Newsletter 48 Summer 2013
Time to put your TD on the spot
The Bill which Robert Dowds brought before the Dail on June 14 gives members of KIO and all of us involved in outdoor activities the perfect chance to lever a few TDs off the fence over public access to the countryside.
You should ask your TD: Are they supporting this modest and necessary change in the law? Will they vote in favour if it finally comes before the Dail?
And if not, why not?
Irish jobs, the health and welfare of our people and their basic rights as citizens will all receive a substantial boost if this law were to pass.
There is little to object to. Compared to access legislation in Scotland or Scandinavia, Mr Dowds’ proposals are conspicuously moderate.
So if your TD cannot put his or her full support behind this modest little Bill, you deserve to know why.
Also, if this Bill cannot pass, all of those visitors who come to our shores to walk, sight-see and visit historic monuments should be told in no uncertain terms that Irish politicians favour the continuation of a system where visitors on private land have virtually no rights; where even saying that a route is a public right-of-way can bring financial ruin and where publishing a simple walks guide can land you in the High Court .
Ask your TD if he or she is really in favour of that.
In two minds. . .
These two adjacent notices spotted at Ballybrew, near Enniskerry in Co Wicklow reflect a divided view over access—a bit like the Coalition Government.
The Coillte notice at the front welcomes walkers to the woods not far beyond the gate. The one behind, after dire warnings over public liability dangers and the perils of farms, forbids access. The nasty notice was put up by a local landowner. It disappeared not long after this photo was taken. Tut-tut.
Access Bill stuck in limbo after minister signals his hostility
THE Private Member’s Bill introduced in the Dail by Labour TD Robert Dowds in his effort to improve the public’s rights of access to the Irish countryside has been withdrawn at its first reading.
The decision to pull it came after a ministerial commitment to discuss its content at the powerful Oireachtas Environmental Committee — probably in the next Dail term.
The withdrawal came after Environment Minister Phil Hogan made it plain to Deputy Dowds that he would ensure the Bill was voted down if the issue was forced to a vote in the Dail chamber.
The Access to the Countryside Bill has three important components, all designed to improve Ireland’s access to mountains, seashores, rivers, lakes and National Monuments.
It would empower county councils to declare public rights-of-way over private land where this was seen to be in the public interest.
It would set up an expert committee to examine disputed routes and it would clarify how rights-of-way can be created. The Bill also sought to amend the law on public liability so as to provide landowners with insurance cover from the State claims agency. This last move has now been pre-empted by the Government, who are likely to put an indemnity scheme in place following belated agreement by the Irish Farmers’ Association (see story on opposite page).
Although Mr Dowds has lobbied amongst all the political parties, it has become clear that the ultimate success or failure of his proposals depend primarily on Fine Gael. He has persuaded at least 10 Fine Gael TDs that they should back his proposals, some of them members of the Cabinet. He has the full backing of almost all Labour Party TDs and Sinn Fein.
“Many in the Fine Gael party can see the benefits that better public access would bring in terms of jobs, the health of our own people and updating a set of laws not longer fit for purpose. The problem is going to be whether or not they will revert to a conservative mindset where they defend, above the rights off all other citizens, the rights of landowners,” Mr Dowds said after the two-and-a-half-hour Dail debate on his proposals on June 14.
Leo Varadkar, Minister for Tourism, is believed to have supported the Bill in Cabinet and Education Minister Ruairi Quinn, who tried to introduce a similar Bill six years ago, is its most enthusiastic ministerial supporter.
Robert Dowds TD: His Bill may be killed off by Minister Phil Hogan and Enda Kenny.
A number of Labour TDs fear that the decision on the part of Fine Gael Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan to allow the Bill to go to the Environment Committee without a vote indicates that he intends to stall or even strangle it in that committee, which he effectively dominates. This approach would prevent the issue coming before the Dail for a vote and would thereby stop it from sparking disagreement between the two government parties.
The changes to the law relating to county councils and their role in registering and defending rights-of-way come under the auspices of Mr Hogan’s department and he has indicated little enthusiasm for the changes proposed.
Conversations in the past between KIO President Jackie Rumley and Taoiseach Enda Kenny have led Jackie to believe that the Fine Gael leader will not ultimately support any change in the law which would upset the farming organisations — even though he likes to promote the impression that he is an enthusiastic hillwalker. Mr Kenny apparently remains nervous over the potential loss of a handful of marginal rural constituencies where the farming organisations are politically organised.
There are three key tests which will indicate how likely the Bill is to make it to the next and most important stage—a vote in the Dail Chamber. The first is how quickly it appears on the already-crowded agenda of the Environment Committee. It is unlikely to appear in the current session but the Autumn schedule would indicate serious intent. The second test will be how much time is set aside for a reasoned discussion and the final test is how many neutering amendments are proposed and accepted in the course of those committee discussions.
*To read the Bill in full, go to www.oireachtas.ie/viewdoc.asp?fn=/documents/bills28/bills/. To watch the debate recorded on webcam, go to www.oireachtas.ie/ViewDoc.asp?DocId=-1&CatID=130
KIO funds appeal to keep ancient cromlech open
Keep Ireland Open has joined with members of the Enniskerry Walking Association in Co Wicklow in a bid to prevent a landowner from continuing to block access to a registered National Monument.
The 5,5000-year-old cromlech, or slab grave at Glaskenny in the Glencree Valley, was always open to public access until a Dublin accountant bought a tiny cottage nearby and put up an illegal fence blocking the route from a nearby road to the monument.
The accountant, Dargan Fitzgerald, then built a house on the site which was 57 sq metres—the size of many Dublin apartments—larger than the structure for which he had received planning permission. Despite the objections of several locals, Wicklow County Council decided to grant Fitzgerald retention for the dwelling. The council made no attempt to protect public access to the cromlech, which has been registered as a National Monument since 1930 and is shown on numerous OS maps since 1837.
A representative of Keep Ireland Open met with Mr Fitzgerald and suggested that he restore access to the monument and register this access route under the Wicklow County Development Plan. He refused to do this so KIO and the local Enniskerry Walking Association have appealed to An Bord Pleanala to reverse the retention granted by the council.
Since all of the EWA’s meagre finances are tied up in their marathon battle, now going to the Supreme Court, over a blocked route at nearby Curtlestown, KIO is funding the €230 required to make an appeal to Bord Pleanala. It could take up to two years for the Bord to give its decision. Meanwhile, Mr Fitzgerald’s nasty fence has been partially removed by locals.
Part of the 5,500-year-old slab grave at Glaskenny, Co Wicklow
IFA finally agrees to indemnity deal
After months of prevarication, the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) has agreed to join the other farming organisations in welcoming a Government plan to provide complete indemnity against injury claims to landowners who open their lands up to public use.
The IFA, who had been calling for years for the introduction of just such a scheme, decided last year to break ranks with the other two farming organisations, the Irish Creamery and Milk Suppliers Association and the Irish Cattle and Sheepfarmers Association, in a hamfisted attempt to force government to relent on a raft of other issues, including the use of nitrates and farm inspections. However, at a Comhairle na Tuaithe meeting held in Dublin on June 13 it was announced that the IFA had stopped stalling and was ready to welcome the proposed scheme under which the State Claims Agency will indemnify landowners.
In reality, no injured member of the public has successfully sued a landowner since the passage of the 1995 Occupier’s Liability Act, which protects landowners against being sued unless they do something which they know is likely to cause injury. However, the farming organisations have persistently argued that the mere threat of being taken to court puts many landowners off allowing public access.
O Cuiv ‘off the hook’ over Cong access case
The court case threatened against former Minister Eamon O Cuiv by the owners of a five-star hotel who accused him of breaking a court order by joining a protest march about a blocked walking route has apparently been dropped.
Mr O Cuiv, who in his role as Minister for Rural Affairs insisted there was no need to change the law on access, was threatened with legal proceedings by the owners of Ashford Castle Hotel in Cong, Co Mayo. The threat came after he joined a group of Cong locals in September 2011 who were protesting at the closing off of a long-standing walking route through the 365-acre grounds of the Castle. Some KIO members found it deliciously ironic that the ex-minister might find himself caught up by the very laws he had refused to reform.
However, Mr O Cuiv revealed recently that the case has apparently been dropped. Within weeks of threatening Mr O Cuiv with the High Court, the hotel’s beneficial owner, developer Gerry Barrett, went into receivership. No further action has been taken by the receivers. “I think the case is dead in the water,” Mr O Cuiv recently told KIO.
Coillte sell-off plan bites the dust
THE Government has finally decided to abandon attempts to sell off the harvesting rights of Coillte, the State forestry organisation.
The proposed sell-off has been a matter of great concern to walkers, cyclists and many other outdoor users as there was a real fear that access to State forests, which make up a whopping 7pc of the Republic’s landmass, would be curtailed by private harvesters.
For some months a growing number of TDs from all parties in the Dail had let it be known that they were unhappy with the proposed sell-off, which was part of a commitment made by the Government to the troika, which is encouraging the sale of State assets as part of a programme to reduce Ireland’s indebtedness.
The end finally came when Fine Gael Ministers began to question the wisdom of the sell-off after it emerged that it would probably raise less than half of the €700m originally estimated and that up to 3,000 jobs in Irish sawmilling and wood-processing plants would be endangered if it went ahead.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney confirmed that the sell-off plan has been abandoned and said that the Coalition’s focus will now be on trying to make Coillte more efficient by merging it with Bord na Mona.
The decision comes following growing public anger at the proposed sell-off which became evident at a high-profile protest rally attended by around 3,000 people at Avondale Forest Park, in Rathdrum in Co Wicklow on April 27.
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
Friends of the Irish environment