Newsletter 41 Spring/Summer 2010
One small step in the right direction
THE news that Minister for State for the Environment Ciaran Cuffe is to require local councils to list public rights-of-way is to be welcomed.
It is, however, but a very small step on a long journey towards the kind of modern legislative framework protecting public access to the landscape which is currently enjoyed by almost every other civilised nation.
Public rights-of-way nationally have enjoyed virtually no protection since the Planning Act 2000 let councils off the hook by no longer requiring them to even list, let alone preserve, and protect traditional walking routes. This law has resulted in virtually no actions being taken against those who block and eradicate such routes. Only the actions of courageous individuals, such as those involved in the disputes over access in the Glencree Valley, has saved further erosion of walking rights.
Mr Cuffe’s modest proposed amendment has three glaring failings. Firstly, it will still be up to local authorities to decide which putative public rights-of-way should be listed following representations from the public. This will give officials an enormous ‘out’ as they will, as before, shy away from any route which is likely to provoke a legal challenge.
Secondly, there is a manifest reluctance on the part of most councillors to show any willingness to protect public access because they themselves are farmers, developers or are depending on such groups for support. This means that they are singularly unsuited to do this job. A better plan would have been to set up a robust national commission to list not only rights-of-way with all their attendant complications, but also access routes to lakes, rivers, seashores and national monuments. This would have taken the responsibility away from county councils, ensuring a more realistic level of protection.
Thirdly, it is important to remember that simply listing rights-of-way will do nothing for the right to roam over rough grazing landwhere there is no established path.
More radical reform is needed than that proposed by Ciaran Cuffe. We shall continue to fight for it. Please continue to support us.
New planning Bill puts onus on councils
THE law will be changed so as to require local authorities to list and protect public rights-of-way, Minister for State for the Environment Ciaran Cuffe has promised.
The new rules requiring local authorities to list rights-of-way has been proposed as a ministerial amendment to the Planning Bill currently before the Dail. The Bill is expected to become law before the Oireachtas takes its three-month Summer break.
The promised amendment will seek to plug a glaring gap in the 2000 Planning Act which merely requires that local authorities “may” list public rights-of-way but does not require them to do so.
This loophole had the predictable result of enabling most local authorities to shirk any responsibility for public access. Since no other body has responsibility for protecting walking routes, the 2000 Act has proved a disaster.
Only one local council, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, has even attempted to create and publicise a list of protected public access routes. None of the others has bothered to identify routes for protection.
However, Mr Cuffe concedes that even after the law changes, it will be up to the councils to decide what routes to list. This will inevitably mean that they will shy away from registering those which might be disputed by landowners.
A number of councils, including Wicklow County Council, abandoned plans for listings after the farming Irish Farming Association launched a co-ordinated campaign to object to virtually every single route.
The IFA made it plain at the time that they would be seeking government funding for farmers with walking routes over their land.
It is not yet known how the farming organisations will respond to the planned amendment but there is growing evidence that they have come to accept that there will be no payment for access.
Another fine mess . . .
Lissadell House: €6m proof that our access laws need a total overhaul
IF you want irrefutable evidence that Irish access law is a mess which needs a radical overhaul, look no further than the marathon Lissadell House case. Judge Bryan McMahon has reserved judgment after the 58-day action in the High Court. No date has been given for his long-awaited ruling. Costs in the case, where Sligo County Council has sought to establish four rights-of-way across the historic estate, are now estimated to exceed €6 million. That’s half as much again as the €4 million that the owners, barristers Constance Cassidy SC and Ed Walsh SC, paid for the historic mansion and 410 acres of land in 2003.The central problem in the dispute arises out of the lack of clarity as to what constitutes a public right of way, how it can be established and what rights it confers. There are as many views as there are barristers in the Law Library and most of the legal argument evolves around 17th, 18th and 19th Century English law.
Why? Because no Irish government has ever bothered to update the statutes. Who loses? That depends on Judge McMahon’s decision. However, the government’s failure to address the need for sensible clear laws over access could land the already hard-pressed taxpayer, via the Sligo ratepayer, with yet another huge and unnecessary bill.
Walking pilgrim Olivia sees the light
VETERAN broadcaster Olivia O’Leary pulled no punches when she compared the lack of facilities and luke-warm welcome for walkers in Ireland with that of Spain in a recent ‘Drive Time’ slot on RTE Radio One.
Describing the delights of walking through the Galician countryside on a walking holiday she had just enjoyed on the Camino de Santiago, Olivia marvelled at how welcome she had felt there and described her passage through ploughed fields and along bridle paths, which gave “a real sense of touching the country; of seeing and meeting people about their ordinary tasks – milking the cows, weeding the maize fields, cutting the silage, watering the vegetable patch.
“Almost everybody we met was Galician and well used to people walking through their farmyard or tiny hamlet. And I thought: ‘Why can’t we do this? Our country was made for walking. We have the countryside, the deep green woods, the soft hills, the bridle paths. We have vast areas owned by the State – by Coillte, by Waterways Ireland, by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, by the ESB, by the OPW, by Bord na Mona.”
Referring to the scheme here under which farmers are paid by the State to maintain stiles and paths, she adds: “That they should have to be paid for something that benefits the whole local economy is a scandal but it reflects something that is evident right through the Irish tourist industry – what an expert in Bord Failte wearily refers to as ‘a determination to remain fragmented’.
“Because what was evident in Galicia compared to here was a co-ordinated approach. Walkers were catered for every step of the way. Superb but discreet signposting; when following the highway, hedges shielding us from the traffic; little unattended stalls in the woods with fruit and honesty boxes for payment; cafes in every hamlet and albergos and hostels and hotels with special rates for walkers. Every town had a shop with walking gear. Great.
“Here (in Ireland) there is little co-ordination or evidence that the country takes tourists seriously. State agencies who control wild and beautiful places behave as though the public has no right to be there. Coillte in particular seem to regard themselves as tree-farmers and the public as a nuisance. Other agencies regard their role as preserving and conserving, all of which is vital. But this is the taxpayers’ treasure too and it has to be shared for all our good.”
Olivia went on to bemoan the fact that maps for walking are often hard to find in Irish towns. She attacked the use of garish and inappropriate signage and the fact that so many of our hotels and B&Bs are not equipped to cater for or even advise walkers.
“At a time when multinational manufacturing jobs and service jobs are disappearing overseas, tourism is something that we can do for ourselves and it creates jobs and foreign earnings and we are getting cheaper and we are getting much too poor to be posh.”
Amen to all of that, Olivia.
Desecration at the Abbey
By Fergal McLoughlin
KYLEMORE Abbey in Connemara is one of the most beautiful and renowned spots in Ireland. Set among the majesty of the Twelve Bens and beside the shimmering waters of Kylemore Lake, it is described in the Kylemore website as ” the No.1 tourist attraction in the West of Ireland”, with “woodland walks and scenic photographic opportunities”.
My wife Judy and I were staying in Connemara in April, and we decided to visit Kylemore Abbey and enjoy a walk. We started from what is known as Kylemore village on the Inagh side of Kylemore Lake. The Ordnance Survey map shows a path which runs from the village along the lakeside, leading to the N59 and on to to Kylemore Abbey – a distance of about 8 miles.
We parked the car near the start of the Kylemore River and began the walk in bright sunshine in the most stunning scenery. “Where on earth would you get a better place to walk?” was our mutual sentiment as we set out along the path to the lake. The rough path climbed upwards past a few farmhouses.
Our joy was short-lived. 300 metres into the walk, we were confronted by a fence topped with barbed wire and a notice saying” PRIVATE – STRICTLY NO ENTRY”.
I was not unduly surprised to see this, having been confronted by similar signs in Ireland. However Judy was gob-smacked. She could not comprehend that this incredibly beautiful route was blocked. “What’ll we do?” she asked. I was all on for going ahead. In fact I quite relished the prospect of meeting the person who had the audacity to put up the sign. However, Judy was quite terrified at the thought of proceeding further. Earlier we had passed a house with barking dogs locked in cages. “What if they set the dogs on us?” asked Judy.
Discretion being the better part of valour, we decided to seek the advice of a local man we had seen earlier on the walk. A lovely gentle man, he said: “Sure I do tell people to take no notice of that oul’ sign. Go on ahead.” He invited us in for a cup of tea and told us that the path was the old road from the village to Kylemore Abbey. The person who put up the sign owned only a part of the path, and he lived in Renvyle – 15 miles away. He also said that in recent times the number of people walking the path had dropped considerably. Little wonder!
So off we set again, Judy happy in the knowledge that she would not be savaged by dogs. The scenery by now was utterly spectacular. A mile further on we came across a second more pronounced, more aggressive sign on a gate:” PRIVATE PROPERTY – STRICTLY NO ENTRY – KEEP OUT”.
We ignored the sign and kept on, Judy’s blood now boiling. ” I’d love to meet that b…..! How dare he stop me walking on the ground of Ireland?”
We walked on along the lakeshore, the prospect of coffee at the Kylemore cafe becoming more attractive. We knew the little causeway between Kylemore Lake and Pollacoppul Lough which led onto the N59, Kylemore Abbey and coffee. But no way! This time it really was a case of thou shalt not pass. At the other side of the causeway was a newly-erected, massive, black security gate,electronically locked.
On either side of the causeway were steel poles with mesh wire – in case anyone dared climb the gate. Behind it was a two-storey white house which used to be a guest house – the gates presumably erected by the present owner.
Further progress was impossible. What was doubly annoying was the realisation that it is now impossible for walkers to gain access to the lake walk from the N59 – it is blocked by the impenetrable, ugly, black gates of the causeway. This means that the only way to walk around the lake is on the N59 – an extremely busy road, especially at peak tourist times.
And so we turned back, feeling totally frustrated. “Ireland of the Welcomes” indeed!
Fergal McLoughlin is a Keep Ireland Open committee member.
Ireland back in the dock over failure to act on fencing ruling
THE European Court of Justice has opened hearings in a case against the Irish government which could have huge implications for planning laws and particularly for the continued existence of unsightly fencing which blocks public access around the country.
The case has come about thanks to KIO’s successful submission to the Commission to the effect that local authorities are failing to protect the visual environment by flouting EU regulations requiring proper environmental impact assessments before planning decisions are made.
In November, 2008 the ECJ ruled that Ireland was in breach of EU Directive 85/337 because local authorities were granting widespread permissions for fencing and other structures without the required assessments.
The ruling held that local authorities are wrong to claim they have discretion over whether or not to consider environmental impact statements before considering planning applications.
Since the original ruling nearly two years ago Ireland has failed to show how it intends to implement the court’s ruling. A further ruling against the government in the present case could lead to the Irish government – and that means you, the taxpayer – being loaded with huge costs and further litigation arising from their having sanctioned developments in a manner contrary to EU law.
KIO’s involvement in the case, which represents a significant victory for our Western Branch, arose out of our growing anger at the way so much of the country has been rendered inaccessible by unnecessary and unsightly fencing. Under the 2000 Planning Act fences in areas traditionally open are subject to planning permission but this law is observed more in breach than observance. Even where planning permission was sought, proper environmental assessment has been a rarity.
We will keep our eye on events in the European Court. See future newsletters for details.
KIO helps judge call a halt to land grab on historic commonage
A FARMER who tried to fence off more than 50 acres of commonage land for his own use has been made to take his fence down by a District Court Judge.
Judge Michael Connellan also ordered farmer Richard Redden to pay €2,500 of Wicklow County Council’s costs even though he had complied with the court’s order.
Redden had made his land grab on Ballyremon Common on the East side of the Old Long Hill near Enniskerry.
KIO played a substantial part in the case. We helped the other seven commonage holders to make a case to Wicklow County Council to the effect that Redden had erected the fence without the necessary planning permission.
Initially the council had opted not to take action but when they received the sworn affidavits we had gathered from walkers, cyclists, paragliders and horseriders who felt their use of the commons was adversely affected by the fence they changed their minds and took Redden to court.
The case represents a rare case where KIO has made common cause with the IFA as the problem was brought to our attention by Wicklow IFA representative Michael Keegan.
Long old road to justice
THE long-running High Court case over a vital walking route in the Glencree Valley in Co Wicklow has been delayed yet again.
Counsel for landowner Joe Walker had held the proceedings up for six months while they argued that a hearing could not go ahead unless the defendants, two members of the Enniskerry Walking Association, enjoined the Attorney General to their case.
In mid-June they dropped this demand. However, the case, in which the wealthy landowner and businessman is suing the walkers for insisting that a public right-of-way runs over an old road across his land, is now unlikely to get a full hearing before the Autumn.
The Irish Ramblers, An Oige and several other walking groups are scheduled to give evidence in the case, which could run for up to a week and has already incurred substantial costs.
Access officers – the names you need to know
WHEN you run into an access problem, your first port of call should be to your local Rural Recreation Officer. He or she will be grateful for any updates regarding access and will usually approach the landowner in question to see if there is a problem which can be solved.
Here is a list of the current RROs:
Ann Lannigan (tel: 057 8661900 or 086 8447338; email firstname.lastname@example.org);
Deirdre Kennedy (tel: 071 9141138, Fax 071 9141162;
Martin Dunn (tel: 0906 488292; email email@example.com);
Maria Munckhof (tel: 066 9472724 -064 41930; mobile: 087 2957780; email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
Con Ryan (tel: 062 33360; mobile 087 0556465; email: email@example.com;
James O’Mahoney (tel: 023 34035; mobiles 0870556465 and 0870556465); email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
Pat Mellon (tel: 0404 46977; mobile 087 7888188) email: email@example.com;
Thomás Mac Gearailt (tel: 091 593410/091 523945; mobile: 087 0521339) email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
Tom Carolan (tel: 094 9366692; mobile: 087 2196930) email: email@example.com;
Eimear McCarthy (tel: 094 9366692; mobile: 086 0495041); email: 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