THE CASE FOR IMPROVING ACCESS TO THE COUNTRYSIDE IN IRELAND IN THE 2020s.
The case for modernising Ireland’s land access law has been ongoing for many years without success.Keep Ireland Open (KIO) campaigns to greatly increase access to the countryside for walkers and other recreational users and to have rights of way enshrined in law. There are vital reasons for improving
access for walkers and hikers in the country:
- There are clear economic benefits for the country from encouraging walking tourism in Ireland
- given our scenic countryside and upland areas, for example, Mayo Co. Council reckons that the
- Western Greenway brings in €7.2 million annually to the local economy. Over 10 years ago a
- report done for the Irish Sports Council estimated that overseas hikers and walkers generated
- €640 million annually, a figure which should be much larger today.
- To address climate change by making home holidays more attractive and reduce flying and
- general transport emissions.
- To improve the health and fitness of the population and reduce pressures on our over-stretched
- health services, following on from COVID.
- Better access will boost local economies and increase footfall in towns and villages away from
- Dublin and other Irish cities.
The key problem is the poor legal access to private land and no overarching legislation to govern this. Rights of Way rarely exist. We are in a miserable place compared to other (Northern) European countries such as Scotland, England, Wales, Norway and Sweden. There access is guaranteed in law. The
walker and hiker bear the risks involved and the local landowner has minimal responsibility for accidents and injury.
The Countryside & Rights of Way Act for England & Wales which came into effect in 2005 is probably the best guide as to how we might improve access in Ireland. It guarantees right of access while, at the same time, protects the rights of farmers and other landowners. In our accompanying document we outline what we would like to achieve in terms of legislation in this area. There is a private member’s bill discussed in Dáil Éireann in 2013 which details a clear possible
legislative approach. We urge you to act on this important issue which would make Ireland a more welcoming and healthy country while, at the same time, benefitting us economically as the greenways have already shown us.
In the appendix, there are listed several walking rights cases that KIO members have worked on to
improve access for locals and visitors alike to make Ireland a more welcoming place. We appeal to
politicians to give serious consideration to improve the legal situation around access to the countryside.
Examples of cases where access issues exist and which indicate why a general legislative
response is required:
- South Kerry Greenway between Killorglin and Cahirciveen, initiated in 2014 by the Minister for the Environment but, due to objections by a few locals, is only getting the go-ahead in 2022 after a Supreme Court decision.
- Fenit Island, Co. Kerry. Pedestrian access to a very long-established path blocked by 2 landowners leading to a 16 year long campaign to have the access re-opened. A district court decision in early 2022 has ordered the removal of the fence preventing access.
- Threat to remove access to the neighbourhood park in Ardagh, Co. Longford had to be fought in the context of the Longford Co. Development Plan.
- The path to view the Pollet Sea Arch in Lough Swilly, Co. Donegal was blocked despite having been in place since Victorian times. Donegal Co. Council is now paying 2 landowners for an alternative permissive route which could be withdrawn.
- Access on the Westport to Achill Island Greenway is permissive only after negotiations with over 100 landowners. On a number of occasions parts of the Greenway has been temporarily withdrawn despite the expenditure of much public money on it.
- Blockage of a public road, L6943-1 on western flanks of Gaigin Mountain in the Bluestack Mts. In Co. Donegal. Representations made on this to Donegal Co. Council. Outcome unclear.
- Pathway to summit of Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo. Access is permissive and could be withdrawn by the owners of the commonage even though public money has recently been spent upgrading the path.
- Blockage on the circular path around the Upper Vartry Reservoir, Roundwood, Co. Wicklow reported to us in Feb. 2022 which we, and others are trying to have reopened. These are just examples. It’s not uncommon to hear of access to beaches or coves being blocked as well as closures of old tracks in less frequented parts of the country. The point is that legislation is required to establish rights of way and to extend access all over Ireland.