Rights and wrongs of the Lissadell case
After the Supreme Court’s awarding of more than €5 million in legal costs against Sligo County Council – already tens of millions in debt – local councillors disagree about who is to blame for the fiasco
Yeats country: Lissadell House, with Benbulben in the background. Photograph: Alan Betson
Yeats country: Edward Walsh and Constance Cassidy, owners of Lissadell. Photograph: Alan Betson
The lengthy and frequently bitter court battle about rights of way through the Lissadell estate in Co Sligo is almost over, but it’s unlikely ever to be forgotten in that county. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that Sligo County Council must pay 75 per cent of legal costs incurred by the owners of Lissadell, barristers Edward Walsh and Constance Cassidy, in addition to the council’s own costs. The total is estimated to be at least €5.25 million.
After last week’s court order, Sligo county manager Ciaran Hayes, who has been in the job less than four months, issued this two-sentence statement.
“While the existence of a public right of way has been established over a portion of the lands, I wish to express my disappointment at today’s Supreme Court decision, which brings to an end a difficult chapter in Sligo.
“At this time, my only other public comment is to express my desire that Lissadell house and lands would continue for the benefit of current and future generations of people in Sligo and the northwest region.”
This week, sitting in the council’s riverside offices, Hayes revealed that, although the statement is very brief, he had spent a long time carefully thinking about each word.
The reasons are obvious: relations between the council and the Walsh-Cassidy family couldn’t be worse as a result of the court case and Lissadell, an historic estate has, in the past, been a tourism asset to the county.
The council is in huge debt, even before taking into consideration the Lissadell court costs. In this newspaper earlier in the year, Frank McDonald wrote, “If Sligo County Council was a property developer, it would almost certainly be in Nama now. The council has accumulated a staggering debt of €94 million, at least some of it incurred by purchasing land at top-dollar prices during boom years.”
When pressed this week on how much debt the council is in, and if it is the €94 million reported in the Irish Times , Hayes said: “Don’t believe everything you read in the papers.”
However, when asked about the substantial land-banks bought by the council in the boom, he said he did not know what acreage they amounted to. He also admitted that “Sligo most certainly has difficulty with its debt”.
So how will they pay the additional multi-million euro bill from the Lissadell case? “We are obligated to protect the public interest, so it shouldn’t be the local authority alone who pay the cost,” Hayes maintains, saying they are in negotiations with the Department of Environment about their debts.