Sunday 23 April 2017

Still no end in sight for legal battle at Lissadell

Dispute over rights of way will go all the way to Supreme Court

Jerome Reilly

Jerome Reilly

The legal saga over rights of way at Lissadell House, which has already run up an astonishing legal bill of nearly €6m, is now heading to the Supreme Court, with both sides in the case launching appeals.

Both Lisadell's owners, barristers Constance Cassidy and Edward Walsh, and Sligo County Council will appeal the High Court judgement delivered last December by Mr Justice Bryan McMahon after a 58-day hearing.

However, it will be late this year at the earliest before the case will be heard in the highest court in the land.

After the High Court ruling affirmed the existence of public rights of way over the 410-acre estate, which was the ancestral home of Countess Markievicz, the local authority welcomed the judgement, saying in a statement: "Sligo County Council is pleased with the decision of the High Court. It is in the interests of all concerned that the issue of public rights of way at Lissadell has been determined."

But a spokesman for the county council has confirmed that they are now appealing the case.

"The decision of the High Court in relation to the rights of way at Lissadell has been appealed by the Walsh-Cassidys. The appeal will be fully contested by Sligo County Council, and the council will be seeking to have the judge's decision varied where he restricted access to daylight hours only," a spokesman told the Sunday Independent.

It is understood that the council will be seeking to overturn the "daylight hours" restriction to allow 24-hour-a-day access for members of the public. Another part of their appeal may focus on restrictions on access for vehicles into the estate contained in Mr Justice McMahon's judgement.

More than 50 witnesses, including historians, cartographers and archivists, local residents and council officials gave evidence during the original high court action.

While both sides await the Supreme Court appeal, the house, gardens and estate, which had become one of the north-west's premier tourist attraction, will remain closed.

The owners of the estate have already decided that they will not hold any concerts this year.

Last summer, while the case was still before the High Court, both Westlife and Leonard Cohen played at Lissadell and there were plans to have more concerts this year held over consecutive week-ends in high summer.

But talks to bring big-time acts including Elton John, Andrea Bocelli, Tom Waits and Bob Dylan have now been halted.

Most of the staff who were working at the estate have now been laid off, with just essential workers remaining.

The Supreme Court case will last at least a week but will involve extensive, and expensive, preparation by lawyers from both sides.

The owners of Lissadell declined to comment on the forthcoming appeal but it is understood that they will be launching a wide-ranging action which would seek to overturn the original High Court judgement in its entirety.

One particular issue is that the High Court judgement ruled, according to a map that accompanied the judgement, that the public rights of way extend to the porte-cochre or grand porch in front of the house on the main avenue through the estate.

Ms Cassidy and Mr Walsh purchased the property for €4m in 2003 and spent a further €9.5m restoring the house and gardens.

As it stands, depending on the outcome of the Supreme Court appeal, they owe nearly €6m in legal bills and costs associated with last year's case which was one of the lengthiest heard in the High Court for some years.

Sunday Independent

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