Newsletter No 31 Spring 2007
Editorial: The Election
It’s been long enough coming and now at last it is nigh: the general election. Representatives from all the political parties will be coming to your door and asking for your vote. Please mention access to the countryside and the need for legal rights for recreational users! There are three aspects: freedom to roam the 7% of the country under rough grazing, a reasonable network of rights of way elsewhere and an end to ugly fencing over what was previously open, remote land.
Rest assured that Keep Ireland Open, as it has been doing for over a decade, will be taking the message to the politicians. But unfortunately, we are practically alone: no other national organization is actively with us in our campaign. On the other side we are confronted by the main farming organizations, with all the legal power, and armed with a ruthless sense of righteousness, no matter how threadbare and unfair their arguments are.
Don’t think that we will get anywhere or convince anyone by standing back and hoping that justice and fair play will prevail without an effort on our part. Life, and in particular political life, is simply not like that. We all have to get out there and put the case for legal access, politely but persistently.
You may say that you haven’t got all the facts and figures at your fingertips. Neither have the politicians! Indeed if you have read or even glanced through previous editions of this newsletter you will know far more than the average politician, who after all is expected to have a considered opinion on every issue from Mrs Murphy’s plumbing to global warming.
You can get plenty of information from the Keep Ireland Open website or by asking any committee member if you have a particular problem.
So, please remember, if you want legal rights you have to put the case. Otherwise, politicians, being human, will think there is no problem.
Tourism: Ireland and Scotland compared
We have been carrying out some instructive research into walking tourism in Ireland and Scotland. The two countries are more or less comparable: about the same area, population and cost of living. Scotland might be a little more accessible and has far more wild country. Ireland has a much better climate and fewer midges! It is estimated that in 2005 UK (including Scottish) walking tourists in Scotland spent €803m and overseas tourists spent €317m, so giving a total of €1120m. (There are a few assumptions in these figures but they are reasonable ones). In 2004 (the last year for which figures are available) overseas walking tourists in Ireland spent €170m (per Fáilte Ireland). There are no figures for the amount spent by domestic walkers (see note below) giving a total of €250.
So €1120m for Scotland and €250m for Ireland. We are not doing too well, are we?
And the reason? Well, we would say, wouldn’t we, that it is the lack of legal access to the countryside in Ireland compared to almost unlimited legal access in Scotland. But not simply and directly that. If there is no legal access then a lot flows from that. We have very few rights of way (even the long-distance way-marked routes are permissive), and for those few that might exist we are so unsure about their status that we cannot provide signposts or mark them on the maps; we lack stiles, bridges, clear paths in remote areas, we lack guidebooks. In a word we lack the infrastructure that walkers now take for granted in other lands and one way or the other it comes down to lack of access.
Note: we estimated the domestic walking market in Ireland as follows. The Scottish market includes the whole of the UK and as we stated above it generates €803m. Let’s say that the Irish domestic market is one tenth of the Scottish (a generous estimate based on the fact that the total population of Ireland is €4m and the UK is €4m and the UK is €60). Then the irish domestic market generates about €80m, as we stated.
Keep Ireland Open’s AGM
Our AGM will be held on
Saturday April 28th 2007
An Óige’s Dublin Hostel
Keynote Speaker : Ruairi Quinn T.D.
We have asked the Ramblers Association in England (Wales and Scotland have different mechanisms) about the workings of the cross-compliance schemes there. Farmers there have to carry out environmental measures to qualify for their grants under CAP. These measures include keeping a border on their fields to encourage wildlife and the maintenance of rights of way across their property. If they don’t carry out these measures they lose all or part of their CAP grant/ Could the same apply to Ireland?
Unfortunately, it appears not, though we cannot be absolutely sure. The Ramblers Association state that first the jurisdiction has to have the law in place; then the sanctions apply. Since there are few rights of way across private land in Ireland and no semblance of freedom to roam, Ireland cannot simply apply cross-compliance measure to promote access to the countryside. First comes the law, then the sanctions via CAP, or that is how it works in England. Maybe someone knows other procedures that could be applied here.
A report on national radio and the newspapers that agreement was imminent between the Government in the person of MinisterO’Cuiv and the IFA over the latter’s Walkways Scheme, hit the headlines at the end of last year and into this. You will recall that the Scheme proposed colossal payments to farmers for allowing a skeletal network of permissive paths. The story put about was that the farmers might (the details on this point are suitably vague) do some maintenance work and the Government would cough up something approximating to what the IFA were demanding, Fine, except there is no truth in the story: it seems to have been a fabrication of the IFA’s. Before the story was dropped KIO had several letters in the national press expressing doubt about the ‘agreement’ and disputing Michael Viney’s article in the Irish Times, which gave an unrealistic evaluation of the state of access to the countryside based on the untrue story.
Forget Iraq: A farmer in Ireland threatened to stab me for being on his land
And here is just the type of publicity Irish tourism does not need. The British newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, had the following interchange on the 5th February with John Teeling, the high-flying chairman of several important natural resources companies and founder of Cooley Distillery: Q What’s the scariest situation you’ve ever been in A forget Iraq: a farmer in Ireland, two miles from where my mother was born, threatened to stab me in the chest for being on his land.
And in short: KIO had letters in several national newspapers about the unhappy fallout for walkers following on from the Nally case. Our chairman, Roger Garland, had an article in the current An Taisce magazine giving the current state of play on the issues of rights of way and freedom to roam. A long article in the Sunday Times in February seemed to come straight from Minister O’Cuiv’s spin doctor section. KIO firmly refuted this inaccurate evaluation in a follow-up letter.
Article in Irish Times of Monday April 16th
The Irish Times has a series of articles where two people argue opposite sides of a debate. On Monday April 16th the question posed was; should farmers be paid to allow KIO to access their land?. David Herman said No and gave a good summary of the KIO position on access. Padraig Walsh, president of the IFA, said YES and argued the case as seen by the farming organisations. The article can be read on a website associated with the series www.ireland.com/head2head There is also a facility to vote on the issue on this website. We would like to ask our members and supporters to take the trouble to vote for our position in this debate. It only involves the click of a mouse. Also it needs to be done immediately before voting closes.
Insurance for walkers
It might be of some interest to hill walking clubs that Gogan Insurances have launched what they call ‘a wider cover at more competitive premiums’ than exists at present. You can get more details from Gogan Insurances phone: 01-2990299 or by e-mail at email@example.com .
Britain : Minister warns of end to farming subsidies
By Andy McSmith, London Independent
British farmers were warned yesterday that they can expect an end to all subsidies for growing food in 2020, when the only payments they get from the public will be as managers of the landscape. The warning came in a speech by the Environment Secretary David Miliband, to the Oxford Farming Conference, which also heard from the Conservative leader, David Cameron. Mr Miliband said: “We need an industry that is profitable in the marketplace. It will continue to produce the majority of the food we consume and contribute to our exports – but there just isn’t a food security argument for taxpayers to subsidise food production. His announcement was welcomed by the Conservative MEP, Syed Kamall, who sits on Mr Cameron’s policy review group on global policy. He said that food subsidies could be scrapped sooner than 2020 if world leaders were serious about tackling poverty. There are ethical and practical arguments in favour of the total abolition of EU subsidies, ” he said. [ KIO notes: Whatever about the details this is the way thinking is heading in Europe and Irish farmers might take note of it.]
Launch of the friends of Irish Hill walking
The ramblers have been consulting walking clubs across the country about the possibility of a national grouping of hill walking clubs and interested individuals. The object would be to better represent the interests of hill walkers than existing umbrella organisations do. Access will of course feature as one of the most important issues. Encouraged by the initial positive response, the Ramblers are hosting a meeting in the Red Cow Inn, Naas Road, Dublin 22 at 2.30 p.m. on Saturday 28th April (unfortunately the same day as KIO’s AGM ). You can reach it most easily by taking the LUAS to the Red Cow stop. It will not be all serious business. Apart from wine and nibbles at the meeting itself the Ramblers intend to organise a walk on the Sunday in the Wicklow Mountains. So, if you are interested in the future of hill walking in Ireland and especially if you are prepared to put in a modicum of work to get this grouping up and running the Ramblers would love to see you there. Further information at e-mail HWGComment@yahoo.ie or by post at Hill Walkers Interest Group, 17 Balally Drive, Dundrum, Dublin 16.
Irish Trails Strategy
Of the trails in the State 55% are on public roads and lanes, 24% in Coillte land and only 14% over private land.
In mid January the Irish Sports Council (ISC) unveiled their Trails Strategy, which covers cycling as well as walking. Speaking at the launch the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism stated that walking tourists stay longer in Ireland than other holidaymakers and give a more even regional distribution. The strategy promises short to medium length walks in and between towns and rural areas, a better coordinated approach to marketing, the provision of better maps, signage, parking etc for the 8,300km of walks already in place. It promises an extended network in the future. All of which is very fine and must be welcomed. However the elephant in the room that is barely adverted to in the Strategy is legislation to give some rights to recreational users to access privately owned land. This was the point strongly made by KIO (among others) in its submission to the ISC and was duly ignored. In spite of its lavish praise of landowners the Strategy admits that only 14% of the existing permissive ways (which haven’t the permanence of rights of way) run over private land. This means that many sections of trails run through coniferous forest (24% over Coillte land) and on public roads and lanes (55%), some of the latter carrying heavy traffic. Until there is legislation we cannot see that this unsatisfactory situation can improve; indeed the IFA’s present grasping attitude in its Walkways Scheme ensure that most additions to the present meagre network of walking routes will continue to be routed through State and semi-State land.
C na T’s Expert Group
At the February meeting of Comhairle na Tuaite Minister Eamon O’Cuiv announced that the Expert Group was now up and running, with a remit to report by April 30th. The Group, headed by a Senior Counsel, is to look at the legal implications of the ‘broad issue of general access to the countryside for recreational users’. The terms of reference are broadly in line with what KIO have been suggesting. The Minister also stated that rights of way should be listed by local authorities and that, in the event of a dispute, these would go to arbitration in the first instance rather than to the courts. While KIO welcomes these initiatives we wonder how useful they will be unless legislation is enacted to counteract the decision in the Glencree High Court case. We await developments.
Rights of Way and the County Councils
KIO puts in a lot of work behind the scenes in trying to persuade local authorities to list rights of way in their Development Plans. It is very tedious work and involves lengthy submissions to Council Planners and many phone calls to lobby councillors. Even when the commitment to list is included in a Plan, to actually get the Council staff to make a start requires a lot of prodding. There’s little use in complaining to councillors as they have moved on to other issues. We do try to put a time frame for producing a list, but even if this is done there are many excuses for procrastination. We would single out Wicklow, a county vital for hill walkers, as a real black spot. It is now almost 15 years since listing has been on the agenda and not one single right of way has been unearthed yet there must be hundreds. Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown is the only local authority with a reasonably comprehensive list. Other counties where some progress has been made are Wexford, Clare , Mayo, South Tipperary, Fingal, South Dublin, Kilkenny and Meath.
The Nally Case
The verdict in the Nally case increases the well-founded fears that walkers must have in venturing onto the mountains and hills of Ireland. It now seems that you can shoot and wound an intruder, beat him senseless and when he is hobbling out and on the public road, come back and shoot him again to kill. And since you are ‘only’ defending your property you are innocent of any crime! Surely this is a most unsatisfactory situation and puts the defence of public property above human life. Little wonder then that, as a recent letter writer in the Irish Times stated, he would prefer to walk somewhere other than his native land where he faces an uncertain welcome.
Meeting with Wicklow Mountains National Park
Three members of KIO, but also representing the Ramblers and the Enniskerry Walking Association, met with two senior officials of the WMNP in February. We expressed our concern about the steady deterioration of the already minimal facilities for recreational users, especially the alarming reduction in the number of car parking areas and steadily worsening path erosion. We also mentioned the absence of footbridges, stiles, signposts, and paths through State land, never mind paths that are needed through private land in order to access the Park itself. The WMNP stated that they were aware of all these problems and would tackle them as soon as they could but it would take a long time given their limited funding. They stated that the only task done so far was to monitor the condition of about 170km of footpath. It is a sad reflection that in a country awash with money, more cannot be assigned to an area so worthy of funding.
Fencing in Killarney
The Killarney Nature Conservation Group (KNCG) has complained to the European Commission about a controversial fencing project in Killarney National Park. The project consists of fencing off part of the native woodland in the Park and is being carried out by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), ostensibly to protect these woodlands. In spite of the fact that no Environmental Impact Assessment has been carried out as required, the NPWS has gone ahead and done considerable damage over a 6-8 km stretch of the woodlands. In addition it has damaged pre-famine settlement walls, lazy beds and at least one stone cottage. KCNG insists that the NWPS has completely ignored a study on the effects of fencing off areas of these woodlands that has been going on for over 30 yrs. The authoritative study shows that fencing off areas from all grazers led to an overall reduction in plant diversity. KNCG’s main concern however is that the project will substantially alter the woodland ecology by excluding the native herd of red deer. What is required, they say, is a cull of the deer and feral population (together with the complete exclusion of sheep) to keep the grazing within manageable levels. This is the approach that has been carried out successfully by Scottish Heritage and in similar circumstances.
The Bray-Greystones Cliff Walk – Again!
‘The thought of erecting a short bridge over the eroded section has evidently not occurred to the Council’ …..
You may recall that the above 5km walk was opened to a great fanfare in summer 2005. Now it has closed again. Well, not closed exactly, since all and sundry, except those unfamiliar with our odd way of treating warning signs, still use this popular walk. What happened is that a few metre of the path near Greystones has collapsed due to coastal erosion and therefore you have to be careful in getting around it. So what do Wicklow County Council do? Firstly they put up signs at each end of the walk stating that the entire 5km of the walk is blocked. Then they replaced these by half-hearted barriers that strollers have gone around or broken through. The though of erecting a sign giving details of the subsidence and warning that you walk it at your own risk or better still erecting a short bridge over the eroded section has evidently not occurred to the Council! Meanwhile those not in the know (and many foreigners use this walk) either turn back or wonder what is the purpose of signs in this country.
Have your say!…
Is there anything you are just dying to express about KIO’s policy, access problems in your area, or access in general? Then let us know and you can have a slot in this newsletter. But keep it short; a couple of hundred words is enough. Send your contributions to KIO’s e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org
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
Links to Affiliated organisations
or e-mail : email@example.com