THE OWNERS of Lissadell House, the ancestral home of Countess Markievicz, have warned they will not keep it open as a tourist facility if Sligo County Council asserts public rights of way through the estate.
Councillors voted unanimously on Monday to amend the current county development plan to include a provision for "the preservation of public rights of way" along a number of routes at Lissadell.
The motion was proposed by Cllr Joe Leonard (FG) who said yesterday that local people were anxious that an amicable resolution be found, although the issue had been "a festering sore" for some time. He said 47 people had submitted depositions to the council two years ago asserting that there was a public right of way on routes which had now been blocked off but which generations of local families had used.
In an e-mail to councillors before Monday's meeting, barristers Eddie Walsh and Constance Cassidy, who bought Lissadell in 2003, said it had been sold as a private property and there were no public rights of way across the estate.
They said at the time all internal roads on the estate were clearly excluded by the council from being in public charge. They added that they had invested considerable private funds and personal effort transforming Lissadell and had increased the number of visitors from 4,000 to 48,000 annually without public funds.
"We have avoided the easy options to exploit and develop Lissadell commercially, but there is only so much one family can do," they told councillors.
"If we do not enjoy the support of the councillors who represent the people of Sligo, then our efforts are at naught. Why would anyone continue?"
The couple said they would fight the issue "all the way". They could not continue to operate "if the estate is turned into a rat run" or if they are forced to embark on an expensive legal battle.
Mr Leonard said he acknowledged the work done at the estate since 2003 but he did not accept a public right of way would affect activities there. "It will not inhibit their ability to sell jams or wine," he said.
A number of entrances to the estate had been closed to the public and while Lissadell beach could still be accessed through an entrance owned by Coillte, people who had traditionally used other routes to the beach could no longer do so. He said it was wrong to assume that because the council had not taken charge of the roads that they were not public.
Mr Walsh and Ms Cassidy said it was "noteworthy" that this issue had first been raised in the lead-up to the last local election and was now resurfacing as another election approaches. "These people have had five years to bring an action but they have not done so." They said they were "very disappointed" with the vote and surprised they had received no notification from the council before or since the meeting, even though "this materially affects our rights".
The council must now issue public notices of its intention to amend the plan, and the public has six weeks to object or make submissions. The issue then goes back to elected members for a vote. Asked whether they would fight this move through the courts, the couple confirmed that they would "defend this unwarranted attack to the very end".
They believed those opposing their stance "do not represent the majority of the people of Sligo".
In the e-mail to elected members they said this would "lead only to protracted and expensive litigation, and waste money, energy and time, both on the part of the council, and of Lissadell, at a time when, quite simply, whatever money is available, we wish to plough into keeping Lissadell open, and keeping people employed".