Saturday 8 August 2009

Solicitor defeated State in Blasket Island battle

PETER CALLERY, who has died aged 79, was a solicitor and businessman who came to national attention in the late 1980s when he, his brother James and two others challenged the 1989 Blasket Island Act, which would have forced them to sell their holdings on the Great Blasket Island to the State.

The Act was introduced by then taoiseach Charles Haughey, owner of Inishvickillane, a neighbouring island in the Blasket group.

Ten years after its introduction, the High Court ruled that the Act was unconstitutional.

In 1999 the court’s ruling was upheld by the Supreme Court, which stated that it was unfair, having ethnic and racial overtones in that it would have forced the non-native islanders, such as the Callerys and their fellow directors, to sell their holdings while allowing descendants of native islanders to retain theirs.

The Great Blasket Island, inhabited until 1953, inspired a unique library of books by islanders. The principal writers were Tomás Ó Criomhthain, Muiris Ó Súilleabháin and Peig Sayers.

Peter Callery was the legal representative of Taylor Collings, a former US air force pilot who had purchased two-thirds of the island, including the hill, with the intention of building a hotel complex.

The surviving islanders who lived on the mainland wanted the State to take over the Great Blasket Island as a national park.

Collings decided to sell his holding and it emerged that Peter Callery owned a minority interest in the island.

He described the Government’s decision to introduce a Bill for the compulsory purchase of 17 of the island’s 25 land holdings as an act unheard of “even in penal times”.

A protracted legal wrangle ensued, which ended in the Supreme Court, with victory for An Blascaod Mór Teoranta, the company formed by Peter Callery and his business partners.

Born in 1932, he was one of the four children of Patrick J Callery and his wife Gertrude Flynn of Clonahee House, Elphin, Co Roscommon. His father, a solicitor and farmer, died at a young age.

He was educated at Blackrock College and University College Dublin.

After qualifying as a solicitor he took a course in computer studies with International Computers and Tabulators, Cookham, Berkshire, transferring to Dublin when the company opened an Irish office.

In 1962 he purchased the practice of Murtagh E Byrne, Dingle, who had been appointed to the bench.

As chairman of Dingle Chamber of Commerce he led objections to the granting of a foreshore lease to developers of a proposed marina in the town. At a public inquiry in 1990 the developers claimed that he was pursuing a personal vendetta against Charles Haughey over the compulsory purchase by the State of land on the Blasket islands.

This was after he had acknowledged referring to Haughey as “the puppet master of Kinsealy” following the last-minute postponement of the opening of the inquiry. He dismissed claims of a vendetta.

Meanwhile concerns about the Great Blasket Island grew. There were worries about the dire condition of the island’s old village, and the need to protect its rare wildlife and manage visitor numbers on the island, which had no proper pier, public toilet or facilities for the hundreds of visitors ferried to it daily in the summer.

And there were complaints when security guards were placed on the island after ferry access was disputed. Peter Callery defended employing the security guards, saying the owners were not prepared to tolerate a “free for all”.

Last year permission for a visitors’ centre and cafe was granted by An Bord Pleanála, paving the way for the Government to purchase the majority landholding on the island.

The deal with An Blascaod Mór Teoranta was finalised in February of this year on payment of €2 million by the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; ferry rights were included.

Peter Callery was active in many organisations and clubs in Dingle, and was involved in the campaign to restore the town’s official name to Dingle/Daingean Uí Chúis.

“Peter was a wonderfully disciplined man and true gentleman. He always stood for what he believed was right for Dingle,” local businessman John Moriarty said.

His interests included history, nature, the sea, archaeology and geology.

He travelled widely in England and France.

His wife Elizabeth and daughters Susan and Charlotte survive him.

Irish Times

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