Newsletter 52 Spring 2015
Pedal power shows the way
THE clear indications that Kerry County Council will use Compulsory Purchase Orders to ensure that a disused railway line can be used to establish a greenway on the Ring of Kerry is a step in the right direction.
The council’s plan shows that Labour Environment Minister Alan Kelly is now thinking along the lines laid down in the Bill to improve public access which was debated in the Dail 20 months ago. That Bill, brainchild of Labour TD Robert Dowds, has been marooned in the Dail Environment Committee, where Fine Gael are ensuring its extinction.
Nevertheless, the proposed Bill’s logic is being applied by Minister Kelly, who knows that many excellent cycle and walking routes have been occupied by farmers claiming State land through the adverse possession law (‘squatter’s rights’) which enable those who occupy a length of disused railway line for 12 years to claim ownership of it.
This blatant theft of State property should be opposed by any possible means, including compulsory purchase wherever vacant possession has come to pass. However, Mr Kelly’s admirable wish to facilitate cycling ‘greenways’ begs an important question: If we can CPO for greenways, why not also for other walking routes?
Which in turn begs another question: Why have Alan Kelly and the Labour Party in government failed to back Robert Dowds’ modest and eminently sensible Bill to facilitate such a move? Saying that improved access was not in the agreed programme for government won’t wash. If it can work for greenways it can work for walkways.
Council CPO threat will test minister’s resolve
Minister Alan Kelly cycling on the Glenbeigh-Renard greenway
The plan for a 27kms greenway from Glenbeigh to Renard in Co Kerry is hanging in the balance because agreement cannot be reached with a small minority of landowners through which the route would run.
The cycle and walking route along an old railway line will lose its €4m in funding from central government and the EU unless it is completed by the end of 2016.
In what it describes as “a last resort”, Kerry County Council says it will proceed with Compulsory Purchase Orders in order to complete the route. The Council’s chief executive Moira Murrell told a council meeting in late February that all attempts to persuade landowners opposing the greenway have failed. The CPOs were suspended in December to facilitate further negotiations but these have made no progress. The council now feels that it has no option but to proceed with CPOs against 10 landowners out of a total of 120 who own farmland through which the greenway would run.
The landowners have been supported in their opposition by the Irish Farmers Association. The central objection seems to be to the amount of money they would receive from the proposed CPO.
Ironically, some of the land in question has been acquired by farmers who occupied the rail line for 12 or more years after it ceased to be used, claiming ‘squatter’s rights’.
Now let’s see if Kerry County Council proceeds with its CPOs plan or caves in to threats of legal action which would seek to assert that, since a greenway is not ’essential infrastructure’, the need to build it cannot prevail over private property rights. Environment minister Alan Kelly supports the Council’s move.
Your AGM is on Saturday, April 11
KEEP Ireland Open’s Annual General Meeting will take place on Saturday, April 11 at the An Oige headquarters at 61 Mountjoy Street Dublin 7. Tea and coffee will be served from 11am and the meeting will open at 11.30.
We would like as many members as possible to come along and have their say.
A two-course lunch costing €12 will be available in the An Oige café and free secure parking is available at the rear of the building.
Problem … What problem?
Irish Times walking expert shoots himself in the foot
John O’Dwyer (right) with former IFA chief John Bryan
DID any readers notice the absurd contradiction in the two pieces by John G O’Dwyer, the Irish Times walking ‘expert’?
On Thursday, January 22, O’Dwyer wrote that there is no need for legislative change to facilitate public access in Ireland as this would be “using a sledgehammer to crack a nut”.
Just two days later, in the Times Saturday magazine, John G wrote a piece describing a walk from Bennetsbridge in Co Kilkenny to Kilkenny City, following the banks of the Nore River. However, he warns readers that towards the end of this walk you will be forced to leave the route and trudge out onto a dangerous road, which is totally unsuited to walking.
Why? Because the route has been blocked off due to an access dispute with a landowner.
Before O’Dwyer’s second piece, with its hilarious contradiction, had been published Keep Ireland Open had responded by email to his earlier effort. The Times published the letter, which follows:
John G O’Dwyer states (IT January 22) that the lack of access to the Irish countryside “is not the problem” when it comes to attracting walking tourists. He then goes on to say: “Of course, it would help the development of walking tourism if access to the countryside could be improved…”
Talk about wanting it both ways.
His assertion that the closure of more than half the B&Bs around the country is the big problem for would-be hillwalkers is to put the cart before the horse. The B&Bs are closing for a variety of reasons but paramount amongst them is the small number of tourists walking Ireland’s hinterland. Why? Because there is no certainty as to where they can walk.
Nor does Ireland have the networks of paths, and pedestrian bridges or the choice of walking books or established routes to be found in every other European country. Why this lack? Because of uncertainty over access – an uncertainty born of political cowardice and narrow sectional interest.
A succession of governments, including that of self-declared hillwalker Enda Kenny, have continued to make a fetish of extreme property rights over the common good – the good not only of visiting tourists but our own citizens. A modest Bill by Labour backbencher Robert Dowds TD was introduced in the Dail 20 months ago. It was designed to make establishing rights of public access easier. It is currently breathing its last having been quietly suffocated in the dark recesses of the Fine Gael-dominated Environment Committee.
Consider that and you will realise how ridiculous it is for John O’Dwyer to claim that legislating for change would be “using a sledgehammer to crack a nut”. After years of the “softly-softly” approach to farmers, it is becoming obvious that only a change in the law will suffice.
The looped walks established with the aid of Failte Ireland around the country are indeed welcome. But they are a tiny fraction of what is needed if we are to open the country for walkers and to make it possible for them, as many of them want to do, to walk from place to place. It is a sobering thought, but the insignificant county of Hereford in England has almost as many free-to-walk miles as the 26 Counties. Meanwhile, the whole of Scotland and most of Wales is open.
As for John O’Dwyer’s assertion that there are virtually no access problems here, he really should get out more. Keep Ireland Open has dozens of disputed routes on its books. Close to my home here in the Glencree Valley in County Wicklow, Dublin’s lungs, I can take him to six disputed long-standing routes within a couple of miles.
His assumption of the three monkeys position may buff up his image with Failte Ireland, who also take the unconvincing “problem? What problem?” line but it ignores the issue.
Ireland is not open for walking tourists. Until it is, tourism will continue to move to the towns. Or to countries more welcoming to walkers and cyclists.
Access debate is heating up
The Great Western Greenway:Mentioned as Irish Times letters teased out access issues
The access debate received an airing in the letters page of the Irish Times in December and January. The issue was raised initially in a leader on December 12 which pointed out that limited public access to Ireland’s mountainous and other scenic areas meant that we are unable to compete with Scotland or Wales for the growing walking tourism sector. It went on to call for legislation to solve the problem.
This led to no fewer than 18 letters, some hostile to the need for change but the vast majority supporting it.
On December 18 Keep Ireland Open Chairman Roger Garland pointed out that Walk magazine, the official publication of the English Ramblers, singled out Ireland has having the least walker-friendly legal regime in the whole of Europe. Referring to the fear that Irish politicians have of falling foul of the farming lobby, he continued: “Farmers represent less than 4pc of our population. An aphorism mentioning tails and dogs comes to mind.”
Also on December 18 John Mulligan of Boyle in Roscommon rounded on Irish politicians for failing to understand the needs of walking tourists. “They don’t understand the potential of our hundreds of miles of canal and river navigation towpaths or our disused railway lines. They don’t understand the need for long trails and instead they favour short routes going from nowhere to nowhere so that TDs can be seen to deliver funding locally.” In an excoriating letter, he concluded: “Clearly our politicians have a lot of catching up to do before tourism policies match the realities of the market.”
The next day (December 19) Sean MacCann from Co Tyrone played the tired old “How would you like people walking through your garden?” line. In a letter bereft of imagination, he asked: “Can you imagine the outraged reception, both social and legal, had I attempted illegally to march my family over a fence onto a private lawn in Foxrock to have a picnic?” He then went on to rail against “well-heeled suburbanites” seeking access to other peoples’ land.
On December 20, a short letter by Justin MacCarthy from Sandymount in Dublin echoed John Mulligan’s sentiments, blaming our lack of necessary access legislation on the incomprehension of politicians as to what is needed and the benefits it would bring. “At worst, they regard the outdoors as a branch of hippiedom. They could not possibly have any understanding or appreciation of the economic benefits that flow to the providers of such trails and the advantages to the physical and mental health of the users.”
On the same page, Robert Dowds, the Labour TD whose Bill to improve access is still languishing with the Fine Gael-dominated Environment Committee, pointed out: “We get 750,000 tourists each year who want to walk in our beautiful countryside. They and Irish walkers, are far too restriced in terms of where they can walk.”
Also on December 20 came a letter all the way from Vincentia in Australia. Tadhg O Foghlu wrote to point out that many of the people opposing Greenway developments in Ireland were landowners with land adjoining the disused rail lines to be used for the greenways, adding: “Generally these people are farmers who can’t seem to differentiate between their own land and public land adjoining their property. This failure to differentiate has on occasions extended to squatting on public property and suing for adverse possession.”
A few more letters on very similar vein followed over the next week, including one from Bill Bailey which claimed that Ireland is exceptional in never having had an abundance of rural footpaths. This drew a response from Kevin Warner of the Enniskerry Walking Association saying: “Many of the old ways our grandparents walked have been lost in recent decades. These ways need to be revived, protected and added to through progressive thinking and progressive legislation.” Kevin went on to describe how a FAS survey in North County Wicklow in the late 1980s and early ‘90s identified 110 rights of way then in use and all verified by local people. Not one of them is in the current Wicklow Development Plan and most have disappeared over the last 20 years. He compares this to just one county in England, Hereford, which lists 4,415 rights of way covering 3,360kms.
His view was echoed by Ken Ward from Gorey in Co Wexford, who said: “Most Irish country people of 70 years or so can clearly remember dozens of . . . mass paths, church paths, fisherman’s paths and well paths, now mostly gone. Our forefathers were not idiots and had no intention of walking five miles if they could use a path and do the journey in two.”
The debate ended with an Irish Times walking writer shooting himself in the hiking boot (see story above).
Keep Ireland Open also debated the access issue on Today with Sean O’Rourke on RTE1 Radio on Monday January 2nd with current IFA President Eddie Downey, who took his usual “not an inch” line on public access rights but then clearly hinted that yet more government subvention “might help” to solve the issue. That would, of course, be in addition to the 80 % of the average farm income already coming from the taxpayer.
Bafflingly long wait continues on two fencing issues
An Bord Pleanala continues to sit on two rulings which may have profound effects on the vexed question of illegal fencing.
In one key ruling, the Bord is still reserving its ruling in the case of industrial-style fencing placed around much of scenic Fenit Island in Co Kerry. This hideous structure, which has made much of the island inaccessible to the public, was erected by landowners who claim it is exempt development and does not require a planning application. Many locals and Keep Ireland Open claim, understandably, that it does.
The Bord has twice delayed making a ruling, which it has now been considering for more than a year, and we have recently written to ask why.
The second case concerns fencing on Howth Head in an area long used by walkers.
We shall put the Bord’s decisions in both cases on our Facebook page and the Keep Ireland Open website as soon as they become available.
Meanwhile, we would like to thank all of you who sent in instances of fencing on previously open land. Much of this fencing is being erected without the necessary planning permission and KIO continues to push for its removal in most instances.
We also endeavour, through regular inspection of planning applications made to a variety of councils, to keep an eye on what is being proposed in relation to fencing and other activities. To assist in this we need to recruit helpers in many of the counties outside the Dublin area. Please contact us if you can help.
We also urgently require help from planners or people interested in this area. Please get in touch. Even a little help would be appreciated.
A few successes in the battle against unnecessary fencing.
Ballinahinch, Co Galway: Galway Co Co has finally started the process of requiring the top barbed wire strand of a lengthy fence which has been the subject of a dispute to be replaced with plain wire. The council is also ordering landowners to erect stiles at regular intervals along it to facilitate walkers.
Fencing at Dulough, Co Mayo: Plans for an intrusive fence in this scenic and environmentally sensitive area have been rejected by Mayo County Council.
Final call on rights-of-way listing
NOW is the last chance for sending in traditional walking routes to be listed in the Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown Development Plan.
The draft version of the plan has recently been published and it contains all off the routes int he previous plans. You can inspect them by going online to www.dlrcoco.ie.
The draft plan is also available at the Council offices at Marine Road, Dun Laoghaire and Main Street, Dundrum, or any local public library in the DLR area.
If a route that you wish to suggest is not already listed then it will help the council if you send a photocopy of an OS map with the route highlighted. It should be marked: “For the attention of forward planning.” KIO would be grateful if you could also send a copy of your submission to Roger Garland, 43 Butterfield Drive, Dublin 14.
Congratulations are in order to DLR Council, who have been the most effective council in the country for listing and protecting walking routes. Their efforts put their neighbouring county, Wicklow, to shame. Despite having a great deal more countryside, mountains, seashores, lakes and National Monuments in their catchment area than Dun Laoghaire, Wicklow have been one of the most backward councils in the country when it comes to listing and protecting rights-of-way. Efforts by KIO to persuade them to change their ways have failed, despite the county’s dependence on tourism and the life-blood of day visitors from Dublin.
Join us on Facebook
KEEP Ireland Open now has a Facebook page where we intend to tease out access issues on a regular basis.
We hope this new addition will encourage younger people to join in the debate on access and inform themselves and each other on this important issue. It’s future access for them that matters most.
The Facebook Page also now has a donate button for those wishing to help fund our work.
Feel free to join us on Facebook and to have your say and join in the great access debate.
Recreation Officers : a who’s who
Rural Recreation Officers have been appointed to look after walkways around the country and to iron out problems where they can, given the lack of legislative backing for their work. The following is the latest list with their names first, the Leader Programme employing them, the walks they are responsible for and their contact details.
Walk / Trail
|Harry Everard||Kilkenny Leader Partnership||Nore Valley, Freshford Loop, O’Gorman’s Lane||056-7752111 or firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Inga Bock||Donegal Local Development Company ltd.||Bluestack Way, Sliabh Liag||074 9744937 or email@example.com|
|Ann Lanigan||Laois Community & Enterprise Development Co Ltd.||Slieve Bloom Way||057 8661900 or firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Deirdre Kennedy||Co Sligo LEADER Partnership Company ltd.||Sligo Way, Miner’s Way||071 9141138 or email@example.com|
|Amanda Mee||Roscommon Integrated Development Company||Suck Valley, Rinn Duinn, Miner’s Way||090 66 30252 or firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Una Doris||Roscommon Integrated Development Company||Suck Valley, Rinn Duinn, Miner’s Way||090 66 30252 or email@example.com|
|Patricia Deane||South Kerry Development Partnership ltd.||Kerry Way, Cosán Cuas na nEighe, Hag’s Glen Loop at Carrountoohill, Beara Way||066 9761615 or firstname.lastname@example.org|
|John Egan||South Tipperary Local Development Company ltd.||Eamon a ‘Chnoic, Birch Hill, Knocknalough (Red Hugh), Slieve Feilim Way, East Munster Way, Lough Derg Way, Tipperary Heritage Way, Devil’s Bit, Kilcommon Pilgrim Trail||052 7442652 email@example.com|
|Patricia Bevan||West Cork Development Partnership||Beara Islands, Duhallow Way, Beara Way, Sheeps Head Way (including Whiddy Island Walk)||027-52266 or firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Pat Mellon||County Wicklow Partnership||Wicklow Way||0402-20955 or email@example.com|
|Rosaleen Ni Shuilleabhain||FORUM Connemara ltd. (Galway)||Slí Connemara, Western Way||091 593410 or firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Martin Dillane||South West Mayo Development Company ltd.||Western Way, Clogher Loops, Burrishoole Loop 1, Burrishoole Loop 2, Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail||098-41950 or email@example.com|
|Eoin Hogan||Clare Local Development Company ltd.||Burren Way, Wood Loop Ballyvaughan, Black Head Loop, Cliffs of Moher||065 6866800 or firstname.lastname@example.org|
Published by Keep Ireland Open. KIO is an environmental organisation dedicated to preserving public access to our mountains, lakes, seashore and countryside.
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
or e-mail : email@example.com
Links to Affiliated organisations
Catholic Girl Guides of Ireland
Countrywide Hillwalkers Association
Friends of the Irish environment