Newsletter No 37 Spring 2009
Editorial: The anti-farmer lobby group?
OH, KEEP IRELAND OPEN – that's the anti-farmer lobby group isn't it? This is an all too frequent remark of those who do not know the ins and outs of the access issue. We would put it like this : "No, we are the pro-recreational user lobby group." If we are campaigning for the legal right to access our countryside then we must take issue with those who stand in the way. These are primarily landowners, mostly farmers, We recognise that farmers are ruthlessly pursuing their own short-term interests and therefore we have little choice but to oppose them. To do otherwise would mean giving up basic civil liberties. If you think most farmers are decent skins who generously allow access to their land read the story in this issue ' Legal Group Descends to Farce' or consider this from a recent Teagasc report :
50% of farmers would not allow access under any circumstances; 40% would allow it if they were paid; 10% would allow it freely.
As for the comforting notion that farmers would show their more generous side were it not for the hostility of KIO: well those who would believe that might consider visiting their local airport to watch the pigs landing and taking off. Do they really believe that if no organisation were putting the case for access (and KIO is the only one doing so at the moment) that farmers would concede something for which there is no demand? What nonsense! In an ideal (political) world it would be the Government that would sort out the blatant disparity between those who have all the legal rights (the landowners) and those who, in stark contrast to other European countries, have none (recreational users). Alas, we do not live in such a world since the Government stands transfixed before the farming lobby. And so the battle goes on, against landowners, and against Government for its cowardice and lack of concern for the common good.
EU court ruling on fencing clear victory for KIO
We anticipate the ruling will severely restrict future fencing and will be pushing for much existing fencing to be removed
After many years of lobbying by KIO and other Irish environmental bodies the European Commission has won a landmark case against Ireland. The ruling says that the Irish government is negligent in the areas of mining, forestry, and the most important for us, barbed wire fencing, which is both an eyesore and often used to deny access. We anticipate that this ruling will severely restrict future fencing and KIO will be pressing for much of the existing fencing to be removed. Ireland's defence submission has been dismissed and the State therefore has to do something about all these issues or a graduated set of fines will be imposed. There is no appeal. The judgment is a tribute to the Western Committee of KIO, who have battled long and hard to achieve it.
Don't forget your AGM
KIO's AGM will take place on Saturday April 18 in An Oige's Head Office in 61 Mountjoy St, Dublin. Our guest speaker will be Helen Todd, access officer with the Scottish Ramblers. Helen will speak on the Scottish Land Reform Act of 2003, which opened up Scotland for public access. She will compare this to the CROW Act in England and Wales and consider the options for Ireland. Coffee and registration at 11.00. Meeting begins at 11:30
Fáilte – now go park on the road
Welcome but … Contradictory signs which greet walkers at Tibradden Forest in Co Dublin where a new walkway has recently been installed by Coillte
Tibradden Forest in South County Dublin, long a favourite spot for the capital's walkers and nature lovers, now boasts a new sigh welcoming visitors and indicating that it is a recreation area under the Dublin Mountains Partnership Scheme. As well and good as it would seem to indicate that someone in authority has some regard to the needs of recreational users. However, the gate leading into the car park is blocked, forcing visitors to leave their vehicles on a very narrow, busy, twisting road. Joined up thinking, how are you. According to Coillte, this and other car parks in the mountains are closed, and have been for years, because of anti-social behaviour in them. Coillte have promised to have another think about the car park at Tibradden. Curiously a forest car park only a kilometre away is open, albeit with restricted hours.
Find out how much you are giving these 'poor' farmers
Do you know you can get details of grants to farmers online? Simply go to www.agriculture.gov.ie The website is not all that easy to reference. If a farmer farms in one county and lives in another you might have difficulty since each one is listed by address. Not even a precise address but rather the municipality, and a municipality seems to cover a wide area. One of the farmers listed is the redoubtable Andrew McSharry (see story on opposite page), the man who has been convicted of assaulting walkers who dared to venture onto his rough grazing land at Gleniff, Co Sligo. McSharry is quoted in the media as warning those who thought they might take a stroll in Sligo that 'there is no such thing as a free lunch'. Unless of course you are Andrew McSharry that is. The grant list shows that he is in receipt of no less than €15,076.59 per year from Irish and EU taxpayers for doing nothing. Quite a lunch, then. Of course, Mr McSharry is not the exception, since at least 80pc of farmers' income comes from the taxpayers of Europe and the increasingly cash-strapped workers of Ireland (that is you and me). In the case of sheep farmers this subvention is often nearly 100pc. We should have further details of farmers who have been particularly prominent in demanding cash or assaulting walkers in our next issue.
A sad farewell to stalwart Kitty
We are very sad to record the death of Kitty Murphy late in 2008. Kitty was for a long time treasurer of Keep Ireland Open and worked tirelessly and conscientiously for us until the onset of a serious illness about three years ago. She was also an enthusiastic and active member of the Countyside Hillwalkers Association (CHA).
That's hardly the sign of peace
Same old bull: a sign on disputed route in Gleniff valley
The department of Gaeltacht and Rural Affairs could scarcely contain their delight at having, they thought, persuaded convicted criminal Andrew McSharry from harassing and blocking walkers in the beautiful Gleniff Valley in Co Sligo. The department, Coillte and Sligo County Council all had a hand in the deal with Mc Sharry who likes to style himself 'The Bull'. The precise details of the 'incentives' he received remain shrouded in mist but appear to involve the provision of a new Coillte forestry road onto McSharry's farm. However, as the picture above taken by committee member Dalan de Bri shows, the hostile signs on the disputed access route along the miners' road remain in place – despite the spending of taxpayers' money. Just another example of why piecemeal appeasement, rather than legislation, won't work.
Minister to take a more hands-on approach
Admitting that he is disappointed in the lack of progress in the Comhairle na Tuaithe talks, Minister Eamon O'Cuiv (above) has vowed to take a more active role over the next year. This will begin with an organised visit from landowners, access officers and walkers from England, Wales and Scotland on February 17th to explain to C na T members, including farmer reps, how access legislation works there. The Minister also said at a meeting with KIO in the Dail on January 20th that if agreement cannot be reached with the farmers then changes to the law will take place without their approval.
Deal hopes fade as farmers still say No
Hopes that Comhairle na Tuaithe (C na T), the government's five-year old talking shop, might be about to seriously consider access legislation have been dashed. Optimism rose last year when C na T set up a legal sub-committee to examine the legal issues involved. It was intended that walking groups and farmers would use the sub-group to try to chart a way ahead. Predictably it has all come to nothing. Any remaining hope ran into the sand at a meeting of the legal group held late in November when KIO and the MCI were informed by the farming organizations that they rejected proposals from the department that they should :
1. Accept that walkers have the right to assume they were entitled to be on land unless
they were informed otherwise
2. Agree to a scheme whereby a commission would be set up to examine the facts in
relation to disputed routes.
The members of the commission – walkers, farmers reps and legal eagles – would examine
evidence in relation to each case and give a view. This would not be legally binding
but might avoid a visit to the courts.
Farmer reps said it would not be in their interests to become involved in such a commission. In turn, KIO rejected a demand from the farmer reps that we accept that there is no need to change the law on public access. We pointed out that KIO exists because its members believe there is an overwhelming need for changes in the law in this area.
Glencree battle for the courts
Meanwhile, a perfect example of the kind of case that would never happen if County Councils did their job and protected walking routes is expected to come before the High Court in the coming weeks when a bus driver and a school teacher put their homes on the line to protect the Old Coach Road in the Glencree Valley in County Wicklow. The centuries-old roadway – a favourite route of walkers and walking groups – has been repeatedly fenced and blocked by Walker, who has now taken a High Court injunction out against the Secretary of the Enniskerry Walking Association, Noel Barry and its Chairman, Neil Lenoach. Both have bravely opted to fight the case against the wealthy businessman and accountant – despite the danger that they might be stuck with costs if he wins. The case is strong but Irish law on access is so uncertain that the result is utterly unpredictable.
'Look but don't walk ' farce over cross-border park plan
Sponsors for a cross-border 'Geopark' proposed in December are seeking world heritage status because of its extensive areas of upland limestone karst. A letter from our Chairman Roger Garland, published in national papers in early January, takes up the story:
There is at present a proposal to extend Marble Arch Geopark across the border from Fermanagh into Cavan. While welcome, the statement by the local authorities announcing this illustrates yet again the unwillingness of anyone in authority, North or South, to say boo to landowners, primarily farmers. The local authorities concerned state meekly that because of the laws – seemingly immutable laws – the public do not have the right to walk on private ground in Ireland and just in case this isn't clear enough they add that 'They must not give the impression that some private land is included' in the proposed park. (Such absolute property rights are not countenanced elsewhere in Europe.) However the 'good' news is that the public is invited to view the natural features 'at a distance' so that what the Cavan county manager describes as a 'largely undiscovered landscape' will remain so. Indeed, given their record the farmers may even consider such viewing as an intrusion on their sacred property rights. Farmers in the South now receive grants of about €1.6 billion per year for doing exactly nothing. But don't expect them to give anything back unless they receive yet more grants in spadefuls. And don't expect the authorities to mildly reprimand them, still less take them on.
Mountains proposal too timid
We have already welcomed the Plan for the Dublin Mountains, which we hope will improve the amenities for recreational users in an area close to the capital which has been suffering gross neglect over a number of years. The Plan includes a visitor centre on Three Rock and a subsidised bus service along with new trails for walkers and cyclists, a recreational map of the area and measures to counter anti social activities in the mountains. The present budget is a modest €250,000 but since the plan has the support of Dun Laoghaire / Rathdown Council and South Dublin Council, as well as Coillte, there is the prospect of further funds becoming available – through perhaps not in the immediate future. We find one aspect of the plan disappointing. One of the sponsors is quoted as saying that any idea of establishing a National Park over private land is 'dead in the water' because of landowners' opposition. We acknowledge that this is one area where the prospect of vandalism is very real. Nonetheless at least half of the proposed area is in private hands so that the prospect of walking routes, especially long distance walking routes, is going to be seriously hampered if private land is sacrosanct. We also wonder if carefully routed walkways might be better than the present 'arrangement' where casual visitors do not know what areas are off-limits and what are not. Finally we wonder about vandals; are they really going to be deterred from private land by knowing it is off-limits? Somehow we think not.
Wicklow Way rerouted to facilitate landowner
We referred to this curious case in a previous issue but you may still be interested in the following letter submitted to the Irish Times but not published. It is from David McGuinness of Dublin 16 and is here somewhat shortened.
Paul Cullen tells us in his article of the 'coincidence' that Coillte recently rerouted the Wicklow Way prior to selling some of its land to a homeowner in the Dublin Mountains. I find this very difficult to believe. I presume therefore it is also a coincidence that someone with access to digging machinery has now blocked the forest track leading to the new homeowner's fence, so that it cannot even be approached without climbing this new barrier.. If the existing way-marked ways can be rerouted with no regard to walkers and other users of the mountains, no wonder we look enviously at the right-to-roam systems in place in the UK and Europe.
Many thanks to CHA's generosity
We are pleased to record a most generous donation of €650 from Countryside Hillwalkers 'Association. The CHA is a relatively small club and this makes their contribution all the more generous. HELP WANTED ..... PLEASE
We need a Planning Volunteer to help with monitoring County Development Plans. This is important work as the Development Plan provides the legal basis for the listing and protection of rights of way and other access issues. It would be great to find someone with planning experience but computer literacy would go a long way. Please contact Roger Garland at (01) 493 4239.
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
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