Newsletter No 32 Summer 2007
Editorial: So, where do we go from here?
‘Rural countryside tourism will be promoted, and a new plan for farm-based rural tourism will be devised. The government will pursue the possibility of using the former railway infrastructure as recreational trails.’ That is the sum total of the government’s response to our just campaign to give legal rights to access the countryside, the response of a government that has Green Party representation.
Think about it for a moment- and that’s all it will take. ‘Rural tourism will be promoted’ but every individual landowner will have the right to decide who and under what circumstances recreational users will access his land (if any are allowed at all), and what infrastructure will be put on it in the form of bridges, signposts, stiles and walkways.
So we are left wandering just how rural tourism will be promoted in this milieu? The second sentence is an admission that we can expect no more rights than the right to walk disused railway lines, which are completely unsuitable for looped walks or for accessing the mountains. And that’s only a possibility!
Why have we none of the legal rights that neighbouring countries have enjoyed for decades? Maybe someone out there has another answer but the one that springs to mind here is simple- and stark.
Politicians are faced on the one hand with militant organisations prepared to froth at the mouth at the slightest infringement of their privileges (see the farmers response to the Labour Party Access Bill elsewhere in this issue) and on the other hand by a much larger but largely disorganised disparate group that is prepared to accept crumbs and represented by one (only one) small but vocal organisation with little political clout, and that’s Keep Ireland Open. Small wonder that most politicians take the less contentious route.
And if this analysis is correct, maybe our approach is obvious. The lesson from the farming organisations may be that the more militant and extreme you are the better you will succeed? Well, maybe. But that is not really the way that recreational users do things. Don’t forget that we have justice and the common good on our side and we have the many examples of legal access in other European countries to refer to. It is therefore a matter of continuing to inform the general public of these facts, to get it solidly behind us and maybe even to draw attention to the situation in the manner of trespassers on Kinder Scout 75 years ago, which eventually led to the excellent facilities recreational users have in Britain. So, while we undoubtedly have a long way to go, it is a path that many others have trod before us to reach their goal. There is no reason for despair.
Labour Party Bill on Access to the Countryside
Since two KIO representatives had a hand in its drafting, it hardly needs to be said that KIO warmly welcomes this Bill. It was concerned mostly with Freedom to Roam, with a glance at rights of way but only as a means of getting to areas covered by Freedom to Roam. In effect the only areas proposed under this Bill were marginal , rough grazing land, for which landowners would not have been normally entitled to compensation (though landowners would have been for rights of way). Landowners would have been entitled to appeal any designation of their land. In all a moderate and fair proposal.
If nothing else, this Bill raised the profile of access to the countryside before the election and, with much of the general public grossly misinformed about the issue, the Labour party went out on a limb for a measure which unfortunately produces yawns among so many of the public – and of course frothing at the mouth among the main farming organisations.
This remote and insignificant threat to the farmers’ privileges induced an immediate and hysterical reaction from their representatives, with furious cries of ‘nationalisation of the land!’, ‘how would you like farmers walking through your back garden?’ and all the tedious nonsense we have come to expect from this quarter. Unfortunately, the only support this modest Bill got was from among the Greens. Even some rural Labour Party candidates distanced themselves from it.
After this flurry of interest, the whole issue of access to the countryside disappeared without trace and with Fianna Fail again in power we will not hear much about it in the immediate future. There is no more on this under ‘The Media’ elsewhere in this issue.
The fallout from the Labour Party’s Access to the Countryside Bill reverberated in the media before the General Elexcion. In April, the two opposing points of view were aired in the Head2Head feature in the Irish Times. The title of the feature was ‘Should Farmers be Paid to Allow Walkers to Access their Land?”. The KIO ‘NO’ case was made by David Herman, with Padraig Walshe, President of the IFA on the ‘YES’ side. The flavour of Mr Walshe’s contribution is given in his first sentence: ‘Farmer’s land has the same rights as Ruari Quinn’s front garden’. This simplistic statement confuses gardens with rough grazing land.. We can reliably report that R Quinn’s front garden does not attract a grant of €300 per ha per year, as farmers’ land does on average. The subsequent comments, printed a week later, were mostly in favour of no payments but included a pro-payment comment that was either a spoof or came from a farmer on just the near side of apoplexy. We had a letter in the Irish Examiner attacking the farmers’ organisations intemperate response to the Labour Party’s Bill. We also had two small but well-worded advertisements in the Irish Independent and Irish Times before the election urging voters to mention access to the countryside when canvassers call.
Mary Raftery had a well researched column on 12th April in the Irish Times based on the Labour Party’s Bill and stating correctly that ‘ farmers put their own self-interest above any concept of the public good’. At about the same time the same newspaper had a second leader on the same theme, strongly supporting the Bill but unfortunately straying into ‘ agreement with farmers mode’ at the end, though this was in total contradiction with the rest of the leader. Questions and Answers on RTE 1 in April featured a question on access put by Albert Smith of KIO, to the effect that since most farmers’ income came from taxpayers perhaps they might now consider giving something back – like facilitating access. Unfortunately, except of course the Labour Party, all the panel (including the Greens) put forward the same viewpoint- all in favour of access to the countryside as long as it was with the agreement of the landowners! The fact that this was in effect saying no does not seem to have troubled any of these parties in the least. Nuala O’Faolain had a hard-hitting article in the Sunday Tribune of 15th April whose lengthy heading ‘ Nothing the farmers do or don’t do seems to make any difference to their amazing political power’ gave an accurate flavour of what was to come. Among other trenchant adverse comments about farmers it came out strongly in favour of the Labour Party Bill and of hill walkers being allowed to access the countryside.
Bizarre and bizarrer – true stories from the ministry
A Dail debate from February has only recently come to out attention. In it the Minister, Eamon O Cuiv, answered a question on the function of the Walk Manager he intends to appoint in some counties. ‘A person seeking information about walks in an area will be given the walk manager’s telephone number [..]. He or she [the walk manager] will be able to telephone a local farmer to ask if walkers may use his or her fields to reach a mountain’.
The imagination boggles. The idea of walkers ringing someone who will then have to describe, without being present and so without the help of a map, where or where not a walker may walk, is preposterous. No walker is going to accept this unworkable proposal.
There was another exchange in the Dail just before the election that illustrates all too clearly the Minister’s thinking. In an exchange with Dan Boyle, now a Green ex-TD, the Minister mused, ‘It is easy to state that one should never charge for access to land. However, one is charged for entry to Dublin Zoo, which is on land that is owned by somebody. […] Is he of the view that people should not be charged entry to golf courses that are located on rough ground?’
Just to make it clear; The Minister is not proposing that the State pay landowners for access: he has repeatedly stated that it won’t. What he is suggesting is that walkers pay the landowners directly to allow access.
It is hard to believe that the Minister considers that rough grazing land equates to a Zoo or a golf course. Unless of course that an election is in the offing and you know on what side your bread is buttered.
Still on the subject of the Minister, he had a long telephone conversation with our Chairman, Roger Garland, in which he (the Minister) asserted that we had Freedom to Roam in this jurisdiction. His definition seemed to be ‘areas where walkers hadn’t been turned away from – yet’. This is emphatically NOT a reasonable definition. More valid would be ‘ an area where walkers have a legal right to wander, that is marked on the maps and on the ground’. It seems that once again, the Minister wants to ‘improve’ conditions for walkers simply by redefining commonly used terms to suit his case. A common enough ploy, but it doesn’t help matters.
Mayo, the walking capital of Ireland.
Given the parlous state of walking in Ireland, Mayo’s goal to become the ‘walking capital’ of Ireland is the not too demanding ambition of a report called the ‘ Mayo County Walking Strategy and Strategic Action Plan’ published in draft form recently. It has to be said that the draft report is clearly written, has little unnecessary jargon and is admirably concise. Plus it benefited from the comments of the Western Branch of KIO.
However …..like all such reports it skates around the lack of legal rights for walkers. The result is a map at the back of the report that shows all kind s of walking routes that may be developed but does not specify if they are on roads or paths through private land. If the former it is no great achievement and unfortunately that is what our Western Branch suspects.
We await the final report, though without much expectation.
Right of Way issues hamper Carrantuohil Safety Works
The Irish Examiner reported recently that €100,000 scheme to repair the steep and dangerous Devil’s Ladder, on the most popular route to Carrantouhil, has been put on hold. The reason given was that ‘agreement has yet to be reached with all local landowners’. This is just one more example of the consequences of not having a legal right of way here, or indeed practically anywhere else in Ireland.
New Access problems – and an old one revisited
The first of these problems (Ballymacdoyle) is one that we have not heard of before; the second is better known as Glaninchiquin and has been an issue for years. These quotes are from a website run by a British group interested in climbing mountains that are covered by a complicated definition that we do not profess to understand.
Across the Irish Sea last week I encountered my first instance of an access charge (not just a parking fee). […] – Ballymacdoyle Hill on the south side of Dingle Harbour. This is getting to be a disease, and is blighting trips to what is normally a welcoming country. Kerry seems to be a hot spot – have encountered leaflets in pubs for two hills – one describing a wonderful ridge as good value for €4. On Beara, Coomainha has a ‘park’ with an entrance charge – found out the hard way when driving up the road one evening, arriving at closing time, to be faced at the road end by a foul gomlwoman(sic, anyyone knows what this means ?) who wanted the entry fee to turn the car. I remained polite and friendly in the face of some of the rudest behaviour I have ever witnessed. Hope to god I never face that in the classroom. The park looked good – but needless to say I went elsewhere the following day. How much do the pirates want at Dingle[…]. A good sea mist would help there I suppose.
So, probably a few more hill walking visitors lost to Ireland, plus their friends and those who read this website.
And here’s another area barred to walkers.
‘We have been walking an area round Renvyle Point, Oranmore, Co Galway for 30 years. This walk starts in Renvyle Park through the woods, through a golf course, and then down to the sea around the point and back past the Galway Bay Sailing Club. Recently the Golf Club has started to fence off the access to the shore. This club was originally built with EU public money- we therefore feel that the Golf Club should facilitate access for walkers. It is only 5 /10 minutes through the course area and there is a track that the Club has for access to their greens. So no-one is walking on the actual course as such. Last Sunday we were advised that we were trespassing on private property. This seems a mean minded attitude and possibly illegal? Surely the land is big enough to accommodate walkers and golfers? We would be interested in your comments and advice.’ [Name and address given].
KIO says: We are investigating this one but the signs are not good. If we are correct, unless the landowner specifically dedicates a right of way to the public, it can be walked for 30 years, or indeed 300, and it still does not constitute a right of way
And here’s one from county Wicklow that seems to have been there for some time. The old path from Hollywood heading south to and past St Kevin’s Statue has been blocked and a hostile notice warning of unspecified dangers erected.
The right of way (arrowed) goes through the gate and by the side of the house. A typical case – this one from Snowdonia – but common in Britain and elsewhere.
This was held at the end of April in An Óige’s headquarters and attracted a comparatively large number of members many of whom participated in a lively debate. Unfortunately Ruari Quinn who was to have come along and made a contribution could not make it. Given the fact that the general election was only 4 weeks away at the time this was understandable.
Friends of Hillwalking
At the end of April the Ramblers launched their Hill Walking Interest Group, a proposed umbrella body to cater for the interests of walkers in Ireland. About 60 people from most areas of the country attended the enthusiastic gathering. A variety of topics had an airing, including of course access. It was decided to form a provisional committee to push the idea forward. For further details please email HWGComment@yahoo.ie
Comhairle Na Tuaithe Grinds Slowly
The return of Eamon O Cuiv as Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs has ensured the survival of his pet talking shop, Comhairle na Tuaithe, which has now been in existence for 3 years and has achieved nothing. At its latest meeting, held on June 29th, the IFA and ICSA again tried to ratchet up their demands as to what farmers should be paid ‘as an entitlement’ for allowing people to cross their land.
The ICSA representative demanded that farmers be paid the same rate as surveyors or professional trail assessors if they accompany the later onto their land. The IFA demand that their members be paid at the minimum rate of 100 hours work regardless of how small an area of land is accessed. This would mean, for instance, that a farmer with a tiny field which needs to be crossed as part of a longer walk would be looking for a minimum of around €2,000 – or perhaps more, depending on any rate of pay for farmers who do trail maintenance which might eventually be agreed with the Government.
And here’s the point: their previous proposals, including the IFA’s €5,000 per kilometre plus €1,000 per farm, all per year, in a word the outrageous ‘€5 per step’ demand remains on the table.
The meeting concluded with the breathless announcement that a couple of pilot trails might be available – calm yourself – by the end of the year.
So, after more than three years of talks, the farming organisations have conceded that we might have a couple of pilot walks by the end of the year. This is worse than pathetic and is incapable of delivering even the bare bones of a decent network of protected walking routes that the country so badly needs.
Better to scrap the whole dismal scheme and legislate to provide a proper legal framework for reasonable access to land for leisure users.
The Experts agree with us – quietly
You may remember that at the start of the year, Minister O’Cuiv established an Expert Group to examine the legal issues involved in access for recreational users. It was chaired by Alexander Owens SC and included officials from various Government departments including Minister O’Cuiv’s. This document was handed out at the last C na T meeting and while it is short on robust recommendations, it does make a number of commonsensical observations and will therefore draw fire from those who want to keep the privileges they would not enjoy in any other country in Europe. Among the observations the report makes are:
1. Creating rights of way across private property is not contrary to the Constitution, which only ever granted the right to private property subject to the exigencies of the common good.
2. There is in almost all cases no need to pay compensation to landowners over whose land pedestrian access is granted, if this access is subject to strict guidelines, including a code of conduct and accepting that there can be no walking routes near dwellings. The report points out that the effects of access laws on most landowners would be minimised.
3. New laws are required to provide for rights of access to public land and the Oireachtas is fully entitled to pursue this as long as the proposed legislation is in the public interest and is reasonable. Property rights, the report points out have never been absolute.
4. A simple procedure needs to be put in place to rapidly resolve access disputes.
5. The fundamentals of the 1995 Occupiers ‘ Liability Act are sound but it needs tweaking so as to take account of any code of conduct that leisure users would be required to follow.
The report is weak on the need for local authorities to register and protect routes. Nor does it call for a new statutory body to be established to take over this crucial task. Nevertheless, the report is commonsensical insofar as it goes and we hope that Minister O’Cuiv might suddenly develop the drive to take its central message to heart, namely that new laws are badly needed and that these would not conflict with the constitutional rights to property.
RTE’s Morning Ireland had a report on this on 6h July. In it Albert Smith of KIO demolished the IFA’s arguments on access. Albert (and the interviewer) finally extracted the admission that the IFA’s demand is money solely for access and all other considerations (working farms, insurance, etc, etc) would melt away if a few tractor-loads of cash were delivered to every farmer’s gate.
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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