the future of Lissadell," said the couple in a statement.

"Our family see the last five years as a waste. Before Sligo County Council passed its motion, we asked them not to go ahead, to allow time for proper consideration. Not only did they not do this, they pushed the motion up the agenda, to be rushed through."

Irish Independent

Promoted articles

Read More

Promoted articles

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News