Newsletter No 22 Spring 2004
Editorial : The McSharry Case
KIO were shocked by the overt public support given by farm organisations to the “Bull” McSharry. This incident has cast a long shadow over the future of the fledgling Comhairle na Tuaithe – The Countryside Council. If this Council is to work effectively it will require the co-operation of the various stakeholders in our countryside. Because of our abhorrence of violence, we felt it necessary to make the following statement at the meeting held in February setting up Comhairle na Tuaithe: “KIO wishes to put on record its extreme dissatisfaction with the attitude of the IFA (and indeed the Irish Cattle and Sheep Owners Association) to the imprisonment of the “Bull” McSharry due to his failure to pay a fine pursuant to his conviction for intimidating two walkers. For the President of the IFA – John Dillon – to support a protest outside the jail shows their support for violence. We call on the IFA to give a commitment that, in future, they will use exclusively peaceful means in the pursuance of their aims.” Unfortunately, there was no response from the IFA representatives at the meeting nor subsequently. It is essential that peaceful means only are used to settle differences. KIO are committed to this principle and we expect that landowners and those organizations representing them to accept this principle also.
Comhairle na Tuaithe – The Countryside Council.
The council has been set up by the Dept of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht affairs and the first meeting is scheduled for May. The Council comprises the two main farming organizations, Failte Ireland, Coillte and many organizations including KIO representing recreational users. Its remit is to provide better access to the land for walking. At a series of pre-meetings we made it clear that the Council could well be little more than a talking shop, unless a proper legislative structure is put in place to provide a balance between the respective rights of landowners and walkers.
Unfortunately KIO has received little support from other organizations except for Failte Ireland. The Minister Eamon O’Cuiv TD has “rejected out of hand” any change in the law. We would have to say that the position the Minister had taken will not get the Council off to a flying start. Without new legislation on mandatory listing of rights of way and the freedom to roam over rough grazing land we remain extremely sceptical about the ability of the Council to deliver. However, we’ll hang in there for the moment.
The Oireachtais Committee on the Constitution
The committee has just published its report on their review of the Property Rights Articles in the Constitution. While the bulk of the Report deals with such vital issues as the price of building land, it did devote six pages to access to the countryside. The main conclusion of the Committee was “that no constitutional amendment is necessary to secure a balance through legislation between the rights of the individual owners and the common good.”
This conclusion will enable KIO to lobby the Government and Opposition parties for the appropriate legislation to allow reasonable access to the countryside. We already have a commitment from one of the opposition parties to publish a bill to provide for mandatory listing of rights of way.
Land Reform (Scotland) Act Passed – Statutory Rights for Recreational Users.
Early last year, the Land Reform Bill received Royal Assent and went on the statue books as the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003.
Part 1 of the Act secures the legal right of access for the public, subject to responsible behaviour in relation to the land itself and those who live on and make their living from it while exercising the right. It also defines the obligations of landowners and specifies areas excluded from the right such as buildings and their immediate surroundings, sports and playing fields and crops. It was recognized during the debate on the legislation, that the Act itself could not provide all the fine-tuning necessary to address often complex issues. The Act will therefore be supplemented by the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
The Access Code will function in a similar way to the Highway Code, defining good practice in relation to access for both the recreational user and the land-manager and having evidentiary status in any legal action. Scottish National Heritage are required to draw up a draft, consult on it and submit it to the Scottish Ministers. It is hoped that by the end of the year the Code and some of the new rights in the Act will take effect – in particular those relating to horse riders, canoeists and cyclists. It is also uncertain at present just when local authorities will be able to make use of their new powers to remove signs which have been put in place to confuse and to deter members of the public seeking to exercise their right of access.
Advice from the Mountaineering Council of Scotland is that access for climbers and hill-walkers should not be greatly affected during the interim period. There was considerable discussion during the access debate about the validity of the assumed common law right of access to wild land widely regarded as part of the Scottish legal tradition. No definitive view emerged and the Executive took the view that the new legislation solves the problem by establishing a new and unambiguous statutory right. We are likely to see, though, that there is still considerable scope for ambiguity when discussion of the Access Code gets underway.
Nonetheless, the land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 represents a landmark in enabling access to the Scottish countryside. It’s worth remembering that this Act, and other legislation which makes up the Scottish Executive’s land reform programme, represent the first laws on land ownership and access to the countryside to be passed by a Parliament democratically elected by the whole adult population of Scotland.
It is interesting to note that this Act goes further in providing for Access than the equivalent recent legislation (CROW Act 2002) in England and Wales. KIO believes that the Land Reform (Scotland) Act is a most practical and economical way to address rights of way and access issues, as the voluntary approach has been continually unsuccessful in Ireland and elsewhere.
At last our petition to the European Parliament on the unnecessary barbed wire fencing required under the Rural Environmental Protection Scheme has been heard. We made a verbal presentation of our case to the Petitions Committee in Brussels. We received a cordial hearing and many members expressed their horror at our pictorial evidence of the visual pollution of the Western Uplands. Prior to that we met senior officials from the Agriculture and Environmental Directorates. Both the EU Parliament and the Commission have called the Irish Government to account. We are hopeful that our efforts will bear fruit.
We have also tabled a Question to the EP about the progress of the “Opinion” expressed by the Committee of the Regions, which recommends that all member states should make reasonable access to the land available to its citizens.
Finally, we are lobbying EU political Groupings and have made contact with the Euro Greens who have a large block of seats in the European Parliament. They have offered their support to make reasonable access a pre-condition for receipt of payments under CAP.
We are asking all members to lobby their local politicians on rights of way and access issues in their local area. The access issue is now firmly on the political agenda and the more pressure we put on our public representatives the better chance we have of securing enabling legislation.
Mullaghanattin Co Kerry
The fine cone of Mullaghanattin (771m) is about 10 km northeast of Sneem and 20 km northwest of Kenmare on the Inveragh (Ring of Kerry) peninsula. It is at the center of a splendid hill-walking circuit and has been described in many guidebooks on hill-walking. Because of its remote location it is unlikely to attract many hill-walking groups, certainly very few compared to the peaks in Wicklow. As far as it is known walkers have never caused trouble there in the past, nor have there been complaints from locals. In spite of this, walkers have recently encountered hostile notices and have been confronted by angry farmers acting as a group. A local farmer told one group, who did not see the sign at the start of the walk, to return the way they came (this was at dusk in December) and it require a half-hour of negotiation before they could return to their cars. The reasons given for the farmers’ attitude were the usual ones: insurance, alleged damage to fenced and primarily, this is our land. Local tourist interests have been informed and, though sympathetic, are powerless to do anythihg effective. (Courtesy of Walking World Ireland).
Enniskerry (Co Wicklow) – Residents’ Positive Response
Congratulations to the residents of Enniskerry who as a result of local concern about attempts to close established walking routes have set up the Enniskerry Walkers Association. The objectives of the group are to promote walking, protect the environment and maintain public access to traditional walking routes in their community.
A spokesman for the Association also listed a number of access problems which include
1) The building of a wall to block off an important national monument
2) The attempts by a building firm to close a historic right of way and pilgrimage route to facilitate a new golf course.
3) The attempt by a builder to close a traditional walking route built as a famine relief scheme and used since then
4) The planting of trees to block an old coach road and scenic walking route which is clearly marked on maps dating back to the 1760’s and has been in continuous use.
The association in their press release pointed out that Wicklow County Council and other local authorities have a legal obligation to protect recognised rights of way. They intend to lobby candidates in the forthcoming local and European elections on the issue. We wish them every success.
Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown has recently adopted its Developemnt Plan, which includes the twenty-two new rights of way mentioned in our Winter newsletter. Our thanks to each and every councilor for this breakthrough. Now the real work has to commence: marking them on the ground, getting them on ordinance survey maps and enforcement of the law as necessary. The rights of Way listed under the Wicklow Draft Development Plan are still under discussion.
Glencree (County Wicklow) – Update
Many walkers have stayed away from Glencree due to the on-going intimidation by landowners and on the advice of the Mountaineering Council of Ireland (MCI). Others who have continued to visit the area (many have been doing so for over 50 years) have been met with hostile notices warning them that there is no right of way down Lambs’ Lane to the Old Famine Road etc. Reports to hand indicate that walkers are being harassed in this area and particularly by one individual who is being especially aggressive towards women by physically blocking their and behaving in an intimidating manner. On the other side of the valley another landowner continues to harass people at a parking area by taking the registration numbers of their cars and demanding to know where people are planning to walk. He has been reported several time to the Gardaí in Enniskerry but continues with his threatening and illegal behaviour. Many submissions have been made to Wicklow County Council on these issues but they seem to have thrown in the towel and passed the buck to the Countryside Council. So much for Local Authorities representing the interests of the general public in their area
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
Membership Secretary/Treasurer – Kitty Murphy 01 – 8378594
Minutes Secretary /Acting Secretary – Patricia Hamilton 834 2054
Campaigner – David Herman 01-2984821
Michael Carroll 01-4943221
Tony O’Sullivan,01 837 4440
Frank Winder. 01 497 0016,
Seamus Mac Gearailt 01-2840322
Connaught: Secretary – Michael Murphy 098 25068