Newsletter No 36 Autumn 2008
Editorial: No, we are not disheartened
We recently received an email from a KIO member (it’s reprinted elsewhere in this issue) who says that having read recent issues he feels somewhat disheartened about the prospects of out ever achieving legal access to the countryside.
KIO has been on the go for 14 years and at first glance the situation on access is much the same now as it was then, in spite of strenuous efforts on our part. But without KIO it is certain that access would have a much lower profile and possible that there would not be any council such as Comhairle na Tuaithe working however ineffectively to achieve access. Without KIO, the media would not have given even the admittedly modest coverage it has to access and the coverage would not have been so favourable and informed.
We all know we have nothing to be complacent about but the fact that time is on our side: We do have the following factors working for us:
* Farming is a steadily declining industry, grants will increasingly come directly from the taxpayers of Ireland, not from Brussels, and the general public will increasingly ask why we should shovel so much money in the farmer’s direction when they are prepared to concede nothing in return;
* Obesity is a growing problem and walking is a splendid form of exercise. Would-be casual walkers will increasingly ask why they cannot access the countryside and why infrastructure as in other European countries cannot be provided for them:
* Hill-walkers who visit almost any other country in Europe and enjoy the splendid facilities for walkers there will wonder: ‘What exactly is so different about Ireland?’
So what do we need now to make progress? We need your friends and acquaintances? Whether they are serious hill-walkers, casual strollers who like to go out with the dog, archaeologists who want to visit sites at present off limits, we need them all. When there is a string, united voice speaking out for access, and only then, will we achieve our objectives.
O’Cuív visits Scotland
The minister samples a very different Jurisdiction
Minister O’Cuív visited Edinburgh early in September and had a meeting with members of the Scottish parliament, the British and Scottish Ramblers, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Access officer of the National Farmers Union of Scotland. On a field tour he saw how access works on the ground in Scotland. This included a new path network development around Loch Leven and associated action by a local farmer to link this network to a new farm shop/café, an excellent example of rural development stimulated by Scotland’s right to roam legislation.
We need hardly emphasise how different access conditions are in Scotland, where recreational users have a legal right to walk everywhere except over the most obvious places such as across growing crops and around people’s houses.
This important meeting is a direct result of a visit to Scotland by a KIO representative about a year ago and this is a notable coup for us.
More trouble in Glencree
The background : You might recall that the Glencree case involved two what were long considered to be rights of way in this valley in North Wicklow. After a prolonged legal battle the judgment in the High Court was that a right of way could only be established if the landowner specifically dedicated a route to the public in writing. This in effect meant that nearly all of what hitherto the public had considered to be rights of way, were not. However this judgement is not set in stone and we await developments to the following dispute that has now arisen in the same area.
Landowner Joe Walker, who has used hired hooded men to block walkers from the Old Coach Road in the Glencree Valley, has issued High Court writs against members of the Enniskerry Walking Association (EWA), who had planned to walk the disputed route last month. EWA chairman Niall Leonach and secretary Noel Barry, indicated to the court on September 24th that they intend to fight the case as they believe that they can prove the route has been an old road for centuries.
The case has taken on particular importance as the ineptly named Joe Walker has long set himself up as the leader of a militant landowning faction determined to see off any attempts to improve public access in Wicklow.
Here is the email (slightly shortened) sent by KIO to the secretary of Minister O’Cuív’s Department:
I am writing in the hope that you can bring a deeply disturbing development to the attention of Minister Eamon O’Cuív.
A wealthy landowner in the Glencree valley, Joe Walker, has written to two members of the EWA telling them that he intends to take out court injunctions against them unless they give immediate assurances that they will withdraw from a planned walk by the EWA along the Old Coach Road this Saturday (September 20th). This old road, once used for horse and carriage traffic, has remained a longstanding pedestrian route. Mr Walker has also threatened to fix Messrs Barry and Leonach with the costs of any proceedings.
Wicklow County Council have continually refused to assert the public right regarding this route – or any other in the county. The Old Coach Road is shown on maps dating back to 1776 and is referred to as a road in a number of publications. If in asserting the public right to walk is to require a bus driver (Noel Barry, Secretary of the EWA) and a secondary school teacher (Niall Leonach, its Chairman) to put their homes on the line then the law will be seen, once again, to be seriously deficient. This is the very type of appalling vista which the Minister has previously indicated that he does not wish to see but which seems unavoidable under the law as it stands.
Britain and Ireland’s best wild places
by Christopher Somerville
This recently published book states ‘In the Republic of Ireland the situation is clouded by lack of historic provision of access, by legal pitfalls over responsibility in case of accident, and by an aggressive and destructive attitude among some landowners and farmers. Comhairle na Tuaithe is a recently formed body that may make progress. Keep Ireland Open lobbies for more and better access to the countryside.
KIO notes: The alleged legal difficulties have long been shown to be a red herring. However the rest of this of this comment is all too true.
Conservation, not recreation – The Wicklow Mountains National Park
A correspondent writes : I had occasion to drive along the road running along the south side of Big Sugar Loaf recently on a sunny Sunday and had to run the gauntlet of cars parked along the narrow road. Not the fault of the drivers since there was nowhere else to park if you wanted to go for a walk up the Sugar Loaf. No facilities had been provided: no proper path, no shorter walks, no play area for kids, no loos, nothing.
KIO Comments: this is private land and you could hardly expect the owner to provide these facilities. However it should be possible to buy land for a car park and the rest. Local walks of course depend on the goodwill of the landowner and in the absence of a legal right to access land, neither the council nor the State can do anything – even if they had the will, which they haven’t.
However Coillte, departing from its regrettable policy of closing many car parks where there has been vandalism, has opened a few new car parks recently, including ones in Glencree and at the Shay Elliot Memorial and has provided some facilities for walkers and other recreational visitors – a welcome development. Facilities like this might take some of the pressure off Glendalough, which is now grossly overcrowded.
All this is part of the major problem with the Wicklow Mountains National Park, which the new car parks do little to redress: it is geared towards conservation not recreation, a greatly mistaken policy for an unpopulated area close to a large conurbation. Another management plan for the NP is due next year but we have little hope that this policy will be reversed.
Now the boot is on the other foot
A correspondent writes: Thought you might like this snippet from the book ‘Malachi Horan remembers’ by George Little, published 1943. This is an account of the stories and memories of Malachi Horan who lived and farmed in Killenarden or Tallaght Hill from I suppose about 1860 – 1945. Excerpt is from page 15, quoting Malachi Horan.
‘The Mass-paths? They were the start of half the rights-of-way in the country. They were often the start of trouble too. The landlords hated them. They were just the short cuts for the people and they going to Mass. There is one by the door here that runs from Killenarden to Callaghan’s Bridge (Fort or Bohernabreena Bridge) nigh on Bohernabreena. In my father’s time the landlord here – McGrane it was – tried to close the way. He was a sore man on the tenants. But my father and some neighbours got the law of it. They were advised to pull down every fence he put on the path, and that when he took away the stepping stones over the stream to put them back at once. This they did time and again. After many a row they won their way. McGrane was beat. There was a poet – Frank Sheridan – who lived on the hill here and he wrote a ballad on the head of it. I have only one verse of it now:
‘Success to Pat Horan and likewise Miley Keogh
Who never flinched a single inch
But travelled to and fro.
Some went round the limekiln way,
More went by Bradley’s lane;
And some of them stayed at home
For fear they’d vex McGrane.’
Says it all, don’t you think – excepting this is written of an access problem of over 150 years ago – seems we have just changed one set of landlords for another
BD Co Wexford
Payment for access – or not?
The National Walkways Scheme, a trial set of paths through privately owned land, was unveiled this year. The national newspapers have claimed that there is a minimum payment of €725 per annum to pay for maintenance of walkways but Minister O’Cuiv claimed at the KIO AGM that there was no minimum payment. This is an important question since a minimum payment on a walkway that requires little or no maintenance is in effect payment for access. The corollary of this is that the more the state pays per kilometre the fewer kilometres we end up with: in the present straitened times it is vital that access costs as little as possible.
So who is correct? Well, in fact the newspapers are in practical terms correct but the Minister is in the happy position of being able to claim that there is no minimum payment. Judge for yourself in this, the complete reply to KIO’s query to the Minister’s Department.
In answer to your question below, there is no minimum annual payment but Walks Scheme booklet #19 states that “while it is anticipated that minimum trail maintenance will require at least 50 hrs per annum, payment will not exceed 200 hours.” This does not apply to smaller tracts of land.
So at least 50 hours per annum at a rate of €14.50 per hour.
I hope this answers your question.
KIO Comments: 50 hours at €14.50 per hour equals €725 and that equals more farmers laughing all the way to the bank. There is another disquieting point to be made about this Scheme. There have been reliable reports of walkers being turned away in areas where no Walkways Scheme exists – by farmers who want their share of the cake. These farmers do not seem to have taken on board that this grant has to be earned (or does it?).
A reply from Fáilte Ireland
In the last issue we outlined the response of four western boards to an enquiry from a would-be British walking visitor. He asked about rights of way, what to do in case of threatening behaviour from a landowner and what areas were covered by Freedom to Roam. He got factual answers on rights of way, no response at all about threatening behaviour ( can we take it that it is truly unthinkable?) and non-answers or in one case a downright fib when the tourist board assert that there were no access problems in their area – well, there most certainly are!
Anyway we passed those responses on to Fáilte Ireland and received a prompt reply. We got a lot of irrelevant ‘information’ about the working of Cohmairle na Tuaithe and Fáilte Ireland’s passive acceptance of the principles governing its deliberations (these are highly favourable to landowners) and then this:
‘I am copying my regional colleagues that were contacted [ by the British enquirer] with a copy of this response with a view to ensuring that we are operating to one script.’
We comment : And exactly what script is this? We will be enquiring if the factual situation will be told, since this is the only one in anything over the long term that will retain the continuing credibility of Fáilte Ireland.
The loneliness of the far distant farmer
It is quite ironic that the subject of the isolated and lonely lives of farmers usually living in upland areas should be a matter of concern; it was brought up again once again at the National Ploughing Championship. We have every sympathy with such farmers but the not a square inch policy of the farming organisations is contributing in no small way to such isolation, since walkers who would otherwise exchange a few words with such farmers now understandably have a much more wary attitude – if they are around at all.
Nothing much to report. KIO continued its letter writing campaign with a letter from its chairman that was carried in all the national newspapers contrasting the poor walking facilities for walkers of all abilities and inclinations compared with those elsewhere in Europe. A leading member of KIO commented acerbically in the Irish Times on an ill-informed assertion in a recent survey of the Iveragh Peninsula tbat conditions for hill walkers would be worsened if sheep (and farmers) were withdrawn from the uplands.
A less than optimistic correspondent emails us!
I want to say how interesting a read I always find the KIO Newsletter and it never fails to evoke a variety of feelings – generally frustration, disbelief and even
G.M. Ballina [see also editorial comment]
News from the North
The Ulster Society for the Protection of the Countryside (USPC) reports from the one jurisdiction in Europe that we know of that has legislation almost as poor as the Republic’s.
Ulster may be one of the most rural parts of the UK – yet we lag well behind everyone when it comes to countryside walking. That’s the message from countryside campaigners calling for the [Northern Ireland] Assembly to draw up new legislation that will allow people to walk in the countryside without depending on dangerous roads. The USPC says public rights of way and walking routes providing off-road access are almost non-existent in Northern Ireland’s countryside- seriously restricting access to scenic areas and historic sites.
The National Looped Walks
National Trails Day was on a Sunday late in September and attracted a great deal of publicity for the national Looped Walks. What are they and are they a solution to the problem of access to the countryside? There are fifty of them and they are in all parts of the country, with another fifty planned by the end of the year. They are waymarked, signposted and range in duration from 2 to 5 hours. They should be far more used than the long-distance waymarked routes, which are A to B and are really only suitable for the hardened walker.
First of all we heartily welcome them as they give some outlet to those who want a casual stroll. However, by international standards they and the long-distance walks form a grossly inadequate national path network of a few thousand, rather than more than a few tens of thousands of kilometres. Secondly, we note that only 12 percent of the State’s entire network is over private land and these looped walks are unlikely to be any different. This means that many of the more scenic areas are out of bounds. To take an example from the Wicklow Way. Around Lough Dan and south of Drumgoff Crossroads the way runs through much dense forestry while open areas offering wide views are a short distance away, but these areas are in private hands.
We have to come back to a point we have had to belabour for years: until recreational visitors have the right to walk over suitable private land, Ireland’s walking possibilities will continue to limp forward.
An uninviting invitation
A correspondent in the west has sent us the attached photo taken on the route of the Croagh Patrick/Tochar Phadraig walk. We note, as a preamble, that the pilgrim route from Ballintubber Abbey to Croagh Patrick has been walked since early Christian times but, according to Mayo County Council, still does not qualify as a right of way. Worse still, at least one national monument close to the route and in State hands has been blocked off and cannot be accessed by the public. It has to be said that technically the council is right since the Glencree case established (for the moment anyway) that a right of way can only exists if the landowner specifically dedicates it in writing, but the council came to this line of least resistance conclusion well before this case came up.
This notice is one of a number along the route. You might notice that it gives no indication of how exactly you contact Ballintubber or the unnamed landowners. Neither did those who erected the notice consider that law-abiding types will try to contact the landowners, if they do not turn away altogether in disgust. On the other hand the occasional wrong-doer, the very type who will cause problems on the route, will simply ignore such a notice.
Our correspondent adds:
“This is an ancient walk and is a perfect example of what should be legally protected without the need for this sort of nonsensical off-putting notice. Bearing in mind that this walk actually predates St Patrick, we are left wondering how the courts would deal with the issue of written dedication (as now required by law following the Glencree case) bearing in mind that the landowners of the time couldn’t write!”
HELP WANTED ….. PLEASE
We need a Planning Volunteer to help with monitoring County Development Plans. This is important work as the Development Plan provides the legal basis for the listing and protection of rights of way and other access issues. It would be great to find someone with planning experience but computer literacy would go a long way. Please contact Roger Garland at (01) 493 4239.
If you have any comments on the newsletter or any other aspect of our campaign or if you would like to describe your own problems with access to the countryside send correspondence to
The Secretary, KIO, 56 Pine Valley Avenue, Rathfarnham, Dublin 16
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