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To gauge an understanding of how boundaries are perceived in Ireland by landowners

Author - Daragh O'Brien, Dr. Patrick Prendergast


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3. Ireland’s Property Boundaries

Ireland has two separate systems for recording property transactions, the Registry of Deeds (registration of deeds system) and the Land Registry (registration of title system). The first system of registration was introduced in 1707 when the Registry of Deeds was set up to record the registration of documents dealing with land and conveyances under the Registration of Deeds Act of 1707 (Fitzgerald, 1989)(Fitzgerald, 1989).

Work within the Registry of Deeds became technical and difficult because of the complications with Irish titles and names of town lands, which became time consuming and expensive with fees ranging from £37 - £5,000 for each transaction and reform of the Registry of Deeds was required (Murphy et al, 1992). Reform was being considered in 1854 when the Registration of Title Commission was appointed and on foot of their report in 1857 the Registration of Titles in Ireland was founded.

In 1858, Irish born Sir Robert Torrens introduced a simple form of registration of title in Southern Australia. The Torrens system was revolutionary delivering cost effective and quick land registration where it detailed on one single piece of paper the description of the land parcel, the known registered proprietor and any encumbrances (i.e. mortgages) to do with the land (Williamson et al, 2010). Ireland adopted the English version of the Torrens system, which in contrast used a form of general boundaries instead of defined boundaries. As Ireland was under British rule at this time, further English acts were implemented and revised, such as The Land Registry Act (1862) and The Land Transfer Act (1875) that after many years of consultation concluded that boundaries were no longer required to be accurate to the nearest inch (Murphy et al, 1992).Various commissions and reports were introduced to deal with registration to develop a satisfactory system for Ireland.

In 1862, an act to facilitate proof of title was introduced to register land, which was voluntary and proved a problem, as only a small number (349) of properties were registered mainly because of the complexity of English law (Murphy et al, 1992). In 1865, land registration was attempted with the Record of Title Act (Ireland) drafted by Sir Robert Torrens, which required land registration within seven days of purchase. This again was cumbersome and slow where only 681 titles were recorded (Murphy et al, 1992).  A further Royal Commission issued a report in 1879 and was followed by the Land Law Ireland Act of 1881. The Purchasing Land Act of 1885 recorded 21,850 properties being vested in tenant purchasers (Murphy et al, 1992). The Land Commission was established in 1885 to distribute loans to farmers under a tenant purchase scheme. Substantial progress was made in 1888 when the Attorney General for Ireland suggested two bills to the chief secretary to resolve Land Registry…a) The reform of the Registration of Deeds and b) a Registration of Title. The Registration of Title Ireland bill of 1891 was passed and came into operation on the 1st January 1892 (Murphy et al, 1992).

When the Land Registry was set up in 1891, Ireland was still recovering from the famine in the 1840’s. Under a British incentive the land registration system was to give tenant farmers freehold ownership of their farms and to replace the feudal system that was in operation at the time (Prendergast el al, 2008). The 1891 Act was amended by the Registration of Title Act 1942 which were both replaced by the Registration of Title Act 1964 and which was then in turn replaced by the Registration of Deeds and Title Act 2006. Most recently in 2009, the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act was established to repeal enactments that were obsolete, unnecessary and of no assistance in modern circumstances (Houses of the Oireachtas, 2009).

The Land Registry make it clear that when a map is submitted for registration, it is the responsibility of the applicant to ensure the accuracy of the areas and that boundaries have no conflict with the current Land Registry map (Fitzgerald, 1989). According to Maltby (2010), the lines on a Land Registry map have no spatial significance and simply serve to indicate the separation between properties. The Land Registry also maintains three registers relating to the ownership of land and appurtenant rights on the land, namely freehold, leasehold and hereditaments or other rights on the property. Each of these consists of separate folios/files that contain information on the title of a particular interest in freehold land, leasehold interest or incorporeal rights which is attached to property and which is inheritable (Brophy, 2003). Nowadays the Registry of Deeds deals with titles mostly in urban areas, while the Land Registry deals with titles outside the main urban areas. Files in the Registry of Deeds record the name of the person who has disposed of property, which or may not have been the property’s owner (Brennan et al, 2008).

One of the main differences between the Land Registry and Registry of Deeds is that the Registry of Deeds system provides for the registration of documents dealing with land. The Land Registry provides registration for ownership and title together with other interests in land (Fitzgerald, 1989).

Other differences set out in Figure 1 include:

Land Registry Ireland operates on a non-conclusive boundary system, where the map does not indicate the physical feature of a boundary. The physical boundary on the ground is the most reliable evidence of physical features, such as hedge, ditches, fence or wall (Maltby, 2010). Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSi) is Ireland’s official national premier mapping agency and is responsible for the topographic mapping indicating the natural and built environment. The OSi position regarding property boundaries is that,

    “OSi maps never indicate legal property boundaries, nor do they show ownership of physical features. Although some property boundaries may be coincident with surveyed map features, no assumptions should be made in these instances and consequently it is not possible to identify the position of a legal property boundary from an OSi map” (OSi, 2011, pg. 1).

From research the OSi conducted from 2004 – 2009, accuracy of their large scale mapping system indicates accuracy of urban areas to be 98.7% accurate to within 2m and 99.9% accurate in rural areas to within 5m accurate (Society of Chartered Surveyors, 2010).

Under the provisions of the Registration of Deeds and Title Act 2006, the Registry of Deeds and the Land Registry were combined to form the PRA. The Land Registry and Registry of Deeds had been undergoing major changes to its systems for a number of years and a more modernized land registration system was needed, such as digital mapping, to further develop online services such as e-conveyancing. Another reason for this amalgamation was that legal transactions were up by 125% mainly because of the property boom in Ireland between 1999 – 2006 (Organisational Review Programme, 2008). The PRA’s primary statutory mandate is to provide a system of registration of title to land that is complete and easy to use. According to O’Sullivan (2007),

    “…when the title to a piece of property is registered, the PRA on behalf of the State guarantees that title. The statutory position is that a deed does not operate to transfer registered land until the transferee is registered as owner. This means that no legal title passes to a purchaser of registered property until the transaction is registered on the land register” (O’Sullivan, 2007, pg.1).>

Approximately 1.8 million registered titles covering about 2.5 million land parcels are now catered for in the Land Register (85% of all legal titles within the state) (O’Sullivan, 2007). The Land Registry in 2005 announced that all existing paper based maps would be converted into electronic form over a five-year period, known as the Digital Mapping Project. In August 2010 the mapping project was completed with all 26 counties fully digitized. The digital mapping project now provides easy access to data, which is viewed by clicking the seed point on the map to give information on the property, including the folio number. Figure 2

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