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Question

523. Deputy Pa Daly asked the Minister for Justice her plans for reform in the area of easements and rights of way and when she anticipates being able to bring legislation on the matter. [47812/21]

Answer

Minister for Justice (Deputy Heather Humphreys): The Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2009 provided for a wide-ranging reform and modernisation of land law and conveyancing law. Part 8 of the 2009 Act introduced changes to the law concerning prescriptive easements, including rights of way, based on the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission.
A prescriptive easement is a right acquired by long use, as of right, by a property owner over a neighbour’s land, which is not granted in any surviving title deed. Common examples are rights to access a farm or dwelling house, where the access laneway is privately owned by one or more neighbours.
Public rights of way, or rights contained in written title deeds, are not affected.
The Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2009, as amended in 2011, introduced a new requirement for these rights based on long use to be verified (by a court order, or an uncontested application for registration), and registered with the Property Registration Authority (PRA). Up to 30 November 2021, this could be done based on the existing legal rules on establishing long use. After that date, registration would still be possible, but only under new legal rules.
I have consulted with a range of stakeholders, including the Law Society, Bar Council, Law Reform Commission and the Property Registration Agency, and listened carefully to the concerns raised. It is clear that there remains legal uncertainty about how the new rules may be interpreted, and that it has not yet been possible to register many important rights of way, which appear to have been enjoyed for many years without dispute. These problems are causing significant delays in conveyancing, and in loan applications.
I am satisfied that, if not addressed, this deadline was likely to lead to unnecessary litigation between neighbours, causing needless stress and legal costs. That is why I am acting quickly to address the legal uncertainty that has arisen.
As an interim solution, on 21 September, I secured Cabinet approval for a short amending Bill, to be enacted before the November deadline. Consistent with the strong preference indicated by stakeholders, the Bill will remove the major changes to the law on prescriptive rights that were due to take effect after 30 November, thus removing and not extending the upcoming deadline. This is also expected to greatly reduce current conveyancing blockages.
It is clear that more comprehensive reform may be needed, and I have therefore also obtained agreement to set up a time bound review that will identify the best long-term, sustainable provisions for the law in this area.
I very much hope that the forthcoming urgent Bill will enjoy cross-party support in both Houses of the Oireachtas.