Tuesday 12 December 2017

The pensioner, the minister and the right-of-way battle

Kelly hired security firm to block neighbour's road access

The disputed road at Portroe, Co Tipperary
The disputed road at Portroe, Co Tipperary
Alan Kelly
Views of Lough Derg on the land

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

PUBLIC Transport Minister Alan Kelly is locked in a bitter court battle with a 70-year-old woman over access to a narrow road adjoining both their lands.

The Irish Independent understands the dispute led to Mr Kelly, a rising star of the Labour party, hiring a private security firm to block the pensioner's access to the disputed road.

The woman, who is separated and lives on her own, used the road to access fields in rural Tipperary where she has a small number of animals, including goats and donkeys.

Small farmers who rent land from her also used the road.

A fence had been erected to block the road off and it is understood Diana Whitehead obtained an interim court order allowing her pedestrian access only. She had previously used vehicles on the road.

Mr Kelly -- who was fast-tracked into ministerial office in his first week in the Dail -- and Ms Whitehead live alongside each other outside Portroe, and both of their houses boast spectacular views over Lough Derg.

Mr Kelly's father, Thomas Kelly, owns substantial land holdings in the area and he is also named in the court proceedings.

Mr Kelly, who built his house in the past decade, has been mentioned by party colleagues as a possible candidate to fill the 'Super Junior' cabinet position left vacant after the resignation of Willie Penrose.

Mr Kelly's brother, Declan Kelly, was US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's economic envoy to Northern Ireland until recently.

Ms Whitehead lives alone but is active in her community. She plays organ at her local Church of Ireland service in Nenagh and frequents the community hall in Killoran.

It is also understood that she teaches music in the University of Limerick to people suffering with dyslexia.

"She's upset by this thing," a local source said. She declined to comment when approached by the Irish Independent.

The dispute last came before the Circuit Court in Nenagh last month, and is expected to go to full hearing next year.

But legal sources expressed surprise at how this particular dispute had escalated, and one said: "It's all a bit silly, all inconsequential really."

Mr Kelly was elected to the Dail in Tipperary North at February's general election, having served as an MEP since 2009.

He contested the Dail election having originally pledged to serve a full term in the European Parliament. He also held a Seanad seat from 2007 to 2009.

Others said the dispute has provoked strong feelings in the area.


"Nobody knows who to salute on the roads any more," one local man said.

"I don't know who's talking to each other in the parish. I was very surprised to see a TD now at that craic; these are the guys that's running our country.

"He's on the telly there all about smart cards for the Luas."

Mr Kelly, in his role as Public Transport Minister, launched an integrated ticketing service for all Dublin transport services this week.

The disputed road is known as the Old Quarry Road, and runs in front of Mr Kelly's house. A drive behind Ms Whitehead's house had connected to the lane until it was blocked off by Mr Kelly.

"She can't access the field at the end of it," another man, who did not wish to be named, said.

"And the thing is, there's nothing much to it, it's just a right-of-way dispute."

The barrier first went up in late 2010, and Ms Whitehead went to court to get access to the lane in March.

In a statement last night, Mr Kelly said: "This is a civil matter not instigated by myself. This matter is sub-judice.

"In these circumstances I am precluded from making any comment," he added.

The full hearing of the case is not expected to go ahead for some time, possibly next year or the year after, because of a backlog of cases in Tipperary.

Ms Whitehead's lawyers are expected to argue that she owns at least half, and possibly all, of the road, while Mr Kelly and his father are arguing that they own it.

Irish Independent

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