Alan Kelly, minister for public transport, was giving evidence in a civil action being taken against him and his father Thomas Kelly, by a Diane Whitehead, aged 72, who lives beside him outside the North Tipperary village of Portroe on land overlooking Lough Derg.
The case before Nenagh Circuit Court concerns access to a laneway beside Mr Kelly’s home and lands owned by his father and the plaintiff Ms Whitehead.
Ms Whitehead, who is originally from London, moved to North Tipperary in the late 1980s, after buying a four-bedroomed modern bungalow over looking Lough Derg.
She claims access to a laneway, which she understands to be “commonage” town land and uses to access her field, was blocked by barriers in 2010, around the time Mr Kelly began renovating his home.
The Kellys insist that the laneway is theirs and has been in the family since 1935 and was always known as “Kelly’s lane”.
The court heard yesterday that there were inconsistencies in maps concerning ownership of the disputed lane way.
Tom Kelly broke down while giving evidence in court insisting that he has always had good neighbours and “is not in the habit of falling out with anybody”.
Proceedings were adjourned briefly when the 74-year-old became distressed and pointed out he had offered Ms Whitehead another field in an effort to resolve the row.
Mr Kelly admitted he had put a barrier up on the laneway in 2010 because the situation was “getting out of hand”.
He claimed there were horses being taken down the lane “early in the morning and late at night”, beside the home of his son Alan and his wife and two young children.
The 74-year-old insisted he had no problem with Ms Whitehead using the field to graze horses but said she had no right to access the field using the laneway.
In evidence, Ms Whitehead said she had written several letters to her solicitor to record what she “regarded as harassment and intimidation” over her use of the lane.
Alan Kelly’s wife Regina also broke down when called to give evidence yesterday and said: “I absolutely hate it. It’s a terrible situation to be in”
Ms Whitehead admitted she had installed a camera pointing at Alan Kelly’s house some years ago but insisted it was because of “nocturnal car creepers” coming and going at 3am in the morning and not because she was spying on Alan Kelly.
She took it down a month later after a request from the gardaí.
Ms Whitehead also admitted she wrote a letter to her neighbour in 2009 “who had become quite an important person by then” and his wife, because she thought someone “driving down in the middle of the night” was harassing them.
In his evidence, Alan Kelly said he was “quite perturbed” by the letter and “couldn’t fathom exactly what she was trying to say”.
He said Ms Whitehead subsequently installed monitoring equipment which was very upsetting for him and his family as it was pointing straight at his house.
“It was quite obvious my next door neighbour was taking photographs of myself and my family… To this day we do not know what photos were taken of our cars or our children.”
He said it was a very stressful period for him as at the time, as it was publicly known he was receiving death threats and that he had spoken on national and local radio about the threats.
Mr Kelly told the court he had to “think long and hard about this issue” as he was a public figure, adding “there are national journalists reporting on the case who wouldn’t be here otherwise”.
He said the matter was a huge deal because his father had always owned the lane way at the centre of the dispute adding: “I don’t believe in any diminution of ownership of your land just for the sake of it”.
“Personally for me one of the most emotional situations was to see my father [upset] here earlier.
“Some times you have to stand up and defend your rights and we, my father and I, stand shoulder to shoulder in standing up for what we believe in.”
Final legal submissions in the case will be heard this morning.