Newsletter 55 Summer 2016
Cut knee Payout underscores the need for radical reform
Boardwalk at your own risk
We predicted in your last newsletter that the anticipated judgment on a court case in which a walker was seeking damages from the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) was a matter of major concern for walkers.
Sadly, we were right.
A judgment has since been handed down in the Circuit Civil Court in Dublin awarding Swords woman Teresa Wall €40,000 to compensate for a cut to her knee suffered after she tripped and fell on a boardwalk on the side of Djouce mountain in Co Wicklow.
The NPWS is appealing the judgment, which was handed down by Judge Jaqueline Linnane.
Judge Linnane’s key finding is that the NPWS had a higher duty of care towards the plaintiff because it provided the boardwalk on which the fall took place and even had a sign directing walkers onto it to avoid their contributing to erosion of the surrounding bogland.
The Judge ruled that the NPWS had not properly maintained the boardwalk and this had contributed towards Ms Wall’s fall.
Nobody knows what the results of the appeal will be and the ruling may well be overturned. Predictably, and sadly, it has already been used as an excuse by some landowners to argue for further restriction of Ireland’s already inadequate access laws.
However, it is worth noting that the judgment is narrow in its focus. It only applies to maintained structures supplied by landowners and has no bearing on the normal run-of-the-mill injuries suffered by leisure users who sprain or break limbs or suffer other injuries from falls. Some landowners have already threatened to block off routes, especially those with gates or stiles provided along them.
It has also angered farming reps who have been calling for years for the State to indemnify them against claims from walkers or other leisure users (See separate story on Comhairle na Tuaithe).
The judgment puts the NPWS in a very difficult position. During the recession the service has not had the resources to maintain the miles of boardwalk and paths under its care. If everyone who slips or falls on the service’s maintained structures were to sue, then it is likely, reluctantly, to close many of them down.
Whether Judge Linnane’s ruling stands or falls on appeal, it underscores the need for the kind of legislation which exists in Scotland and Scandinavia which makes it plain that walkers, mountain bikers and other users are involved in a potentially dangerous activity which they undertake entirely at their own risk and that unless a landowner deliberately sets out to cause them harm, they have no case.
It is impossible to have open access alongside a compo culture.
Glenasmole saved for the people
Bohernabreena : Saved for future generations to enjoy
We spotted an estate agent’s advert in the Irish Times offering 5,000 acres of land in Glenasmole Co Dublin for sale. Most of this land is in the upper reaches of the River Dodder and adjoins the Wicklow National Park. The thought of this magnificent wilderness area being bought by some developer who might find some way of developing it was too horrible to contemplate. We alerted the leader of the Green Party Eamon Ryan TD to this threat which resulted in his making an impassioned speech in the Dail, which was televised and which resulted in extensive coverage in the Irish Times.
Minister of State for Regional Economic Development Michael Ring has recently written to KIO to confirm that the government has purchased the land on behalf of the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
It will be integrated into the Wicklow National Park, which will, as a result, be expanded to more than 125,000 acres. The purchase of the land for the State protects a vital ‘lung’ for Dublin. It is not only important as a recreational area in itself but it is also vital because of the degree of protection it will give to routes which run South into the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains, particularly across to Seefin, Kippure,Glencree and beyond.
This, Finola, is failure, not success
Finolya Moylette : Failing to grasp the nettle for success
If you ever doubted that some senior Civil Servants live in a bubble of their own illusions, consider this from Finola Moylette, the ultra-cautious and deeply conservative senior official who has chaired Comhairle na Tuaithe (the countryside commission), off and on for more than a decade.
In that time, Ireland has fallen further than ever behind all of our European neighbours in our failure to protect public access to our mountains, lakes, countryside and national monuments. Yet changing access laws is never even discussed at Comhairle meetings chaired by Ms Moylette (the farming reps wouldn’t like it).
Even more pathetically, one of the priorities set for Comhairle seven years ago by long-departed FF Minister Eamon O Cuiv was to establish a national indemnity scheme protecting landowners from potential court cases for damages over injuries to people on their land.
After all this time, there is no such scheme. Talks “continue” with the State Claims Agency, the increasingly inward-looking membership of Comhairle have been told for years. So imagine our surprise when Ms Moylett, while singing CnaT’s praises at a recent conference in Kerry, chimed in with how much she welcomed the “progress” that her toothless quango has made in continuing with talks about the National Indemnity Scheme.
In the real world, Finola, failing to deliver something after seven years of allegedly trying is regarded as dismal, pathetic failure. No amount of hot air and window dressing can alter that fact.
One of the effects of this procrastination is that it has prevented essential repair work to Croagh Patirick because of ongoing concerns about possible claims.
CnaT’s other “success”, she told the Kerry conference, is the number of walks now in the State-sponsored Walks Scheme. She did not mention that Ireland only has a fraction of the number of walks available in other countries; that the millions spent on walks scheme grants nothing in terms of rights to the public as landowners can, and do, pull out whenever they like, rendering whole expensively–built and advertised routes out of bounds.
Is it any wonder that we have such hopeless access laws when changing them is never even discussed by the countryside commission and the chair of that commission dresses up dismal failure as success?
Comhairle na Tuaithe has become increasingly like a weird cult where the very issues regarded as central to access and outdoor pursuits in other countries are permanently off the agenda. It is, consequently, increasingly irrelevant and unable to solve the very issues it was set up to tackle. It will remain so as long as its various cult members all sing each other’s praises to keep the uncomfortable roar of reality from intruding.
Under Finola Moylette’s chairmanship, CnaT has become a dull, ineffectual body where the real issues are seldom discussed, let alone confronted. But then if you are dressing up a decade of failure as success, you really do not have much of a grasp on reality. Nor do you have the right to be taken seriously by the continually short-changed recreational users and visitors to Ireland who pay your substantial salary.
EU Commissioner urged to act over Howth Head access
Battle over threats to access on Howth Head continues
The plot thickens in the ongoing battle by locals to keep as much as possible of Howth Head open to public access.
Since we last reviewed this issue there have been several developments. An Bord Pleanala (ABP) has finally issued a determination on the planning status of two controversial gateposts, following the removal of a gate previously deemed by ABP to have been improperly erected in 2010. Disregarding two recommendations from its own professional staff, ABP now deems these posts to be Exempted Development.
More unsightly wire fencing has recently been erected overlooking the popular Cliff Walk. An Enforcement Representation was submitted to Fingal Co Council. A Section 5 application (a formal request to the council to give is reasons for a planning decision) may be required to clarify the planning status of these unsightly fences.
If the Council’s response favours the fencing, that could then be referred to Bord Pleanala. However, in the light of their previous decision, the prospects for such an appeal seem poor.
Meanwhile, Allenspark Ltd, a company associated with Treasury Holdings, and ABP continue their agreed ‘parking’ in Court of an Application for Judicial Review granted to Allenspart in September 2013. Consequently, there is a court-ordered stay on ‘action being initiated by any person’.
It seems that this stalemate can continue until the parties to the Review conclude their business. In the interim no legal challenge to the status quo is permitted.
Leinster MEP Nessa Childers has been in contact with EU Environment and Marine Commissioner Karmenu Vella regarding the conflict at East Mountain. We understand Fingal County Council will develop and implement conservation strategy for this dry heathland, which is within the Howth SAAO Area and the UNESCO Dublin Bay Biosphere.
Progress needed to protect pilgrim paths
There are a number of Pilgrim paths still physically open for access – not necessarily for their original purpose!
The one that readily comes to mind is the path to the top of Croagh Patrick, the maintenance of which has become increasingly problematic because of confusion over who actually owns much of the mountain.
You may be surprised to know that none of the existing pilgrim paths are listed in county plans as public rights of way. Therefore, like any other access route, they have no legal protection and can be closed at any time, without notice, by the landowner. As most of these paths go back many centuries they must surely come within the ambit of what the courts here and in the UK refer to as “time immemorial”, thereby deeming them to be public rights of way. In the coming months we intend to make further efforts to have them listed.
A similar situation arises in respect of mass paths and paths to mass rocks and holy wells. While many of these don’t go back as far as most of the pilgrim paths, it should be possible to designate them and some have already been listed. However, the problem here is that nowadays few are used for their original purpose and many have fallen into disuse and will eventually become unidentifiable and thus lost for ever. We rely on you, our members on the ground, to let us know about these paths in your vicinity.
Erecting ugly fencing no longer so simple
In another plain waste of taxpayers’ largesse, the Department of Agriculture has made a substantial tranche of public money available to landowners in the form of grants for sheep fencing, much of it ugly and completely unnecessary.
However, it’s not all bad news. In order to get a grant for ordinary farmland, the landowner must now get either planning permission or an exemption from having to apply for it. Better still, in Special Areas of Conservation, Special Protection Areas or Natura 2000 habitats new or replacement fencing now always requires planning permission. Most of the uplands and other areas of rough grazing are in these areas.
Hopefully, these obstacles may deter farmers from applying for, and erecting, the kind of ugly and unnecessary fencing now despoiling so much of our countryside.
KIO has had some notable planning successes in having permission refused. So please continue to send us instances where an application is made for fencing or fencing is actually taking place.
More being lured here under false pretences
Foreign walkers, just like our own, have very few rights
On July 7, Junior Heritage Minister Michael Ring was asked in the Dail if the Walks Scheme could be used more effectively to boost tourism in rural areas.
He didn’t answer the question but said that figures produced by Fáilte Ireland demonstrate that, in 2014, close to 1.2 million overseas visitors coming to Ireland engaged in recreational walking. The total spent here by them was about €915 million, up €265 million on 2013. The figure for 2015 is expected to top €1 billion.
These figures do not include the substantial number of domestic holidaymakers engaging in hiking or walking.
All of which begs the question: how many of those well-intentioned foreign holidaymakers were aware that they have fewer rights to walk, cycle or visit national monuments, lakes or rivers here than in any of the other countries in which they could have spent their holidays. We think many of them have been lured here by Failte Ireland under totally false pretences.
Learning from the Welsh experience
A letter published in the Irish Times on August 1 2016 gives food for thought:
Wales has about 20 per cent of its territory in national parks; Ireland, with similar terrain has less than 1 per cent.
Here in Wales, the national parks are excellently run, with recreational users well catered for, whereas in Ireland’s national parks, facilities for such users are inadequate or barely adequate. Here’s one major explanation for this disparity: in Wales and Britain generally, land remains in private hands, while in Ireland, the State purchases every square inch, leaving little over for the necessary infrastructure.
This is a point missed by Mountaineering Ireland in its letter about the Dublin Mountains (letters, July 25th) which assumes all land for national parks must be purchased by the State. Not so! Measures can be introduced to allow public access over private land, as has been done over much of Europe. This would not be repugnant to the Constitution, as those who oppose any measure to improve public access claim; However it is a convenient excuse for doing nothing.
What Government lacks is the backbone to take on landowners, primarily farmers, whose sturdy independence does not preclude the acceptance of immense largesse from the same taxpayers who are granted peanuts in the form of inadequate access to their land in return. As long as this state of affairs continues, Ireland will lag far behind other European countries, with grave implications for tourism and recreation generally.
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 email@example.com|
|Inga Bock||Donegal Local Development Company ltd.||Bluestack Way, Sliabh Liag||074 9744937 or firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Ann Lanigan||Laois Community & Enterprise Development Co Ltd.||Slieve Bloom Way||057 8661900 or email@example.com|
|Deirdre Kennedy||Co Sligo LEADER Partnership Company ltd.||Sligo Way, Miner’s Way||071 9141138 or firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Amanda Mee||Roscommon Integrated Development Company||Suck Valley, Rinn Duinn, Miner’s Way||090 66 30252 or email@example.com|
|Una Doris||Roscommon Integrated Development Company||Suck Valley, Rinn Duinn, Miner’s Way||090 66 30252 or firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Patricia Deane||South Kerry Development Partnership ltd.||Kerry Way, Cosán Cuas na nEighe, Hag’s Glen Loop at Carrountoohill, Beara Way||066 9761615 or email@example.com|
|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 firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Patricia Bevan||West Cork Development Partnership||Beara Islands, Duhallow Way, Beara Way, Sheeps Head Way (including Whiddy Island Walk)||027-52266 or email@example.com|
|Pat Mellon||County Wicklow Partnership||Wicklow Way||0402-20955 or firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Rosaleen Ni Shuilleabhain||FORUM Connemara ltd. (Galway)||Slí Connemara, Western Way||091 593410 or email@example.com|
|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 firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Eoin Hogan||Clare Local Development Company ltd.||Burren Way, Wood Loop Ballyvaughan, Black Head Loop, Cliffs of Moher||065 6866800 or email@example.com|
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 : firstname.lastname@example.org
Links to Affiliated organisations
Catholic Girl Guides of Ireland
Countrywide Hillwalkers Association
Friends of the Irish environment