Lissadell owners may face €6m costs

 

The owners of Lissadell House in Sligo are appealing to the Supreme Court against the High Court’s rejection of their claim that no public rights of way exist across certain routes in the historic estate and are hoping for an early appeal hearing, the High Court was told today.

Costs of the case, which could be as high as €6 million, were awarded to Sligo County Council against the owners, barristers Constance Cassidy and Edward Walsh.

The court was told the Council had made several attempts in correspondence with the couple to resolve the litigation which, its barrister said, it could not afford.

Mr Justice Byran McMahon has put a stay on the costs order on the basis the couple’s lawyers will seek an expedited hearing of their appeal to the Supreme Court.

Brian Murray SC, for the couple, said although it was taking up to three years for the Supreme Court to hear appeals, he hoped this one could be heard within a year not because the owners wanted it heard as soon as possible but also because it was a matter that related to rights-of-way “throughout the country generally.”

The couple had claimed four routes through the 410-acre estate were not subject to any public rights of way but the judge upheld the Council’s arguments that they were.

When the case came back before the judge yesterday, he awarded the council the full costs of the case.

Mr Murray sought a stay on the costs order but John Rogers SC, for the council, opposed a stay given the history of the case.

Counsel referred to correspondence between the parties last year in which the council sought a resolution of the matter to avoid high legal costs. This included a written offer from the council to the owners to settle on the basis of their acknowledgement that the “Sea Route” through the estate was a public right-of-way, counsel said.

The county manager, Hubert Kearns, had also made it clear to the couple that a decision in December 2008 by councillors seeking to include rights of way in the council’s development plan was ultimately a matter for the manager, counsel said.

The councillors themselves had also asked the manager to enter into discussions with the owners after the litigation started and this showed a willingness on the defendant’s side to try to resolve the case, counsel said.

Having regard to the totality of correspondence seeking to resolve the matter, there could be no issue about costs going to the council, Mr Rogers said.

The case had caused “enormous costs” for the Council which provides public services with limited and diminishing resources. Mr Rogers said. It had been highlighted to the owners, in the correspondence, that the council did not want litigation “and in effect could not afford it.”

In the event of an appeal, the Council would have to bear costs already incurred in defending this matter and of the counter-claim against the owners.

Mr Rogers said the judge should also taken into account the case had “ballooned” after assertions were made of some type of collusion or conspiracy between council officials and locals. The judge had found no substance to that claim, counsel said.

Mr Murray, for the owners, said his clients were of the view there were no rights-of-way and had exercised their constitutional right to litigate the matter.

Mr Justice McMahon said it was a very unusual case and on balance he would grant a stay on the basis the owners would seek an expedited hearing from the Supreme Court.