SLIGO COUNTY Council yesterday rejected suggestions that it was not treating with urgency the controversy over alleged rights of way which has led to the closure of Lissadell House.
The council insisted it has been seeking a meeting with the owners of the historic estate since April 2008. It also pointed out that its solicitors had reiterated the county manager’s offer to meet the owners as recently as last Wednesday, the day High Court proceedings were issued by them against the local authority.
Last Monday barristers Edward Walsh and Constance Cassidy, who bought Lissadell, the childhood home of 1916 leader Constance Markievicz, in 2003, closed it as a tourist attraction.
They said they had been forced to take this action because of the actions of Sligo County Council which had voted unanimously to amend the county development plan to make provision for the preservation of rights of way on the estate, rights which the owners insist do not exist.
The family pointed out that they had increased visitor numbers from 4,000 a year to over 40,000 but said that the council’s action would make it impossible to continue for reasons of public safety and insurance.
The closure has sparked a public outcry in the northwest and hopes of a resolution faded last Wednesday when the owners issued court proceedings against the council saying it was not treating the matter with urgency.
Yesterday, a spokesman for the council said he wished to “vehemently deny” this suggestion and said efforts to resolve the issue had been ongoing for months.
In interviews, Mr Walsh accused the council of launching an unprovoked attack on Lissadell and also suggested that recent developments might be linked to the forthcoming local elections.
In a statement yesterday the council said it wanted to clarify its position, given the level of publicity and statements about how it has handled the issue.
It said it had received extensive submissions from members of the public regarding “the curtailing of access along certain alleged public rights of way” at Lissadell.
It added that under the Roads Act it was a local authority’s function to protect the right of the public to use public rights of way in its administrative area.
The council said that on receipt of legal advice it had first sought a meeting with the owners last April and while “efforts to arrange a meeting continued”, no meeting had taken place.
Following the council vote on December 1st to amend the development plan, it said an offer to meet the owners was included in a letter to their solicitors from the county manager, Hubert Kearns, on December 19th last.
Last Monday council members passed a motion urging that the county manager and officials meet the owners of Lissadell and local people with a view to resolving the issue.
The council said yesterday that following that resolution, the county manager’s offer to meet was reiterated by the council’s solicitors last Wednesday. It said a response was received on the same day from the owners, through their solicitors, indicating they are willing to meet the manager.
The council said it hoped to be able to arrange a mutually convenient time soon.