SLIGO COUNTY Council has a strong case in its pending High Court battle with the owners of Lissadell House over rights-of-way on the estate, councillors have been told.
During a stormy discussion at the monthly meeting of the council, county manager Hubert Kearns resisted calls for the council’s legal advice to be circulated to elected members.
He insisted that disclosure could prejudice the council’s case. “The other side will not come forward and give us their legal advice,” Mr Kearns said.
At the outset of yesterday’s debate, there were claims that the matter was sub judice and should not be discussed because of the pending court case.
This view was described by Labour councillor Jim McGarry as a “disgrace”, an attempt to avoid answering questions and an attempt to stifle debate.
Mr McGarry, who raised the issue, was compared to the Gestapo by one of his colleagues after he asked the county manager whether two senior staff members were members of the Lissadell Action Group which has claimed that public rights-of-way exist on the estate.
Sinn Féin’s Seán MacManus said he would defend to his last breath the right of staff members to hold personal views and the county manager should not be asked to police their actions outside working hours.
Sligo mayor Veronica Cawley (Lab) said she was shocked that such a motion could come from a party colleague. Dissociating herself from the motion, which she said was “based on rumour and innuendo”, the mayor apologised to the staff.
In a letter to Sligo councillors yesterday, the Lissadell owners said the historic estate could soon be lost to the people of Sligo. They said they had been forced to close the house to the public in January even though they had hoped to increase visitor numbers from 40,000 to nearly 60,000 this year.
Owners Eddie Walsh and Constance Cassidy said they had to initiate a High Court case to establish that there were no public rights-of-way at Lissadell.
After the county manager was pressed on whether the council could win the High Court action,senior enforcement officer Joe Murphy told members that the legal advice was that the council had a good prima facie case.
Mr Murphy said that the manager was satisfied that no staff member with access to relevant files in this case had a personal or private interest in the issue.
Mr McGarry said there was widespread public unease about the failure to resolve the issue amicably.