Tuesday 20 February 2018

Lissadell House owners who won long-running legal battle over rights of way angry at council bid to pass some of the €7m costs of the case

Lissadell House
Lissadell House

Greg Harkin

The barrister couple who won a long-running legal battle with a local authority in a rights of way dispute at Lissadell House have reacted angrily to a council bid to pass some of the €7M costs of the case to central government.

Constance Cassidy and Eddie Walsh say they were left ‘stunned’ when the motion was passed at a meeting of Sligo County Council today.

The court case forced the closure of the house, the ancestral home of Constance Markeviez, and its estate for five years but they were fully re-opened this year after the couple decided to ‘move on’ from the case.

The Supreme Court ruled that the Walsh-Cassidys were entitled to say 95pc of roads and paths on their estate were private. The couple have spent an estimated €10M restoring the house and gardens.

Fianna Fail councillor Tom MacSharry had his motion seeking Government assistance in respect of the outstanding Lissadell litigation costs passed today at the council’s monthly meeting.

“Councillor MacSharry did not contact us in advance or at any time as regards the Motion,” said Constance Cassidy.

“It is our view that Mr MacSharry would be much better employed directing his concerns at the county councillor who proposed the original resolution, Cllr Joe Leonard, and the former county manager who sanctioned the claim in litigation, Hubert Kearns, both of whom walked away with substantial pensions.

“This would be a much fairer solution for the Sligo ratepayers and the taxpayer, and also for the current council and the new Chief Executive Officer who have inherited this liability.”

Her husband Eddie Walsh insisted: “When we first learned of councillor Leonard's original motion which led to the litigation on the evening of the Friday before it was passed on Monday 1 December 2008, we begged the county manager and the council not to proceed as it could only result in litigation and wasted costs. We were ignored.

“We also note that Mr MacSharry did not seek Government assistance when Sligo County Council paid in the region of €2 million to its own lawyers towards their own legal costs in this litigation.”

Cllr MacSharry's motion included a breakdown of a sample one million euro out of which he calculated 61 per cent would go on tax, leaving 39 per cent disposable.

He said that "61 per cent of every million euro will go straight to the revenue and the national exchequer in VAT-income tax, PRSI and USC”.

Supporting the motion, Cllr Seamus Kilgallon said: “Why should we pay this money when 61 per cent will go to central government on tax?"

Cllr Hubert Keaney said he was "aghast" at the motion. "It will be thrown out, it's childish. There's nothing new in this," he said.

Cllr Michael Clarke agreed but wanted to know if Sligo County Council had "proceeded on a solo run to pursue" the case without consulting the Minister of the day.

Responding, Cllr Kilgallon expressed surprise that there were councillors who "were protecting the Department of the Environment."

"Let's push it forward and see what happens," he urged.

Cllr Sinead Maguire pointed out that if they all adopted that stance, "nobody would pay tax."

"Cllr Clarke is right, we're entitled to get information as to whether the Council was advised by the Department to say 'yes we will support you' or 'no, you're on your own'," she said.

Council CEO Ciaran Hayes pointed out to councillors that the full legal bill was still not known.

"The relationship between the Council with the Walsh/Cassidys is quite good now and I don't want any discussion in this chamber to compromise that," he said.

"My sense is that it wasn't a question we could put to the Council or Department regarding liability. This action was taken against us and we had to defend it," he said. "We would have been taking our advice from legal counsel not the Department anyway," he added.

Cllr MacSharry insisted the motion would "not reflect in any way on the relationship with the Lissadell owners."

"This bill will land on our doorstep. I'm aghast at some of the other councillors - this bill will put pressure on us all when it lands," he added.

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