There was shock around the county yesterday morning when it emerged that the Browne family had put Westport House and Estate on the market. The family said they had reluctantly and sadly agreed to the sale of the house and estate, having made the decision after meeting with the estates administrators who were acting under a remit from the High Court.
Ms Sheelyn Browne, in a statement released to the media, said: “This is a very sad and emotional day for our family as we have done everything in our power to try to save the house and estate over the last eight years but now have to admit defeat in this battle as we have neither the resources nor the energy to continue. The High Court appointed administrators are very clear that this is the only course of action open to us for both legal and financial reasons. Our fervent hope and wish is that someone will buy the house and estate and keep it open to the public so that it can continue to be the cornerstone of the tourist offering in our beloved Westport. Our plan is that Westport House will continue as a business for this season and will be fully open by Easter next.”
The High Court appointed administrators met with the family earlier this month and strongly advised the family that the only prudent course of action, both legally and financially, was to put the house and the estate on the market in advance of the tourist season and to seek to sell the entire estate as a going concern.
The future of the house became a major concern when it emerged that a €6.5 million loan taken out in 2006, using 380 acres of the estate as security, had been acquired by NAMA and was included in the Project Arrow portfolio that was eventually sold to the American investment fund Cerberus.
After much public outcry that the estate could be broken up the Westport House loans were withdrawn from the portfolio a day before it was sold, following an intervention by Minister of State Michael Ring under Nama legislation that allowed this to be done in the public interest.
Since then there have been ongoing discussions involving Mayo County Council, NAMA, and other agencies in relation to the potential purchase of the loans. However according to the Browne family in their statement: “There has been no meaningful progress made over the last four months since the future of Westport House became the subject of local concern and widespread media coverage. The family’s hopes were raised last September when it was said that Mayo County Council were to step in and, as a first step, and would acquire the loans from NAMA.” The statement added: “The family is very concerned that the public has been led to believe that the future of Westport House was safe. In reality nothing has changed since September and the future of the house remains very uncertain.”
Responding to that assertion, Minister Ring said yesterday: “Ongoing discussions are taking place between NAMA, the county council, and I also want to thank the Western Development Commission who are very much involved in this. This is at a very delicate situation at the moment regarding the acquistion of the loans and people are aware of that. I suppose this is a coincidence it had to break on the first day of a General Election.” He added: “We’re at a very serious negociation stage, between the Western Devlopment Commision, NAMA, and the council, these discussions are taking place and we’re nearly at the end of the process and I’d like to point out that the State also have a hold on the house of €2 million to the Department of Arts, Culture, and the Gaeltacht.”
Independent Westport based councillor Chirsty Hyland told the Mayo Advertiser: “I’m urging people not to make a political football out of this over the next three weeks and for everyone to watch what they are saying. Westport House is too important to the town and the region for it to become one. Negotiations are ongoing and we need to let them play out.”
Michael Farrington, RENUA Ireland candidate for Mayo, has demanded that the Taoisaech, Enda Kenny, take immediate action to save Westport House for the nation and for the people of Mayo. Following the revelation that the historic Mayo house is up for sale, Mr Farrington said: “Westport House is an important part of Westport’s history and the history of grand houses throughout Ireland. It brings over 100,000 tourists into Westport every year and would be a devastating loss to the economy of the area. The Taoiseach must take urgent action to preserve this vital piece of our heritage.”
The sale will be advertised in Ireland, the UK, and the USA. The property is being marketed nationally and internationally by Ganly Waters estate agents.