'Timing of Westport House Estate sale nothing to do with the General Election'
Published 05/02/2016 | 02:30
The owners of Westport House have denied claims they waited until the announcement of the General Election date to release details of their plans to sell the €10m estate on the open market.
There are fears the 183-hectare estate will end up in the hands of new owners who could decide to close it to public access.
Outgoing Fine Gael TD and Junior tourism minister Michael Ring said he was 'surprised', adding: "Things are at a delicate stage and a meeting was planned for Friday involving Mayo County Council and the Western Development Commission."
Some party supporters accused the Browne family of 'playing election games' by putting Westport House on the open market on the same day party leader Enda Kenny began his party's bid to return to government.
The house and estate is one of the county's biggest tourist attractions, drawing in 160,000 visitors to the area in 2015.
It was withdrawn from a Nama sale last year after fears it would end up in private hands which could close it to the public.
The Browne family have debts totalling €9m. They have owned property on the estate since the 1630s, giving up their Catholic faith in penal times to retain it.
"This decision to sell has nothing to do with the calling of the General Election or to put pressure on any government deputies," said a family spokesman.
"The decision was taken by the family on the advice of the High Court administrators who would like to point out that every opportunity was afforded to help resolve this difficult situation since 2011.
"There has been no approach or communication from anyone in government since initial discussions took place five years ago."
Sheelyn Browne, a descendant of pirate queen Granuaile, said the family wanted "to try for one last time to see if the Government wanted to step in".
An Taisce Heritage Officer Ian Lumley said: "Public access to Westport House and grounds has been available for more than 50 years and its sale threatens heritage tourism in the region."
He urged the Browne Family and state agencies to meet.