Newsletter No 40 Winter 2010
Predictable end to pious hopes
MINISTER Eamon O Cuiv doubtless had the best of intentions when he announced his ’voluntary’ scheme whereby landowners would solve the access conundrum in an uncharacteristic burst of generosity and far-sightedness.
Now that it is plain his hopes have been misplaced, we need to move to legislate to protect public access without delay. If Mr O Cuiv is to retain any credibility, he must follow through on his threat to the farming organisations to the effect that he would legislate unless they began actively selling his voluntary code.
At a bare minimum this legislation must establish a reasonable means of establishing a right to walk across private land. It must protect existing walking routes by registering them and requiring either local authorities or a commission established for the purpose to protect them on behalf of the public. It must enshrine the right to travel freely on the uplands and to access rivers, lakes and seashores.
Ideally, legislation would take a leaf from the Scottish Land Reform Act of 2003, which allows free access to almost all of the countryside and has been working a treat since its introduction.
You’re running out of time, Minister
Minister Eamon O Cuiv
IT IS now six months since Minister Eamon O Cuiv announced that he had a plan which would solve 80 to 90pc of the access problems in the country “within a year”.
In the intervening period, neither of the two pilot schemes—one at Carauntuohill in Co Kerry and another at Mount Gable in Mr O Cuiv’s own Co Galway constituency—have been completed. The notion that landowners would “flock” to offer walks once these pilots were seen to be a success has so far not come to pass.
Despite the warning from Mr O Cuiv to the farming organisations that he would have no choice but to move to introduce legislation underpinning a right of cess for walkers unless they co-operated, there has been little sign so far that his threat has been taken seriously.
Under the scheme, local communities would voluntarily establish routes to the uplands, lakes and areas of natural beauty and historical or scientific interest. They would be given advice on setting up trails and publicising them by Mr O Cuiv’s Department of the Gaeltacht and Rural Affairs and Fáilte Ireland would help with advice on marketing.
See Comment above
Join us at the AGM on April 24
THIS year’s AGM will be held on Saturday, April 24 at the An Oige HQ in Mountjoy Street, Dublin 7. Business will commence at 11.30am. There will be coffee from 11am. We have invited Environment Minister John Gormley to speak on his proposals for updating rights-of-way legislation – and why these are taking so long to implement.
If the minister cannot attend, it is expected that he will send one of his senior advisors along to address the meeting in his stead.
Your country(side) needs you
We need your time. KIO is now at a crucial juncture in our campaign to secure the kind of responsible access to the countryside already enjoyed by almost every other country in Europe.
We need your help on our committee. In particular, we need people willing to put time and energy into communicating effectively with the media and our membership; monitoring county development plans and lobbying councilors to change them so as to include public access.
We also need volunteers willing to work on the ground dealing with local access problems and with ongoing problems where open land has been fenced.
If you think you can help please come to our AGM for a brainstorming session.
Walkers welcome in Anglesey
David Herman contrasts the generous access to land in Wales with the position here in Ireland
The sign on the water barrel outside this house in Anglesey, which has a public pathway passing the door, says your dog is welcome to a drink from the barrel and that the house owner hopes you have an enjoyable walk
Anglesey is about the size of county Dublin and is an agricultural area with a mixed urban and rural population, much like Westmeath, say.
However, unlike Westmeath or any other Irish county, Anglesey has 1100km of rights of way, covering all areas of the county in a dense network. These rights of way are almost exclusively footpaths, not as in so many cases here, roads, even main roads, masquerading as walking routes.
The coastal path, about 200km long, is in excellent condition, with stiles, gates, boardwalks over boggy areas, steps, signposts and all the rest. It is enjoyed by a large number of casual walkers and their dogs. However, off the coastal path conditions are far from ideal with only 48% of the footpaths usable. The reason is not that they are blocked by landowners, as you might expect in Ireland. It is that they have been unused for so long (not surprising given the extent of the usable network) that many sections have reverted to nature.
I am in a voluntary weekly work party clearing blocked footpaths and you’d be amazed how much fun we have hacking our way through dense gorse, trees and brambles and then installing stiles and all the rest of the infrastructure. Incidentally, there are 7,600 items of furniture along the existing network: it’s not simply a case of giving legal rights without making the countryside walkable.
The local council’s aim is to have usable footpaths available close to every resident’s door; they claim that has already been achieved for half of the country’s walkers. The council are also interested in providing easy footpaths for the less-abled (elderly and those recovering from heart attacks) and have organised a series of guided walks from seven or so urban centres, every week, all year round to encourage such people.
The council can and does create new footpaths by offering landowners the agricultural rate to buy land, which amounts to a one-off payment of one or a few pounds per square metre. If landowners don’t like the proposed right of way they can go to arbitration but since they usually come off worse there, nearly all settle without argument.
Idyllic, you may say. Certainly by Irish standards, it is. However this is the norm everywhere in England and Wales and farther afield.
I am left wondering how it is that two nations with a common legal history, a similar terrain and close racial ties can diverge so fundamentally that something that is resisted to the bitter end in Ireland can be settled virtually without dissent in Wales.
AN increasing number of walkers are becoming outraged at the damage caused by quad bikers in the countryside and national parks. If you encounter quad bikers in the Wicklow Mountains National Park phone the Duty Ranger on 087-9803899. Please propagate widely.
Germans castigate ‘fortress’ Ireland
Bantry Bay used to illustrate German blog which tackles myth of ‘open’ Ireland
GERMAN outdoor enthusiasts are carrying on an increasingly strident debate over the lack protections for public access in Ireland.
Germany has a long tradition of strong laws protecting the right of public access to nature, to the mountains, lakes and countryside and a popular German bloggers’ website makes it plain that visitors to Ireland are not at all impressed at the uncertainty that they face here.
If you follow the web link: http://irland-erleben.blogspot.com/2009/09/tipps-zum-wandern-in-irland-9. you will get a flavour of how angry and disappointed some visitors have become. The article is in German but there is a Google Translator in the upper left column of the webpage to translate roughly into English.
German visitors are not alone in their disgust at the Irish government’s failure to provide legal safeguards for the right of public access. In recent weeks Keep Ireland Open has received letters and emails from English and American visitors venting their frustration at finding routes blocked and a singular lack of action by local councils or central government to do anything about this.
One letter to Failte Ireland’s walking tourism manager Eithne Murphy even prompted a response from Gaeltacht and Rural Affairs Minister Eamon O Cuiv. American attorney James B Richardson Jr wrote to Ms Murphy in October castigating her for claims that there were no access problems here. He described his own unfortunate experiences while trying to walk a popular route at Goughagan Barra in West Cork and how he and a party of four other walkers were forced to leave the Dingle Way repeatedly and take their chances on the busy R559 road because the route has been blocked by landowners. He added: “I personally will do all that I can to alert the innocent walking tourists of Europe and America that Ireland continues to fail woefully as a destination for the serious calking community because of its refusal even to acknowledge, must less to fix, the problem of access to the countryside.”
Mr Richardson’s letter comes as a growing number of British walkers have been contacting Keep Ireland Open to complain about the lack of clarity regarding access and the shortage of walking guides and the kind of signage normally found in other European countries.
Farewell to KIO stalwart Eddie
We are sorry to have to record the death of Eddie McGrane, a staunch supporter of KIO and someone who was always prepared to assert the right of walkers to enjoy our priceless heritage of mountain, seascape and countryside.
Eddie’s life was intimately tied up with An Oige, an organisation to which he devoted his considerable talents. There is a story of two Jehovah Witnesses arriving on his doorstep in Dublin. The two emerged some time later, without having made a convert but instead weighed down with loads of An Oige literature!
Eddie’s An Oige trips to all parts of the world were legendary and his attention to detail and formidable organisational skills meant he could manage large groups in even remote, third-world countries.
We extend our condolences to his widow Ressa.
Ramblers hold the line
A MOTION for the Irish Ramblers to rejoin the MCI (now Mountaineering Ireland) was defeated by a large majority, so large that no count was taken.
The Ramblers left MI a couple of years ago because of that organisation’s failure to take a stand on the need for access legislation.
The proposer was someone who is employed part-time by MI. MI President Joss Lynam was at the AGM, for only the second time in the history of the Ramblers, but seems to have proved singularly unpersuasive.
Growing anger over €4 per walker charge
€4 per walker to reach eskatarriff mountain (above0 via the popular Cummeengeera ridge
ANGER is growing over a farmer in Kerry who is charging €4 per person to gain access to a popular mountain ridge walk.
Dan Healy and his family have also been accused of demanding money from walkers who walked the route from other starting points but passed over his land on their way back.
The Healys describe the charge as “a parking fee” but this is plainly untrue since they levy it on each person arriving at their remote farm and have been known to demand €20 from the driver of a car with five people aboard. The Healys farm on one of the main access routes to the popular Cummeengeera horseshoe walk, which takes in a number of spectactular mountains, including Eskatarriff, Bireca and Lackabane.
One KIO member who was accosted by the Healys described their attempts to make him pay to walk as “a ridiculous scam”. Joe Wilson, who lives in Enniskerry, says he and his wife were Liz refused to pay up after they drove down the lonely boreen a kilometre west of Lauragh on the Kerry side of the Caha mountains.
“It is nothing less than extortion that walkers are harassed for money just to access this popular route,” says Joe. “I would encourage anybody walking it to refuse to pay and to say why – because the mountains are part of our national heritage and nobody has the moral right to charge for access to them.”
Other walkers have spoken of being afraid for the safety of their vehicles if they refuse to pay.
Most of the Cummeengeera horseshoe does not pass over the Healys’ land. They merely own land over which walkers pass to reach the ridge.
You’re our eyes and ears
IF you know of walking routes which are being blocked or closed please let KIO know. We need to constantly update our data base so that we can make the government, local councils and Failte Ireland aware of the extent of the problem. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Landmark case adjourned again
The land mark case over the closure of the popular Old Coach Road route in the Glencree Valley has been adjourned again until April 13 over a legal technicality. The judge will rule on that day over whether or not the Attorney General needs to be brought into the case. He will then set a date for the full hearing to proceed. Landowner Joe Walker is sueing two members of the Enniskerry walking Association, chairman Niall Lenoach and Secretary Noel Barry, in his bid to close the route.
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 email@example.com);
Deirdre Kennedy (tel: 071 9141138, Fax 071 9141162; mobile 087 6695808);
Martin Dunn (tel: 0906 488292; email firstname.lastname@example.org);
Maria Munckhof (tel: 066 9472724 -064 41930; mobile: 087 2957780; email: email@example.com;
Con Ryan (tel: 062 33360; mobile 087 0556465; email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
James O’Mahoney (tel: 023 34035; mobiles 0870556465 and 0870556465); email: email@example.com;
Pat Mellon (tel: 0404 46977; mobile 087 7888188) email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
Thomás Mac Gearailt (tel: 091 593410/091 523945; mobile: 087 0521339) email: email@example.com;
Tom Carolan (tel: 094 9366692; mobile: 087 2196930) email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
Eimear McCarthy (tel: 094 9366692; mobile: 086 0495041); email: 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