Sligo mayor urges talks to end Lissadell House dispute

Tue, Jul 7, 2009, 01:00

WITH TOURISTS turning up to find the gates locked, the mayor of Sligo yesterday offered to facilitate round-table discussions aimed at resolving the dispute which has led to the closure to the public of Lissadell House.

At yesterday’s meeting of Sligo County Council, Cllr Jim McGarry (Lab) pressed officials on what efforts had been made “now that we are heading for mid-July” to find a replacement flagship tourism project for the region.

The mayor said Lissadell had attracted some 44,000 visitors to the region last year but has been closed because of the dispute over rights of way. He told colleagues it was “simply not good enough” to allow the former ancestral home of Countess Markievicz to remain closed and not develop a tourism project to replace it.

Mr McGarry  asked whether the county manager had met with Fáilte Ireland representatives in a bid to “address the gaping hole” the closure of Lissadell has left in the tourism sector. The northwest region was the lowest performing in the country, in terms of visitor numbers. “The closure of a flagship project like Lissadell is an even bigger disaster in light of this statistic.”

The mayor said that significant numbers of tourists were turning up at Lissadell to find closed signs on the locked gates. The owners had invested €12 million in the project but since its closure 34 staff had lost their jobs. The ongoing High Court battle could end up costing the taxpayer as much as €2 million, he said. If the council wins the action, the owners had indicated that they would not be re-opening Lissadell.

Speaking after yesterday’s council meeting, Mr McGarry called for talks between those who believed a right of way exists through the estate and the owners. “As mayor I would be prepared to facilitate those talks and try and restore trust on both sides.”Chairman of the council Cllr Gerry Murray (FG) had ruled that the issue was sub judice as it is currently before the High Court.

In the High Court in Dublin yesterday the legal dispute over whether there is a public right of way across the lands has been fixed for hearing at the High Court on October 20th. However, the case may not proceed on that date if issues between the sides relating to discovery of documents remain unresolved, Mr Justice Frank Clarke said yesterday.

The owners of Lissadell, barristers Edward Walsh and Constance Cassidy, claim the “wrongful” actions of the council in asserting a public right of way over part of the estate has imperilled the viability of the restoration of Lissadell, compromised the value of the premises and reduced the standing of the owners in the community. In their proceedings, the Cassidys want the court to find the routes in dispute are not subject to any public right of way.

The owners closed Lissadell House, the former home of the Gore Booth family, to the public last January. The closure arose after the council on December 1st last passed a resolution to amend the Sligo county development plan to include the provision “for the preservation of the public right of way” along routes at Lissadell.

According to the owners, their solicitors received a letter from the county manager on December 19th stating the council had been advised there was a “prima facie case” that certain of the roads through the lands were subject of public rights of way.