Comhairle na Tuaithe
Keep Ireland Open
POLICY ON ACCESS TO THE COUNTRYSIDE
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
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.