Newsletter 54 Spring 2016
We’ve been ignored for far too long
THE fact that only one party in the recent general election saw fit to even mention reform of our outdated, inadequate access law in its manifesto (see story, back page) is an indication of the enormous task we in Keep Ireland Open face.
Here we are, at the centenary of the 1916 rising, with more rights for the citizens of this republic to go walking in her majesty’s England, Scotland, Wales – indeed the whole of Europe – than in their own country.
Yet only the Green Party even saw fit to commit in their election manifesto to changing this shameful state of affairs.
People Before Profit have mentioned the need for change in policy documents, but made no commitments to campaign for it in their election manifesto.
From the Labour Party, too, not a word about access. The party could not even bring itself in the last Dail to support a modest Bill by one of its own backbenchers, Robert Dowds, to make creating public rights-of-way slightly easier. If passed, it would have brought Labour to the position reached by the British Labour Party in the 1930s.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fail share an almost identical refusal to recognise the need to free up public access to our countryside, hills, rivers, lake and sea shores. Yet if Ireland is to realise its potential as a walking, cycling and outdoor pursuits destination, or to secure the basic rights of the 95pc of us who are not farmers or substantial landowners, that will have to happen.
We must all renew our efforts to make our new governemt aware that change is long overdue; that what has been left out of thier party manifestos can no longer be left off the political agenda.
Cut knee action a threat to access
Theresa Wall: seeking damages for a cut to her knee
THE case of a woman who is suing sue the National Parks and Wildlife Service over a cut to her knee which she suffered while walking the Wicklow Way is causing concern in outdoor activities circles.
The case taken by Teresa Wall (59) was heard at the Circuit Civil Court in Dublin on February 1. Judgment has been reserved.
Ms Wall (pictured above) of Swords, Co Dublin, told the court that she slipped and fell after her foot snagged in a hole on the boardwalk section of the Wicklow Way near the JB Malone monument. She said that the wound needed seven stitches and left her with a scar. She sought €60,000 in damages
Her barrister Peter McParland said the wooden walkway where she fell constituted “a structure” and the Occupiers Liability Act imposed a much higher duty of care in the maintenance and management of it than for an ordinary landowner who simply allows passage over property.
Not one walker or other leisure user has successfully sued a landowner for injuries since the passage of the Occupiers’ Liability Act in 1995. This law was introduced to protect landowners against such claims.
However, if Ms Wall were to be successful it could have a disastrous effect on Ireland’s already paltry level of access because it would mean that any stile, path, boardwalk or bridge provided to assist walkers would have to reach an impossibly high standard or it could put landowers at risk of being sued.
Faced with such an impossible legal imposition, there would be a danger that many landowners and state bodies would play safe and further restrict access.
Keep Ireland Open has always taken the view that walking is a risky business and, within reason, we must all take responsibility for our own safety. You can read a copy of the Irish Times report on the case on both KIO’s Facebook page and this website, www.keepirelandopen.org
Don’t forget your AGM
Keep Ireland Open’s AGM will take place on Saturday April 2 at the An Oige Headquarters, Mountjoy St, Dublin 7. Coffee and tea will be available from 11am and the meeting will open at 11.30. There is free secure parking at the rear of the building and tokens for entry into the car park will be available at reception.
English coast path highlights how far behind we are
There are no plans for a walkway or cycleway around Ireland
There has been a signed coastal path around the whole of Wales since 2012 and around the whole of Scotland since 2003
Just how far behind our immediate neighbours Ireland has slipped when it comes to providing access has been underscored by the recent announcement that England is well on the way to providing walkways all around the English coast by 2020.
This will involve completing a succession of walkways which to link 11 existing coastal paths to form a continuous national trail.
The Western side of the trail will link into the Welsh coastal path around the whole of Wales, which was completed in 2012, and both West and East paths would link into Scottish pathways at their Northern ends. The whole of Scotland’s coastal land has been fully open to the public since the passing of the ambitious 2003 Land Reform Act. This will mean that there will be continuous walking path around England, Scotland and Wales by 2020.
Rory Stuart, the English Conservative minister with responsibility for completing the project, is himself a keen long-distance walker who wrote a best-selling travel book about his hair-raising trek across war-torn Afghanistan. He has said he is absolutely determined to complete the coastal path scheme on time and he has managed to persuade the British cabinet to significantly increase funding to ensure he succeeds.
When the English Coastal Trail is completed, it will add 2,790 miles to the more than 200,000 miles of pathways already available in England – and that does not include the 8pc of the landmass which has been given over to National Parks, which all have open access.
The English CROW (Countryside Rights of Way) Act 2000 gave the ‘Right to Roam’ over an extra 4 million acres of mountain, moor, heath and down. To put that in perspective, all of Ireland amounts to just 20m acres.
Ireland, by comparison, has about 16,000kms of walking routes, many of them permissive and which can be closed at any time. About 1pc of the Republic’s land mass is given over to National Parks. Much of the land above the foreshore of Ireland’s coastline remains in private hands, with no right of access.
This despite the fact that Ireland has some of the most beautiful and dramatic coastal scenery in Europe. Yet there is no plan to open it up to walkers and provide the kind of walking facilities to be found across the rest of the EU.
Horn Head walk
To get some idea how far behind Ireland is when it comes to coastal walks, it is worth recalling the fate of the Horn Head walk in Donegal.
This was launched, with great fanfare, in 2011. Tens of thousands of euros were spent by Failte Ireland and Donegal County Council installing a car park, signage, fencing and a successful publicity and advertising campaign at home and abroad.
Funding was also provided through the government Walks Scheme to 18 local landowners to provide maintenance along the pathway, which ran over commonage and private land. Much of the ‘maintenance’, it should be noted, was notional rather than real.
Within a couple of years, the Horn Head loop had become the most popular walk in Donegal, bringing a substantial tourism spend to hard-pressed Dunfanaghy. Walkers came from the continent, the US and a number of visitor guide books on Ireland gave the walk rave reviews.
Then one local landowner decided he was withdrawing from the walks scheme. Despite pleas from a number of people in the locality, he did so and the whole route has had to be closed. Large amounts of public money were invested in this walk and it brought substantial amounts of revenue and spin-off jobs into the area. Yet, incredibly, there is no political will to face down the landowner responsible or to legislate to prevent similar acts of sabotage in the futue.
It is also worth recalling the fate of the beautiful walk above Uggool beach in Co Mayo (see Autumn newsletter), which has been closed since 1989. The landowner responsible, Gerard Burke, is now advertising guided walks over it – at €15 euros per adult and a tenner for a child.
Then there is the Seven Arches area near Portsalon in Co Donegal. As reported in your last Newsletter, this favourite scenic spot along the much-heralded motoring route the Wild Atlantic Way has also been sealed off from public access in recent months. Have a guess what the State or local authorities can do, under the present legal dispensation, to re-open it. You probably guessed right. The answer is nothing. As outgoing FG minister Paschal Donoghue told the Dail in October, access to the Seven Arches is privately owned and the government has no power to create access or insist that it be maintained.
How about a real Wild Atlantic Way?
It is a measure of how confused Faile Ireland has become over its whole tourism offer that it asserts in communications to community groups by Failte official Mary Stack that they need to focus on providing opportunities for adventure ‘off the beaten track’. Strange that when visitors have virtually no right to walk on most of the country’s tracks – beaten or otherwise.
And what is Failte’s biggest tourism offer? Why the opportunity to drive around the whole island in a car, looking at the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ through their windshield. How does that tie-in with their call for tourism which takes visitors ‘off the beaten track’?
Why isn’t Failte pointing out how far behind our lack of rights on the question of access is leaving Ireland and how difficult this makes their task of competing for walking, cycling and other outdoor activity business?
A real Wild Atlantic Way would take visitors and our own citizens off the roads, out of their cars, and along a series of clearly-signed walkways and cycleways. If they can do this in England, where far more of the coastline is not only privately-owned but also much more densely populated, why not here?
Once again, you probably guessed the answer: Because there is not the political will to legislate to create and preserve a public right of access. All those advertisements luring visitors here to enjoy our wealth of ancient monuments and beautiful scenery are posited on a tissue of lies. Most visitors have no idea that they really will not have the kind of rights of access that they enjoy in other countries. Neither Failte Ireland or any other government agency is willing to own up to Ireland’s dirty little secret. Namely, the public has virtually no rights of access.
Losing the Head
Bray Head: No route up it listed in Co Wicklow Draft Development Plan
Bray Head, one of the most popular walks in the country, does not, it seems, have a right of access.
Wicklow County Council, in its Draft Development Plan, lists nine ‘possible’ rights-of-way in the county (yes, just nine in the whole of ‘The Garden of Ireland’) and the various routes around Bray Head are not included. The plan does mention Bray Head in a section on coastal ‘cells’ and even says that there are rights-of-way over it. However, the Draft Plan does not identify these routes in its paltry listing.
We are trying to persuade the Council to facilitate a looped walk from the car park at the foot of the Headat the South end of Bray promenade, to the Cross on the summit of the head, to the Bray-Greystones Road, to Windgates Road and ending on the cliff path.
Having nine proposed routes listed in the draft plan is slightly better than nothing. Planners at Wicklow’s County Buildings were refreshingly honest when tackled at a recent public meeting about the extent to which they felt let down by councillors when they tried to list and protect dozens of routes in the early ‘90s. Quite simply, the councillors caved in completely following objections by the farming organisations to the identification of any routes over their land.
Nevertheless, listing just nine routes in the most-walked county in the country and leaving out one of its most iconic routesfrom its list is taking timidity too far. It’s worth remembering that the council identified 110 proposed rights-of-way in just the North East of the county alone during their attempt to list them a quarter of a century ago. They haven’t gone away, you know!
Cowardice rules as main parties turn blind eye on the hustings
The only political party in the general election to make a manifesto commitment to improving public access to the countryside was the Greens.
All of the others – Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein, Renua, Independents and, even more shamefully, the Labour Party and Social Democrats, whose largely urban base does not require them to butter up the farming organisations, had absolutely nothing to say in their ‘offer’ to the public about the fact that Ireland has the worst and most regressive public access laws in Europe.
The Greens were the only and honourable exception. In their manifesto they committed to establishingan absolute freedom to roam over mountain commonage and other areas of rough grazing. They also pledge to introduce a law that would enable all routes which have been walked without hindrance for 12 years by the public to be designated, mapped and protected as public rights of way.
We need a charter for walkers
Reports from the Dail have made it plain that a huge effort was made by the Fine Gael Minister in the last government, Simon Coveney, to make sure that a charter for farmers was completed before the recent election.
Don’t you know how essential it is to sew up those crucial marginal rural seats?
The charter sets out the rights of farmers with regard to inspections, the payment of grants and subsidies.A Farmers’ Charter of Rights Monitoring Committee, staffed from the public purse by civil servants, has now been established under an independent chair to monitor agreed targets and standards. This unusually craven charter will last until 2020 and a special monitoring committee has been set up to ensure that the high standard of service given by the government to farmers continue to be met – last year 97pc of farm grants were paid on time.
Given that farmers now make up less than 4pc of the population, would it be too much to ask for a Charter for Recreational Users? It could monitor access. It could create routes where landowners are unreasonable and selfish. It could look after the interests of the 96pc of us who pay the taxes that are handed over to this special interest group which receives very special treatment.
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
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