Newsletter No. 19 : May 2003
Access to long distance routes. The government is at long last prepared to consider that there is a problem in access to the countryside. It has appointed Mr O’Cuiv, the Minister for Rural Affairs, to head a group to examine the issue of ‘access to walkways’. There are several disappointing aspects to all this. Firstly it is not the Minister of Tourism Mr O’Donoghue, who is involved, as one might expect. Secondly ‘access to walkways’ (presumably meaning the continued free passage on the long distance routes) is the only issue of access to be considered, this following threats by farmers to block the routes for reasons unrelated to walkers. You will of course know that the issue is far wider than that. And lastly ‘a community solution’ is considered the best way forward. We are all in favour of community solutions, but since they failed in an in formal setting all down the west coast, what hope of them now? No, this is too little and too feeble. How long will it take the Minister, to realise that a much more far-reaching agenda is urgently needed and the all too gentle approach of voluntary effort needs to be backed up with legislation. The present approach is yet more carrot, no sign of stick and we will be telling the group just that.
The Old Head of Kinsale is lost
The right of the owners to block of the Old Head of Kinsale has been vindicated by the Supreme Court. This is a most serious development which has implications for many other scenic routes which generations of walkers and strollers thought they had ‘a traditional right’ to walk. If this can be lost what path is unchallengeable given a particularly determined landowner? The proximate cause of this judgement was that the path was not listed in Cork’s Development Plan. However no path was, and this very deliberate omission applies to practically all counties. Until county councils are forced to include rights of way (and defend them against the landowners concerned), and not merely given the right to include them, we can expect such outcomes.
Occupiers’ Liability Act Bombshell.
A High Court judgement handed down in March, if not overturned by the Supreme Court, could have the most serious ramifications for walkers in the countryside. AA woman in Donegal crossed a broken-down fence to enjoy the sunset , slipped and fell over the cliff. She was found to be 25 percent responsible and was awarded over €84,000 from the landowner. How this squares with the principles of the 1995 Occupiers’ Liability Act , which exonerates landowners except in the case of their ‘reckless disregard’ we do not profess to know. However it would not be unreasonable, if this judgement is upheld, for landowners to block off large sections of the countryside close to roads and within reach of a hazard of any nature.
EU Petitions Committee
We have just heard from Europe that our petition on the fencing of upland areas is an admissible petition. We are very pleased that we have successfully overcome the first hurdle in this on-going campaign.
Many thanks to Louis Boden (Graphic Designer) for the new logo and stationary headings. Also, to Ron Ennis for the invitations to the information meeting.
Review of Private Property Rights
What’s this got to do with KIO, you may be thinking. Plenty, as it turns out. The All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution has invited submissions on Articles 40.3.2 and 43, the articles concerned with the above rights. These articles have been frequently quoted by those who want to preserve the highly unsatisfactory status quo as the reason why the law cannot be changed to facilitate freedom to roam. Nonetheless among other topics on which the Committee wishes to have written submissions is ‘access to the countryside’, so evidently the Committee do not necessarily agree with those pundits. You can be sure that KIO will be making a submission. If you wish to do so contact the above Committee at Fourth Floor, Phoenix House, 7-9 South Leinster Street, Dublin 2. (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) . Written submissions should be made by 31st May.
Rights of Way in Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown
Though the matter is far from resolved, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown council is moving towards including the listing of rights of way in its Development Plan, many of which were suggested by KIO. We have to maintain a cautious optimism on this as there is a long way to go. At least two other councils, Dublin South and Wicklow are reported to be watching this development with interest.
Other Planning Matters
KIO has made submissions to South and North Tipperary, Offaly, Kerry, Wicklow, South Dublin and Mayo Development Plans, in each case, emphasising the importance of including lists of presumed rights of way in the Plan.
Wicklow Uplands Council
KIO’s current representative on the Council, Frank Winder, has resigned. We have proposed Michael Carroll in his place. A meeting with the Property and Landowners committee of WUC has also been arranged to discuss access to the countryside.
Meeting with Bord Fáilte (BFE)
Following on from the information which we received under the Freedom of Information Act that BFE are far more worried about access than their bland statements suggest, KIO had a meeting with Paddy O’Mahony, a leading BFE official. He confirmed the importance of walking tourism and stated that it was BFE’s intention to raise the issue of access in discussions with the government and elsewhere. He also elaborated on Minister O’Cuiv’s action on the matter (see elsewhere in this edition).
Tourism Policy Review
KIO, Western Branch, has made a detailed submission to a Policy Review set up by the Minister for Tourism, Mr John O’Donoghue. The Minister has set up a Review Group to identify a strategy for the sustainable development of tourism in Ireland and to formulate recommendations. Our submission concentrated on increasingly restricted access to the countryside in Ireland, the proliferation of unsightly fencing and on the uncooperative and even hostile attitude of some farmers and of both major farming organisations to those wishing to access the countryside.
Council removes illegal fencing in Dingle
At the request of local walking groups, Kerry County Council has removed illegal fencing in the Dingle area. This is quite a significant development which is to be welcomed by hill walkers and recreational users.
The Irish Times in its issue of March 1st a half page article entitled ‘The Forbidden Countryside’. The article mentioned that 60% of tourists listed walking as one of the main reasons for coming to Ireland and went on to detail farmer’s grievances following the cutting off of EU grants to allow access to the long distance walks. (While we freely acknowledge that this must be pretty galling for the farmers concerned the concept of paying for access and nothing more is not accepted anywhere else in the EU.) The Minister, Mr O’Cuiv, if reported correctly, referred to ‘traditional rights of way’ and the concept of open access to the countryside’. Both of these comforting concepts are of course virtually non-existent on the ground and this fact was the subject of a subsequent letter in the Irish Times from a KIO member.
A letter from a German woman received a great deal of publicity in the national media including RTE and Walking World Ireland. In her letter she complained about the harassment she had received in various parts of the West and how neither she nor her family intended to come to Ireland again. The information we received from Bord Fáilte under the Freedom of Information Act was quoted by Walking World Ireland in its March/April 2003 edition. It stated that walking visitors want circular routes, whether easy or challenging, to supplement the long distance routes, which are at present the only type of walks with legal protection (and even these are far from assured!). It congratulated Bord Fáilte in instilling some urgency into the matter.
Also in the Irish Times on March 23rd Drapier’s column had an article on leadership which referred to the IFA which said : A relative in the IFA, was scathing about the current leadership of that organisation ” it is as if the Taliban had taken over” to quote the boast of IFA president John Dillon’s supporters. “It is more like the leadership of the Dublin regulated taxi-drivers, having disastrously lost that battle , has now taken over the leadership of the countryside” and that is just the point. . The countryside is the real resource, not fixed prices, quotas and paperwork.
But as Drapier’s man said, ” instead of welcoming agri-tourism and opening up the countryside, farmers with the tacit support of the IFA, are demanding payment for access for walkers or else are closing down traditional paths to upland commonage.” ( a view reinforced in an article in the Irish Times, page 2 on April 16th “Dispute may see closure of rural walks”).
The April edition of Consumer Choice had a well-researched article on rights of way in which KIO was quoted and incidentally we got some good coverage. Much of the article was irrelevant to our concerns, though the Old Head of Kinsale access problem (see elsewhere in this edition) was adverted to. We have followed this up with a letter expanding on the local authorities’ present inertia on the issue of rights of way.
The Green Party spokesman on tourism, Paul Gogarty TD has stated that a number of foreign travel companies offering walking holidays in Ireland have pulled out of certain areas of the country because of the rude and aggressive behaviour of a small segment of landowners (Irish Times, 1st February). He stated that ‘major problems about access to land are arising every day’. He attempted unsuccessfully to raise the problem in the Dail.
And meanwhile elsewhere
Illegal Obstruction Removed
Kate Ashbrook (Secretary Open Spaces Society UK) and the Ramblers Association reopened Framfield footpath 9 on 10th February after 13 years of illegal obstruction and inaction by East Sussex County Council. Following Kate’s successful action against the Council in the Court of Appeal the Council withdrew its diversion order and the way was clear to reopen the path.
The photo shows Kate Ashbrook as she cuts the padlock on the Framfield footpath 9. As she cut the wire Kate said “There is nothing more satisfying than cutting barbed wire on a public footpath when the path has been blocked by a particularly obnoxious landowner for 13 years. At last the path will be open, thanks to the thousands of walkers who stood up for the public’s rights.
Right to Roam Although much land in England and Wales is already subject to the ‘right to roam’ a definitive list of ‘mountain, moor, heath or down and registered common land’ is being drawn up and this will form the basis for ‘access land’ in future. The consultation process is due to be completed and maps published by Autumn 2005. In Scotland, the Spring 2003 edition of the Rambler boasts that ‘Scotland now has one of the best arrangements in Europe for public access to land and water for citizens and for its visitors’. The statutory right to access will apply with limited exceptions for safety, conservation and privacy. It sets down a presumption in favour of access to include mountains, moorland, forests, farmland, coasts and river banks.
Enniskerry Guidebook We reported in our last edition that a voluntary group in Enniskerry had run into severe difficulties because they had published a book of walking routes in their area which had gone through private land (this in spite of their efforts to avoid this pitfall). The result was that some of the landowners concerned (not farmers, by the way) are threatening to take the group to court. Since our last edition they have had an inconclusive meeting with the Wicklow Uplands Forum but the threat of legal action remains. The implications of all this for potential guide book writers do not need to be spelt out.
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.
|County Council||Telephone No.||Heritage Officers||Address|
|Carlow||(0503)70300||Lorcan Scott||County Buildings
|Clare||(065)6821616||Congella Maguire||New Road
|Cork||(021)4276891||Sharon Casey||C/o SWRA
|Galway||(091)509000||Marie Mannion||Forward Planning Section
|Kerry||(066)7121111||Una Cosgrove||Áras an Chontae
|Leitrim||(078)20005||Bernie Guest||Governor House
Carrick – on – Shannon
|Limerick||(061)318477||Tom O’Neill||O’Connell Street
|Laois / Offaly||(0506)46800||Amanda Pedlow||C/o Offaly County Council
|Sligo||(071)56666||Siobhan Ryan||County Development Centre
|Tipperary (NR)||(067)31771||Siobhan Geraghty||Courthouse
|Tipperary (SR)||(052)25399||Brendan Mc Sharry||County Hall
|Longford / Westmeath||(044)40861||Gerry Clabby||C/o Westmeath Co Co
|Wicklow||(0404)20100||Deirdre Burns||County Offices
|City Council||Telephone No||Heritage Officers||Address|
|Dublin||(01) 6722222||Donncha O Dulaing||Civic Offices
|Galway||(091) 536400||Jim Higgins||Town Hall
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