Councillors criticise failure to include Lissadell provisions in Sligo budget

Lissadell legal costs the ‘elephant in room’ as county council considers 10% cut to budget

In November 2013, the owners of Sligo’s Lissadell House secured a Supreme Court ruling that there are no public rights of way across most of four routes through the estate. The issue of costs has not been finalised by the courts. Photograph supplied by Lissadell House

In November 2013, the owners of Sligo’s Lissadell House secured a Supreme Court ruling that there are no public rights of way across most of four routes through the estate. The issue of costs has not been finalised by the courts. Photograph supplied by Lissadell House

Tue, Jan 21, 2014, 01:00

The legal costs of the Lissadell right of way court battle was described as “the elephant in the room” yesterday, as members of Sligo County Council discussed a proposed 10 per cent cut in its 2014 budget .

With no provision in the draft budget for legal costs arising out of the Supreme Court and High Court actions, recently appointed Sligo county manager Ciarán Hayes said the issue may yet go before the taxing master.

After a number of councillors criticised the failure of officials to make any provision for the Lissadell costs in the budget, Mr Hayes told elected members that even if the Supreme Court had, as expected, made a ruling on costs last week, they would still not be in position to know the final figure.

“It is quite a lengthy process and in default of agreement, it would have to go to the taxing master,” said the manager. Mr Hayes said that as the issue has not been finalised by the courts, he could make any further comment .

Officials confirmed yesterday that the beleaguered council has been given a €1 million bailout by Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan and that the department has asked it to submit a long-term financial plan by next Friday. The allocation of an additional €1 million to support the implementation of “a realistic and achievable” plan was confirmed in a letter from the Department on December 18th.

The local government auditor last year revealed the council had overall debts of over €94 million, comprising a revenue deficit of €15.4 million and long-term debt of €79 million.

This year’s budget has been cut by 10 per cent or €5.7 million to €50.5 million with the transfer of water services to Irish Water described as one of the most significant factors. Sligo Borough Council is due to be abolished this year while the number of seats on Sligo County Council will be drop from 25 to 18.

Sinn Féin councillor Seán MacManus – who described the budget as “extremely draconian with cutbacks heaped upon cutbacks” – criticised the failure of the book of estimates to make any provision for the Lissadell costs.

He said given that the legal bill may be anything from €5 million to €8 million, “one would assume that there would be some contingency fund included” in the book of estimates.

Councillors also welcomed the fact that there would be no increase in rates this year.