Chief executive Moira Murrell and planning director Michael McMahon urged councillors to proceed “carefully and prudently” and not to leave the council open to a legal case and massive costs, similar to the Lissadell case in Sligo.
Replying to a question from Cllr Terry O’Brien (Lab), Ms Murrell also indicated individual councillors could be held liable for costs of a case, if they acted against the advice of the executive.
She told the meeting: “The fundamental question to be answered is whether or not a public right-of-way has been dedicated, or whether people use the tracks by permission of the landowner.”
However, several councillors spoke strongly in favour of including the rights- of-way, at Akeragh in the blue flag beach areas of Banna and Ballyheigue in the plan.
The council had already received submissions from the Tralee law firm of Thomas J O’Halloran, on behalf of landowner Timothy Lawlor, that people walked on the property with his permission only and that it was not a public right-of-way.
The solicitors also said they would seek a judicial review if the council proceeded further.
About 15 people seeking to have rights of access retained staged a protest outside the meeting at council headquarters in Tralee, and later applauded the decision from the public gallery.
Cllr Toireasa Ferris (SF), proposing that the rights-of-way be included in the plan, said the council had a legal obligation to protect rights-of-way and they should stand up and be counted on behalf of people who had enjoyed this access for many years.
“We must recognise that a public right-of-way has existed here for time immemorial,’’ she declared.
Cllr Jim Finucane (FG) said he believed there was still room for “meaningful negotiations’’ and the long-term solution was to take the property into full public ownership.
The 6km beach is one the most popular in the southwest and the protesters claimed access by pedestrians and vehicles, including those used by emergency services, would be affected, while a very negative message would also be sent out to the tourism industry.
Extinguishing or omitting these access points would interfere with the Kerry Way and a popular walkway the length of the strand from Ballyheigue to Banna, councillors further maintained.
The new county development plan must, for the first time, include rights-of-way.
A total of 63 were on the agenda at yesterday’s meeting, which was told there were no issues with a reported 55.