NEWSLETTER 20, AUGUST 2003
EDITORIAL: BORD FAILTE’S PLAN FOR WALKING (2003-2006)
This recently published Plan makes interesting reading. For instance, it states that there has been ‘a sharp rise in walking as a leisure activity in all European countries’ (no surprise there) and that the majority want walks of 2-3 hours and a circular route (our comment: this group is hardly catered for).
Most significant is the following: “Let it be emphasised once again that access is the most critical issue for the developers of the [walking] product right now and needs to be solved post haste.”
This is certainly a clear statement of intent and a far cry from the complacent approach which we have had from Bord Failte, among others, up to recently. Unfortunately where Bord Failte falls down is in how it intends to solve the problem. To suggest, as the report does, that ‘remedial action will only be successful when partnership principles are adhered to, when the rights of every participant are recognised and respected’ etc, etc is far too vague and wooly and a recipe for endless procrastination. The farming organisations gave not a square inch after the foot and mouth crisis and are unlikely to volunteer anything now or in the future. The legislative route is the only feasible option.
THE COMMITTEE ON AGRI-TOURISM
This Consultative Committee, on which KIO is represented on a sub-Committee, was set up early in the year to enquire into the blocking off of the long distance routes by aggrieved farmers. In a surprise development all the participants, including the farming organisations and the Mountaineering Council of Ireland, agreed that its brief was too narrow and should be broadened to include the whole question of access to the countryside.
On the Committee the farming organisations have been advocating payment for access alone, which if conceded would be without parallel in Europe. They have also frequently pushed the line, which the media and Bord Failte also follow, that farmers were paid under a former grant scheme for access. This is simply not true: farmers were paid to maintain the long distance routes, a very different matter.
As a fall-back position they are asking the tourist industry and Bord Failte to pay. We merely note that the farming organisations were not queueing up to compensate tourism interests which suffered such a hit from the foot and mouth crisis.
Of course KIO disagrees with payment for access, but Minister O Cuiv has made the dispute academic by claiming that there is no money available from the Irish taxpayers. It is of course EU policy not to pay for access alone.
KIO made a written submission to the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the two Articles on property in the Constitution. The Committee’s advertisments specifically mentioned the problem of access to the countryside and this is the only subject we addressed. As a result we were invited to make an oral presentation to the Committee. This took place in July and KIO were represented by Roger Garland, Frank Winder and David Herman. The presentation went well and there were a number of genuine queries. We emphasised the need to test the Constitution urgently to see if freedom to roam would infringe it. This meeting led to further exposure for KIO in the press (see below).
We have received copies of over 130 submissions made to the Committee by other organisations and individuals. A preliminary perusal of these shows support for the freedom to roam over rough grazing land from the Ombudsman, Chartered Institute of Building Ireland, Irish Planning Institute, An Taisce, Friends
of the Irish Environment and Feasta.
We would like to single out the contribution from the Office of the Ombudsman which obviously considered the issue of access to the countryside to be so important that it gave seven pages (including three pages on Uggool Beach) out of their nine page submission.
Of the two main farming organisations the ICMSA their usual “head in the sand, not an inch” policy. The IFA were at least prepared to look at possible changes, but the general tenor of was very negative.
Meetings with politicians.
KIO met Fiona O’Malley TD (PD), Mary Upton TD (Labour) in July and Fergus O’Dowd (FG) in August to discuss access and the affects present problems are having on the tourism industry. All meetings were frank and encouraging. Dr Upton promised to tease out the implications of the latest version of the CAP for us to see if it has any bearing on access.
Meeting with Wicklow farmers
KIO was invited to meet farmers’ representatives in Wicklow to discuss our approach to access problems and our seemingly different attitude to farming organisations in the West (‘confrontational’) and in Wicklow (‘much more sympathetic’). We explained that farmers in Wicklow had far more real access problems than those in the West and were nonetheless much more ready to allow access. The meeting was considered useful.
Unnecessary barbed wire fencing
KIO’s complaint to the European Parliament, which we understand is an add-on by the Irish Dept of Agriculture and not an EU requirement, has been accepted as an admissible petition. We await the next stage with interest.
Sligo farmer faces jail
Under the heading ‘Sligo Farmer Faces Jail’ the Farmers Journal covered the refusal of Andy McSharry to pay a fine of €300 and expenses of €100 for intimidating walkers whom he said had trespassed on his land. The judge described his behaviour as ‘intolerable’.
This is the second time that McSharry, who has the support of the IFA, has found himself in court for his actions against walkers. We wish Mr McSharry to reflect on the fact that it is the cheques in the post from the taxpayers of Ireland and Europe that are making it possible for him to pursue his farming (and assaulting) career.
The Information Evening on 7th May attracted a large attendance including TDs from Labour and the Green Party and enquiries for information from the PDs and FG, whose representatives could not attend. We hope to attract new members to our Committee from the meeting.
Legislation on Access
Ruairi Quinn, former leader of the Labour Party and a member of KIO, is preparing legislation for us on access to the countryside.
Meeting on REPS
Roger Garland attended a meeting of farmers and others in Tullamore in July and gave the case against the barbed wire fencing now so prevalent, especially in the West. This meeting was also attended by an EU representative.
Wicklow Uplands Council
We thank Frank Winder who has represented KIO on the council for some years and welcome Michael Carroll, who has now taken over from him.
KIO has new editions of its documents A Hundred Thousand Welcomes? and Freedom to Roam: the International Experience, as well as a new document Access to the Irish Countryside, which is a summary of our stance on all access issues. If you want copies please let us know.
In July Roger Garland addressed a group meeting of over 20 County Council Heritage Officers on rights of way.
At a time when both the farming sector and the tourist industry are under pressure, a valuable opportunity is being lost to earn foreign currency and create jobs. Walking and hiking tourists have become so fed up with the difficulties and the unpleasantness which can be involved in accessing the Irish countryside that they are taking their business elsewhere.
The statistics are damning. According to Bord Failte figures, the number of international walking and hiking visitors declined from 322,000 ten years ago to 266,000 in 1999 and reached 241,000 in 2001. In spite of that decline, overseas walking tours were still worth about €144 million to the economy, more than that earned by golf, angling and cycling. But, instead of developing this lucrative business, the authorities failed to take remedial action when individuals and groups of farmers closed off access to places of particular beauty and responded aggressively to walkers who crossed their land.
The result has been that rural tourism suffered disproportionately following the downturn in international travel in recent years. Keep Ireland Open, a group representing recreational users of the countryside, has urged an Oireachtas committee examining property rights under the Constitution to provide for a ‘freedom to roam’, where this is compatible with protecting the environment, privacy and other issues. Part of the existing problem stems from the withdrawal, two years ago, of an element of the EU’s Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS) under which payments had been made to allow for public access to farmland.
An upsurge in the closure of walking routes by farmers was intended to put pressure on the Government to finance a replacement scheme. But, instead of securing replacement funding, the closures encouraged foreign visitors to do their future walking in Wales or Scotland. Wales gets two million walking visitors annually. And the Scottish Assembly is preparing legislation on ‘freedom to roam’ in order to develop its growing outdoors business. Organised walking tours are highly developed in France, Spain, Italy and Greece. And there is no reason the business should not be expanded here, bringing benefits in terms of employment, transport, accommodation and cash flow.
For that to happen, however, the Government needs to get to grips with a worsening situation particularly affecting tracts of the west coast. Farming organisations, tourist interest and community groups must all become involved in resolving these difficulties as a matter of urgency. There are benefits to be had for all in properly regulated and funded walking arrangements that provide easy access to the countryside.
–Irish Times editorial, 26th July 2003
We are quoting the following email of 21 April ’03 and addressed to us. It speaks for itself.
‘Hi there, glad someone is thinking about this. We’ve just spent our second holiday in Ireland, we love the people, love the places and love the culture, but the problem is we’re walkers, and we were shocked when we were told that we couldn’t go into the Connemara national park and other places. We were frustrated, fed-up and angry. Wherever we turned to for advice we were given vague excuses and half truths about the situation and although we enjoyed being in Ireland again and even persuaded two friends to come with us because we though it was such a lovely place, we doubt we’ll visit again until the access problems are sorted out. We’re English, and we thought we had problems with access over here. Hand on heart we’ll have to tell our walker friends to reconsider any holiday plans in Ireland, it’s just a little too hard to get into the outdoors. We wish you well with your campaign.
Dr D Sleightholme, Dr J Hodges
And here is a recently received account from another English couple in similar vein:
‘On a touring holiday one hopes to get our of the car to walk, and preferably walk off road. To our frustration the Irish countryside is fenced off with barbed wire and effectively placed off limits to visitors and natives alike. In the UK by contrast walking is widely facilitated, thanks to sign-posted footpaths, trails and right of way. These are not confined to scenic areas or national parks.
To access the Irish countryside, one generally needs to have local knowledge or permission. Leisurely walking, off road, across fields and away from traffic is rarely possible, let alone encouraged or facilitated in any way. Thus the inviting landscape beyond barbed wire can only be admired from the car or the roadside. A less than memorable holiday experience for visitors and sadly not one that we can recommend to our British friends considering an Irish touring holiday’ [our italics].
Eamonn Kennan, Grace Timmons, Chester le Street, Co Durham
Good news from West Cork
The Farmers Journal of July 8 featured an article “Walking Tall in West Cork” about the setting up by the community of the Seven Heads Millennium Walk in the Courtmacsherry area Farmer Harold Kingston is pleased with the formal setting up of the trail: “There were no signs and you would have people wandering all over the place” said Harold, “so that it is a benefit to me to have people sticking to the well marked route”. He goes on to say: “I like meeting walkers from all over the world. This is a bonus since I can be on my own all day.” Certain farmers in Mayo, Kerry, Cork and Mayo have a very different attitude!
Access to a Stone Circle in Kenmare
We have received a complaint from members in Kerry that a Stone Circle, which is probably the largest in the south-west and has an impressive boulder dolmen with a huge capstone. There has traditionally been free access, but now it has a new gravelled path and a wooden cabin, from which money is being collected. It has also been surrounded by garden types of conifers so that in the words of one observer, ‘it is now like seeing an elephant in a tutu’.
Yet another case of the blocking off of our archaeological heritage, without a murmer from the authorities.
Ardmore, co Waterford.
As of now a landowner is threatening to close off a cliff-top path which has been walked from time immemorial. Nearly all the residents of Ardmore have signed a petition against closure. Once again, in the absence of clear, sign-posted, legally defined rights of way another battle, similar to that at the Old Head of Kinsale, is looming.
Magheramore Beach co Wicklow.
A dispute over access to this popular surfing beach has got a lot of publicity recently. Wicklow co council have stated that they will not buy the beach but will enforce what they consider to be a right of way. We await developments with interest, especially to see what implications this has for other supposed rights of way in the county and elsewhere.
Tibradden and Hellfire club carparks, co Dublin
These popular forest carparks have been closed all day of late. Coillte has taken this step because cars have been broken into and burnt out wrecks left in the parks. We have made the point strongly to Coillte that their action merely moves the problem elsewhere and a more promising policy would be to try to deal with the culprits.
Uggool, co Mayo. Yes, yet again in this 14 year saga of county council ineptitude. The new Ombudsman, Ms Emily O’Reilly is showing a personal interest in this, the longest running dispute on her books, and we hope to be able to report positive developments shortly.
Quite a lot of reports in this issue with almost all of it strongly supporting our line.
The Irish Times had a second editorial entitled ‘Walking Away’ on 26th July, which mentioned us and was unreservedly on our side in the issues it discussed. It is most gratifying to have such unstinting support from a prestigious newspaper. This editorial is given in full elsewhere in this newsletter.
On Prime Time, the flagship RTE1 TV news programme, discussed access on 24th July, seemingly as a result of our submission to the Oireachtas Committee (see above). Roger Garland was shown at Lough Bray; he spoke well about current problems. This was followed by a studio discussion with Fintan O’Toole speaking with knowledge and authority from what appeared to be (but wasn’t) a KIO script. Francis Fanning spoke for the IFA. He exuded a modicum of goodwill but was short on concrete concessions.
The Irish Times had a long article on 18th July by John G O’Dwyer, who has no connection with KIO, entitled ‘These Boots were made for Walking, but not on Roads, Road, Roads…’. The content is evident from the title, with Mr O’Dwyer complaining specifically about the long stretches of road on the Burren Way. He also compared the number of tourists Wales welcomes compared with the much fewer numbers we attract (the word ‘welcome’ is becoming a bit of a joke in Ireland).
The Irish Times also carried an article on 13th August from two members of the Irish Uplands Forum, proposing partnerships as a solution to our access problems. It contained two serious factual errors: that the Constitution permitted access only with the consent of the landowner and the old chestnut, that farmers had been paid in the past just for access.
KIO’s contribution to the Oireachtas Committee was reported in the national newspapers. We had a letter to the Irish Times expanding on the points we had made to the Committee and as a result recruited several new members.
Roger Garland had a long, informative article with excellent photos in the Summer 2003 issue of An Taisce’s magazine. He also appeared on Annalivia Radio and a Tipperary local station in July.
“Walking wars rumble on as ramblers gain access by force” is a heading across four columns of the Farmers Journal of June 21. The article quoted local Sligo Farmer and IFA activist James Gilmartin “Up to 30 carloads of walkers are arriving every week-end”. From our information 30 carloads a year would be more like it. Mr Gilmartin feels that walkers “are being directed by KIO” to tackle landowners about access to Benwhisken. The FJ didn’t bother checking with us prior to publication but did publish a letter strongly denying the claim.
[We apologise that we are reporting the following items so late: this was because of problems with the publishing of the May edition.]
The Irish Times had an article on 8th May claiming that the MCI were campaigning for ‘Unhindered Access’ to the uplands.
KIO had a letter expanding on the article on rights of ways in the current issue of Consumer Choice. Walking World Ireland, in its May/June issue had a letter from a walker in Lincolnshire praising the attitude of landowners and others in the Erris area of Mayo but complaining about the attitude of the farming organisations and ‘the spread of subsidised fencing’. There was also a letter from a walking guide complaining about limited access to the cliffs of Moher (this was also a major theme of John G O’Dwyer’s article (see above). This is completely unacceptable in such a well-known and majestic area.
The Irish Times also had an article by Fintan O’Toole (29th April) titled ‘Lunacy to Fence off the Land’ and attacking the farming organisations for their shortsighted attitude to access. However the article was based on Fintan’s walking experience in Wicklow, where landowners have suffered damage. The true lunacy is in the West
Heritage Officers in the Countryside
We are delighted to report that Heritage Officers have been appointed by several local authorities with what we understand to be a brief on rights of way and access issues. It remains to be seen how effective they will be with the various issues that continually arise in the countryside.
Listed below is a full list of existing Heritage Officers which we are led to believe will be increased to thirty six. Contact them if you have access or rights of way problems in your area.
|Forward Planning Section
|Áras an Chontae
Carrick – on – Shannon
|Laois / Offaly
|C/o Offaly County Council
|County Development Centre
|Brendan Mc Sharry
|Longford / Westmeath
|C/o Westmeath Co Co
|Donncha O Dulaing
President – Jackie Rumley 098-36144
Chairman – Roger Garland 01-4934239
Secretary – Michael Carroll 01-4943221
Membership Secretary/Treasurer – Kitty Murphy 01 – 8378594
Minutes Secretary – Patricia Hamilton 834 2054
Campaigner – David Herman 01-2984821
Tony O’Sullivan,01 837 4440
Frank Winder. 01 497 0016,
Seamus Mac Gearailt 01-2840322
Connaught: Secretary – Michael Murphy 098 25068