Newsletter No 27
Editorial : A cause for some optimism
Reading through previous issues of this newsletter it is sometimes hard to see any reason for optimism, what with the unwillingness of national and most local authorities to do anything useful on access, and the pretence by some tourism interests that all is well, these being only two examples of current discouragements. And yet… and yet time and changing circumstances are on our side. Take agriculture. The number of farmers is in terminal decline, especially in marginal land, the area which most recreational users are interested in. Though at present lacking the ability to see further than their noses, farmers (or more properly their representatives) might at long last come to the conclusion that agri-tourism could offer an alternative to agriculture. After all, this is what has happened in many countries in Western Europe. In addition, the onus for supporting farmers is increasingly falling on the Irish taxpayer and less on the EU. With farmers now entering an era where they are being given grants solely for being in possession of land, the Irish taxpayer might demand a little more than generalised invitations from Agri_Aware (the propaganda wing of the IFA) to visit the countryside while individual farmers resolutely block access. The government, if it so wished, might be emboldened to apply cross-compliance measures to farmers. Put bluntly: no access, no grant. And there is the EU itself. It has a presumption in favour of the recreational use of the countryside. Thanks to KIO a measure against excessive fencing is wending its labyrinthine way through the corridors of EU bureaucracy and while access is assuredly going to be a long-term measure at EU level, it might encourage the Irish government to do more than wring its hands. Then there is the media, Walking World Ireland in particular and the national newspapers are generally in favour of our stance on access and are prepared to call on KIO representatives and give the issue an airing when appropriate. Given the hostile attitude of others at national and local level, this is valuable moral support. Lastly, there is the attitude of recreational users themselves. Walkers who go abroad must see the vastly better – and still improving facilities in other countries and they cannot help wondering what exactly is so different here. Indeed there is anecdotal evidence of Irish walkers going to Wales, now less than two hours from Dublin, rather than face a walking holiday fraught with uncertainty, especially in the West of Ireland. So yes, we have an uphill struggle but with every prospect of success, a success that will be brought forward by your support and encouragement.
No money for access – It’s official.
In response to a query from KIO, Minister O’Cuiv has stated in writing (7th October ’05) and unequivocally:
‘As I have explained previously, my department will not be providing funding from state sources to pay for access to land either directly or indirectly. I hope that this clarifies the issue.’
It certainly does. It also leaves the IFA and those who welcome d their attempted smash and grab raid on the public purse with egg on their faces.
Right of Way and Access routes in Wicklow.
It was entirely predictable that Wicklow County Council, having raised the hare of access routes and the listing of Rights of Way, should make an ignominious retreat at the first sign of trouble from the landowners. Not only that, they would not even list the access routes that ran through state and semi-state land. So now it appears to the council that listing Rights of Way in the county would be ‘premature’, in spite of growing signs of long walked and much loved routes disappearing. Instead, a ‘walking strategy’ (or it might be better called ‘a walking away from the problem strategy’) with an open-ended timescale is to be considered. Breath-holding inadvisable.
Fencing and the EU
As already reported, Ireland is in breach of a EU Directive regarding fencing of upland areas. The EU has recently contacted us looking for further information and photographs as they are about to commence proceedings against Ireland on this issue.
At our behest, the Green Party has agrees to adopt a Countryside Policy based on the principle of supports for the rural community as a whole and not just farmers/landowners. This policy will incorporate mandatory listing of Rights of Way and Freedom to Roam over upland areas. We will be closely involved in the actual wording of the policy. We intend to lobby other political parties.
Comhairle na Tuaithe (C na T)
The Irish Country Milk Suppliers Association made a very interesting presentation to C na T on Rights of Way, which is very close to our policy. They advocate countrywide listing of Rights of Way over a five-year period with a system of arbitration for resolving disputes. This contrasts very favourably with the IFA’s attitude. C na T is presently at a standstill pending the evaluation of the responses to their advertisement seeking submissions from recreation users and clubs/associations.
County Waterford Walking Strategy
Waterford County Council have just published their walking strategy called Step by Step, a Walking Strategy for County Waterford (www.waterfordcoco.ie). This strategy calls for registration and mapping of public Rights of Way.
Mourne Mountains National Park
The Mourne Mountains, including their farmed foothills, are to become a national park, the first in Northern Ireland. Announcing this in late October, the North’s environment minister said that access to the countryside was ‘fundamental’ because it belongs to us all. This is a sentiment that we in KIO of course endorse and wish that ministers nearer home would adopt the same attitude.
Clearing obstructed Rights of Way
Just another example of how far we are behind England and Wales (250,000 km of legal Rights of Way) is illustrated by the introduction of new laws that give more power to the walker to remove obstructions from Rights of Way. Already, recreational users all over England and Wales have been using the new procedures to remove obstructions from Rights of Way: there have been successful cases in many areas where paths have been blocked for years and are now usable. For further information see wwww.ramblers.org.uk/footpaths/problems
Meeting with Minister for State (Forestry)
At a recent meeting with John Browne, TD, Minister for State (Forestry) we stressed the need for Coillte to adopt a conciliatory approach in dealing with the reasonable requests of local authorities for designation of walking tracks, which were there before the forestry, as Rights of Way. We also expressed our concern with the voluntary nature of Coillte’s “Open Forest” policy particularly as there is a real risk that access could be denied if Coillte was to be privatised. In the present political climate this could be a real possibility. Our situation contrasts with the law in England and Wales where all forest tracks have been dedicated as public Rights of Way. We subsequently met senior officials from Coillte to whom we expressed our concerns. On the positive side Coillte have agreed to make every effort to negotiate a settlement with Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown County Council on the listing of Rights of Way, which they objected to in the DLR Development Plan. Also, Coillte’s recent publication, Recreational Policy – Healty Forests, Healthy Nation (wwww.coillte.ie) and their proposed joint venture with Fáilte Ireland are worth noting (even if they are based on permissive and voluntary access).
A National Countryside Recreational Strategy
Late in October Comhairle na Tuaithe(C na T), the body set up by Minister O’Cuiv to resolve the access issue, invited submissions for a national countryside strategy. This is rather strange since C na T has been labouring at great expense for nearly 2 years now; we all thought its purpose was to come up with just such a strategy. However, its only result so far has been a glossy brochure featuring a countryside code and a section on access detailing the rights of landowners and the (unfilled) needs and aspirations of recreational users. Not a whisper of legislation. Nevertheless, KIO, a member of C na T, will be making a submission.
Man fined for intimidating walkers.
An elderly man who became abusive to people walking along a foreshore was fined €800 and warned that he could be facing a prison sentence if he ever intimidated people there again. Judge Mary Fahy in Galway District Court told Patrick Holland of Clarenbridge, Co. Galway on 10th November ’05 that life was too short and he could not take the foreshore with him. Holland pleaded guilty to two counts of breaching the peace at Ballycourty on November 13th last year and again on the 13th January 2005. While KIO welcomes the judge’s sentiments, it is however another example of where the substantive issue has not been addressed. That is, does a right of way exist and have the public a legal right to walk the foreshore?
Trouble in Wicklow
Ballinrush track in the Wicklow mountains runs near Pier Gates to Lough Dan. It is a beautiful walk high above the valley of the Cloghoge River and has been used by walkers for at least 60 years and probably for centuries. There has been minor trouble here in the recent past but now the gate on the Sally Gap Road near Pier Gates has been firmly blocked off and there are hostile notices. We can, as usual rely on Wicklow Country Council to do nothing about this so who is going to take action. Or is this popular track going to join all the others lost because of the local authorities’ ineptitude and cowardice?
Access problem in the Comeraghs
The owners of Crotty’s Llough, a spectacular coum on the eastern rim of the Comeraghs, had their plans for an eco-tourism project rejected by Waterford County Council. Now they have blocked walkers from their land around the coum. So, another case of: “I haven’t got my way with the authorities so now I will use my power to take it out on walkers”. Local clubs are now reportedly appealing to all walkers to stay clear ‘to avoid aggravating the situation’! So walkers have decided not to disturb the very people who carried out this vindictive action. Why is this? Why aren’t they kicking up a rumpus? The reason is simple: if they complain other farmers could well threaten to block off still more land! This is another example of how access problems are hidden and the pretence allowed to continue that all is well.
Incident on Bray Head
A correspondent writes:
Recently I was walking near the cross on Bray Head, an area that attracts many strollers, lots of them foreigners. One man with an American accent asked me if he could, after walking directly from Bray to the cross, come back to the town another way. There is no signposting anywhere in this areas to guide strollers so I could only hazard a guess that he might be able to find his way back to the Bray-Greystones road and hence to Bray but I had no idea if the tracks if they existed were open.
KIO had a letter in pride of place in the Irish Times of 19th August, which was unfortunately just too late to report in the last newsletter. It outlined just what the IFA’s Countryside Walkways Plan really means if it is to be implemented in any meaningful way – a colossal expense to the state for little in return. This was only one of a number of letters that were overwhelmingly supportive of KIO’s position. Judging by the volume of articles and letters in the newspapers over the autumn there is growing concern about the deterioration in Ireland’s tourism outside Dublin. Access to the countryside was mentioned in many of these communications. For instance one of the organisers of the Wilderness Adventure Racing Championship, Greg Clarke, who saw the championship going to Scotland said, “People come to Ireland assuming they have the same Rights of Way as in the UK and are surprised to find themselves confronted with hostility”. A KIO representative was extensively quoted in the same article (Irish Times 15th August ’05). A long correspondence on access continues in Walking World Ireland, prompted by troubles over disputed Rights of Way in Glencree, County Wicklow. It revolves mainly around the ‘softly softly’ approach advocated by Joss Lynam (Waymarked Ways/MCI) and a more robust attitude, involving a degree of coercion advocated by most other correspondents. Mr Lynam is looking for an ‘Irish solution to an Irish problem’, though he frankly admits that he doesn’t know what that might be. It could be said that most ‘Irish solutions’ are in fact European solutions but come a few decades later; this will probably be the case in the issue of access.
Wishing all KIO members a very Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year. Also, many thanks to our members for their continued financial support and donations, especially Dublin CHA who once again have been extremely generous over the last year.
Rose Barnes – It is with great sadness that we report the death of Rose who was one of our founder members. Rose was, right up to the time of her death, the leading light in the Killarney Nature Conservation Group. She will be sadly missed.
Irish Ramblers Club and MCI
We have notice a recent report that one of our founder members, the Ramblers, one of the oldest and largest hill walking clubs in Ireland, have disaffiliated from the MCI. This was over several issues, of which access to the countryside/uplands was the most important. See www.TheRamblers.ie for further details.
Walking the Dog
How do I walk my dog responsibly in the countryside is a question often asked by KIO members. The first thing that we should point out to all dog owners and handlers is that while a dog may seem to be very friendly to most members of the public, in the countryside , a horse, cyclist, farm animal or wildlife in its vicinity may have a very different effect on the dog. The legal position in Ireland is outlined in the Control of Dogs Act 1986, Section 9. This clearly states that ‘an owner or any person in charge of a dog shall not permit the dog to be in any place .. unless such owner or other such person in charge of the dog accompanies it and keeps it under effective control’. The onus of responsibility for the control of the dog is clearly on the dog owner or the person in control of the dog. As a general rule on paths and trails you should keep your dog on a lead if you cannot rely on its obedience. On forest tracks keep a lookout for horses and cyclists and it is always better to put your dog on a lead as they come past. On open and upland areas it is advisable to use a fixed lead no more than two metres long at all times when near livestock. You may also find that dogs are required to be kept on a lead or are excluded from environmentally sensitive areas, wildlife habitats or from lambing enclosures at lambing times. Owners and handlers should be especially careful around livestock. If your dog attacks or chases livestock you may be ordered to pay compensation or have the dog destroyed. You should always respect official signs restricting access with your dog and respect for other users of the countryside is the underlying principle.
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