Sligo Council faces legal bill of millions after Lissadell House ruling
SLIGO County Council could face a legal costs bill of several million euro after the owners of the Lissadell House won a unanimous Supreme Court ruling there are no public rights of way across four avenues through the historic estate.
The court did find a public right of way across part of a coastal route through the estate taking in the beach at Lissadell but quashed a High Court declaration granting a right to park cars on Lissadell lands adjoining that section.
The five-judge court's decision came after a long and bitter legal battle between the Council and barristers Constance Cassidy SC and Edward Walsh SC, who bought the estate and 410 acres for €4m in 2003 and spent €9.5m restoring it.
Lissadell was the former home of the Gore-Booth family, of whom Constance Gore-Booth, later Countess Markievicz, became the first woman in the world to hold a seat in Cabinet after her appointment as Minister for Labour in the First Dail.
Sir Josslyn Gore-Booth took over the estate in 1982 after the President of the High Court approved its conveyance to him by the Committee representing the interests of Sir Michael Gore-Booth, who had been made a ward of court in 1944 due to incapacity. Sir Josslyn was the last member of his family to own the estate.
When the new owners learned in 2004 public rights of way were being asserted over routes in the estate, they locked the gates on the main avenue, resulting in a campaign to ensure public rights of way at Lissadell in which, the Supreme Court noted, local councillor Joe Leonard was "particularly active".
After the Council in December 2008 resolved to amend the county development plan to provide for preservation of public rights of way over four routes, the owners took High Court proceedings insisting there were no public rights of way.
After a 58 day hearing, Mr Justice Bryan McMahon dismissed the owners claims but they appealed to the Supreme Court in a hearing that ran for ten days.
Mr Justice Nial Fennelly, Mr Justice Liam McKechnie and Mr Justice John MacMenamin prepared the Supreme Court's 116-page judgment, delivered yesterday, with which the Chief Justice, Ms Justice Susan Denham and Mr Justice John Murray agreed.
The matter was adjourned to allow the sides consider the judgment and costs and other issues will be decided later. The costs of the High Court case were estimated at more than €6m and overall costs are estimated at more than €7m.
The case concerned four routes through the estate.
The Supreme Court said the common law of Ireland requires, before a public right of way can be established, it is necessary to prove the owners of the lands dedicated the way to the public and the public accepted that dedication.
What was required was proof of use of the way by the public as of right for such a period of time and of such frequency and intensity as to lead to an inference, on considering all the circumstances, the landowners dedicated the way to public use.
The High Court found public use of the routes through the estate dated from at leas the early 1950s and ruled dedication occurred between 1857-1861.
The Supreme Court ruled the High Court judge incorrectly stated the law when he found evidence of public user was itself "right-creating" and led to an "almost irresistible inference" inference of dedication.
That statement failed to distinguish between the acquisition of a right of by prescription, as in the case of a private right of way, and dedication, it said.
The Supreme Court overturned the High Court finding Sir Robert Gore-Booth and his son had between 1857-1861 dedicated public rights of way over routes two routes(one on the Main Avenue and another at Forge Avenue).
Having found no evidence that a third route (Farm Avenue) existed before it appeared on the 1855 Ordnance Survey map, the court ruled the High Court erred in finding that route was dedicated for public use between 1857-1861.
The court agreed with the High Court there was a public right of way over that section of the coastal route passing over the Lissadell lands from Bunbrenóige Bridge (used mainly for access to the sea) but found there was no public right to park cars on the Lissadell lands adjoining that part because that would entail the creation of a public car park on private lands.