A LANDOWNER has been freed from jail after promising not to trespass on or interfere with one of the most strategic communications sites in south-west Ireland.
Walter Evans, aged 52, of Carrigfadda, Skibbereen, Co Cork, is in a protracted dispute with the State forestry company, Coillte Teoranta, over ownership of land at the summit of Nowen Hill in west Cork.
On Monday, Judge Sean Ó Donnabháin sent him to Cork Prison for refusing to accept a Circuit Court order demanding he would not enter Coillte lands, interfere with locks and publicly dispute the title of the lands on the internet.
On Wednesday, Evans appeared before the court again and agreed to abide by the conditions imposed on him sought by Coillte.
Nowen Hill, at 1,763ft, is a strategic vantage point hosting communications masts for the region’s mobile phone, broadband and radio signals. Each of the sites generates revenue of about €30,000 a year.
Evans’s counsel Greg Casey said although Evans accepted the conditions he plans to take a separate case to decide the ownership of the land.
Judge Ó Donnabháin said Evans was within his rights to bring the boundary dispute to court but he could not trespass on the land until a ruling was made.
“Nobody is going to stop him [Evans] appealing the land ownership. But what we are here about is that Evans is taking the law into his own hands by cutting locks and breaking barriers,” said the judge.
Evans has leased the land from Coillte since 1988 and developed several transmitter sites which were rented out to communications companies.
In recent years he purchased the patch adjoining Coillte’s property from a relative so the masts could be transferred to his own land.
The border between this land and the Coillte property is in dispute.
Maps given to Evans in 1990 showed a boundary of the Coillte property to be different to a recent version drawn up by GPS satellite technology.
However, the judge did not allow arguments on the ownership of the land to be heard and said this had to be taken as separate legal proceedings.
Counsel for Coillte, Marjorie Farrelly, said the only issue before the court was that of contempt: “The matter that comes before the court refers not the issue of the boundary but to the breaking of barriers and the cutting of locks.”
However, Mr Casey said Evans still needed access to the land.
“In relation to the Coillte mast site there has been a significant problem with one of the masts belonging to Evans which was required to be taken down under one of the conditions of the planning permission for another mast,” he said.
The same road accesses both Coillte land and Evans’s land. However, because he is prevented from trespassing on Coillte property he cannot reach his tract or the mast he owns on the forestry company’s property. The latest proceedings were set off after a photograph at the site with Kathy Sinnott MEP appeared on the Indymedia website.
The article posted by Evans disputed the ownership of the land.
Coillte has collected comprehensive surveillance records of Evans’s movements on the site and Ms Farrelly said the cost of this had run into “hundreds of thousands of euro”.