Keep Ireland Open

KIO Activities

KIO Activities

Click the links below to read the issues by each county in Ireland as well as the Dail Questions we have submitted and letters we have written to the press. 

Our primary goal is legislation to give recreational users the right to access our countryside.

Keep Ireland Open is the only national voluntary organisation campaigning for the right of recreational users to responsible access to the Irish countryside, whether mountains, seashore, lakes, rivers, historic monuments or other natural amenities.

We are campaigning for clearly-marked legal rights of way, mainly in the lowlands. and the legal right to roam freely in more remote and upland areas. We also campaign against barbed-wire fencing, especially prevalent in the West, which is both unsightly and denies access.

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Who we are

KEEP IRELAND OPEN is the national body working for the right to access the countryside, that is our mountains, seashores, lakes and rivers. In Ireland you have no legal right to step onto private land, including commonages, no matter how remote. You may be summarily ejected by landowners for no reason. We are looking for a change in the law from the present unsatisfactory situation where landowners have the law completely and unfairly on their side so as to bring us into line with most other EU countries and the UK.

What we do

We will continue to lobby politicians and other opinion makers both­ at national and EU level. We will endeavour to raise access problems in the national and local media. We will research the laws and access conditions in other European Countries.

There is a significant increase in hillwalking both by the young and not so young. Walking in Ireland can be obstructed by barbed-wire fencing. In addition, walkers have to struggle with poorly maintained paths where no stiles or similar infrastructure are provided. Even approved walks and Greenways are only permissive routes and can be closed by landowners with minimal or no notice.

Aims of KIO

The Aims of Keep Ireland Open are:
  • To achieve a network of well marked and maintained public rights-of way to allow short walks to reach open ground and provide access to our rivers, lakes and seashores. • To gain freedom to roam over rough grazing land – that is about 7% of our total land area.
  • To minimize barbed-wire fencing in mountain areas of rough grazing, as it is visually intrusive and severely hinders walkers. Unfortunately there is no legal obligation to provide stiles.
  • To protect our archaeological and natural heritage.
  • To promote the recreational use of walking and cycling routes.
Croagh Patrick

How will we achieve them?

We will continue to lobby politicians and other opinion makers, both at national and EU level.  We will endeavour to raise access problems in the national and local media. We will research the laws and access conditions in other European Countries. We will encourage and support, Local Community Groups to work with County Councils, in protecting and Registering Public Rights of Way.

There is a significant increase in hillwalking both by the young and not so young. Walking in Ireland can be obstructed by barbed-wire fencing. In addition, walkers have to struggle with poorly maintained paths where no stiles or similar infrastructure are provided.  Even approved walks and Greenways are only permissive routes and can be closed by landowners with minimal or no notice. 

Recent issues

Recent Issues

This blog has been designed to highlight recent access issues reported to us by our members. If you have recently become aware of an access problem you can report it to us at info@keepirelandopen.org

If you are aware that any of these issues have been resolved please send us information about it.

Wicklow Issues 24Apr24

ACCESS ISSUES IN COUNTY WICKLOW Unfortunately there are numerous problems in accessing some traditional upland walks in Wicklow and public access to beaches and the

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The Problem

Is there really a problem about accessing the countryside? Do we need legal rights as long as we can actually get into the countryside?

The facts are that we are rapidly losing even the informal rights we have had to access our own countryside. Until a couple of decades ago there was little or no problem about accessing the countryside, as there was a relaxed attitude to people crossing land. In the last few years this has changed. In a small, but worryingly increasing number of cases, people attempting to cross land are being stopped by hostile notices and fencing, the latter particularly evident where commonage has been divided. Many places that for generations have been open to walkers and other recreational users are now being closed off: from the Old Head of Kinsale to parts of the Twelve Bens in Connemara, parts of the mountains of the Iveragh, Dingle and Beara peninsulas. Archaeologists and historians can no longer visit some important megalithic tombs and other historical sites and monuments. Even access to beaches is not guaranteed: Ugool beach, near Westport, has been blocked off since 1989 and the local authority, Mayo County Council, has done nothing to re-open it. Many sections of long-distance way-marked trails in the south west have been blocked off by landowners at various times in the past.

The problem is not so obvious in Wicklow and the East of the country generally. Ironically these are the very areas where there are most walkers and landowners may have legitimate cause to complain. Most of the intractable problems are along the Atlantic seaboard, the area that attracts fewest walkers, and is otherwise a prime area for developing hill walking and other outdoor recreations as tourist attractions.

Recreational users of the countryside have no rights. All legal rights to do with access are on the side of the landowners. The only places in Ireland where freedom to roam exists are the National Parks. Although they include some of the most scenic areas they cover only about 1% of the country.

Attempted solutions to the access problem

A purely voluntary approach to the problem of access has been tried for many years now. It doesn’t work. Permission to access land can be withdrawn at any time by a landowner without giving any reason. This means that even long-established walking routes across private land can be closed without notice at any time.

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Comhairle na Tuaithe

In 2004 Minister for the Gaeltacht and Rural Affairs Éamonn Ó Cuív, whose department has partial responsibility (along with the Department of the Environment) for solving access problems set up Comhairle na Tuaithe (the Countryside Council), comprising representatives of the farming organisations, recreational users of the countryside and state bodies with an interest in the countryside to address the issue of access to the countryside. Representatives of the farming organisations have failed to grasp the central issues, let alone deal with them. They have consistently refused to discuss the necessity for legislative change to solve the problem of access to the countryside, or the listing and establishing rights of way. KIO has been a lone voice at Comhairle na Tuaithe meetings trying to press for legislation, continuously overruled by the three or four farming organisation representatives.

Comhairle na Tuaithe, despite being in existence since 2004, has achieved nothing towards solving the problem of access to the countryside.

The long distance way-marked walking routes are permissive paths which can be – and have been – blocked at will by landowners. At only about 3,000km long they are, by international standards, far from extensive. Only about 16% of these routes are over private land, much is on tarmac or through coniferous forests.

As a result of the lack of rights of access to the countryside there is little or no infrastructure to support walking routes, that is – footbridges, stiles, gates, boardwalks, signposts and all the rest that casual walkers from other countries take for granted. There is also a scarcity of walking guidebooks, since landowners can successfully call for the deletion of a route crossing their land. Even eroded paths cannot be repaired without the agreement of the landowner.

“Plans to make the ascent of Ireland’s highest mountain safer are on hold because of right of way issues over a steep climb known as the Devil’s Ladder. A sum of €100,000 has been provided to develop Carrauntoohil for climbers and a Scottish company with mountaineering expertise engaged to do safety work on the ascent.
Agreement has yet to be reached with all local landowners, however, holding up the project.” The Irish Examiner, March 15th, 2007.

Walkways Scheme

In 2008 the Government introduced a Walkways Scheme. This provides public funds to farmers for establishing and maintaining footpaths. They are paid a minimum of €725 to a maximum of €1,900 per annum for this. Unfortunately this scheme does not establish any rights of public access. Farmers can withdraw from the scheme at six months’ notice and, at the end of five years, the whole scheme is up for renegotiation.

So far the scheme has led to a number of permissive walks being established nationally. They may well disappear again after five years.

Walking Tourism

In recent years there has been a welcome increase in the numbers of walking tourists coming to Ireland, but it is from a very low base. We estimate that the income from walking tourism is less than a quarter of that of Scotland, a country of similar size, terrain and climate.

Foreign walkers, accustomed in their home country to extensive, clearly delineated walking areas, will be bewildered in a country where they find they cannot know for certain where they can or cannot walk. They will also be disappointed by the scarcity of infrastructure and guidebooks. If, as happens, they have a bruising encounter with an angry landowner – and this is more likely among those who do not know the local area – they will certainly remember it and tell their friends.

All in all, not the best of foundations on which to base a thriving industry, one that is rural-based, environmentally friendly, and greatly extends the tourist season.

Reasons given by landowners to deny access

Insurance problems

Since the present law on public liability was passed in 1995 there have been several cases in which walkers have endeavoured to sue a landowner after they were injured. In every single case the person seeking to sue has lost. In one case a casual stroller suing a landowner (not a farmer) succeeded in the courts – only to have this decision struck down on appeal. The 1995 Act has been so successful from a landowning perspective that the element of public liability insurance which covers leisure users against injury is only a tiny proportion of most landowners’ insurance bills. Yet the issue of insurance is used by farm organisations to deny access on grounds that their members may be liable in the case of injury to walkers on their land. This is a red herring. Remember: 1995 is now a long time ago and since then not one landowner has been successfully sued. Not many people, landowners among them, seem to know this.

Damage caused by walkers

Walkers are generally law-abiding and acutely aware of damage to others’ property and are unlikely to deposit litter. With the right to access land come responsibilities: a respect for the countryside, an obligation not to harm, disturb, litter or damage wildlife or crops. The provision of stiles, gates etc. will prevent damage to landowners’ property.

It’s my land (and I can do whatever I want with it)

With the law 100% on their side Irish landowners seem to have developed a uniquely aggressive attitude to walkers on their land. Absolute property rights don’t exist under our constitution. KIO is looking for reasonable and responsible access to the countryside.

Privacy

Farmers and other landowners are entitled to privacy. We have always supported the concept of routing walking paths away from private dwellings. There is no basis for the farming organisations’ constant refrain of How would you like farmers walking through your garden?

A suggested solution

The law needs to be changed

Current legislation on access to the countryside is simple and one-sided: landowners have the law completely on their side. They can turn recreational visitors away, for any reason or none. The result is that landowners are increasingly using this imbalance to keep such visitors off areas they have traditionally walked and/or to demand money for allowing access. We urgently need a radical change in the laws.
Our primary goal is legislation to give recreational visitors the right to access our countryside.
What we are campaigning for can be summarised in three words: legislation, legislation, legislation.
What kind of legislation?

Firstly we must distinguish between freedom to roam and rights of way. For low value or rough grazing land, freedom to roam allows recreational users to wander at will, except near houses, over growing crops etc. – the norm all over Scotland and the Scandinavian countries and in parts of England and Wales. Ireland has no areas covered by freedom to roam except the National Parks.

In heavily cultivated areas rights of way are the norm. These are linear paths or tracks from which the walker should not deviate. They are normally marked on maps and signposted. We have very few rights of way in Ireland.

What we are looking for therefore is a legal right to allow freedom to roam in mainly remote rough grazing land, that is about 7 per cent of the total land area in the State. Areas covered by freedom to roam should be marked on the maps and indicated on the ground. Freedom to roam would never be allowed in close proximity to dwellings or across growing crops, nor in areas of persistent vandalism.

For other areas, mainly lowlands, we propose rights of way both to get to areas covered by freedom to roam and to form looped walks or walks to areas of interest, such as amenity areas or historical or archaeological sites.

Landowners can benefit directly from rights of way. Instead of walkers wandering blindly through farmed areas at random they could be channelled into rights of way and so avoid unnecessary disturbance. No Irish Government, and few local authorities, have yet taken on landowners in order to facilitate access to the countryside.

We are also campaigning for severe restrictions on intrusive barbed-wire fencing in areas where freedom to roam would be allowed.

A proposal for Irish conditions

While we recognise that there could be problems in legislating for the ‘right to roam’ in Ireland, it is hard to see what objections landowners could have to walkers crossing open, unfenced upland if they are behaving responsibly. We suggest this approach, with reasonable restrictions agreed with landowners, over most of the country. Local authorities, tourism interests and local walking clubs should take an active role in settling disputes.
Where there are difficulties, we suggest the creation of clearly defined rights of way through farmland in order to access open ground, amenity areas or archaeological sites, with reasonable compensation for landowners related to the area of land sterilised. An area where rights of way are particularly needed is the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains, where there are large numbers of walkers and where some landowners have suffered from the activities of irresponsible trespassers and vandals. The legislation to create rights of way already exists but is hopelessly archaic and unclear. It needs to be replaced with modern, clear legislation.

The present status of rights of way in Ireland is unsatisfactory, with uncertainty as to where rights of way exist and with almost all local authorities failing to even identify, let alone list and maintain them or to take enforcement proceedings where they are blocked.

The role of the local authorities to date

It has been the sad experience of walkers and the public in general that local authorities have been ineffective in their handling of right of way and access disputes. In fact in no case that we know of in any part of the country, have the local authorities taken effective action to help the rights of walkers, no matter how just the walkers’ case.

If disputes are to be resolved a much more forceful and objective attitude will be required to take the interests of walkers – and therefore of tourism – into account. As a start Access Officers should be appointed in counties where walking is an important leisure activity. Local authorities should be required by law to identify, list and protect walking routes. If they prove inadequate to the task, a national commission for walking routes should be set up to do it on behalf of the public.

What is the outlook if nothing is done?

If no action is taken soon there will be more frequent difficulties between landowners and persons attempting to cross land, as the popularity of walking is growing constantly. The possibility of continuing to attract foreign walkers (and other leisure users) could be severely stunted. This would be particularly tragic given that Ireland could be a prime choice for British and continental walkers because it offers such attractive landscapes and good walking country.