Sligo council and Lissadell owners agree on aspects of €5m legal bill

Rights of way dispute saw local authority and couple engaged in marathon legal battle

Agreement has been reached between Sligo County Council and the owners of Lissadell estate in Co Sligo over aspects of a €5 million legal costs bill sought in relation to a marathon action over public rights of way across the estate.

The main dispute was over a total instructions fee of about €2.7million sought by Sligo based McGovern Walsh Solicitors, who represented the owners, barristers Edward Walsh and Constance Cassidy.

An instructions fee of almost €1.4 million was sought for the 58 day High Court case and about €1.3 million was sought over the nine day Supreme Court appeal.

Paul Conlon, the council's legal costs accountant, maintained the instructions fee was excessive but Alan Murphy, legal costs accountant for the owners, argued the solicitors had played a "heavy" role in the long and complex case.

The bill of costs came before High Court Taxing Master Paul Behan earlier this week and a hearing to decide the costs issues still in dispute was expected to run into next week.

However, Mr Behan was told on Wednesday that the matter had settled and he agreed to adjourn it to next month.

No dispute

During this week’s hearing, Mr Behan was told there was no dispute over brief fees of €60,000 each sought for two senior counsel, Brian Murray and Eoin McCullough, and €40,000 for junior counsel Peter Bland. Those fees had been agreed in full, he added.

The brief fees were similar those sought by barristers for the Council, Mr Conlon told the Taxing Master.

Agreement had also been reached on daily “refresher” fees of €4,000 each for senior counsel and €2,600 for junior counsel.

The owners' case, initiated in 2009, incurred total costs estimated at about €7 million. The Supreme Court had in 2014 ordered the council to pay three quarters of the legal costs incurred by the owners in the High and Supreme Courts as well as its own legal costs, estimated at about €2 million.

In their proceedings against the council, the owners had sought declarations there were no public rights of way over four routes in Lissadell. After their case was rejected by the High Court, they appealed to the Supreme Court which ruled in late 2013 there were no public rights of way over three of the routes but found there was a right of way over part of the fourth route, a coastal route to the beach at Lissadell.

The owners initiated the case in January 2009 in response to the council passing a resolution a month earlier aimed at protecting public rights of way at Lissadell. Before that resolution, the council wrote to the owners warning that litigation was inevitable if they persisted in closing off routes.

The council argued the owners were told that resolution had no legal effect and also submitted it, as a public body, had a duty to protect public rights of way.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times