Newsletter No. 18 : February 2003

AS A RIGHT, NOT A FAVOUR

A conference sponsored by the Mountaineering Council of Ireland and the Heritage Council took place in Sligo in last October, at which KIO was represented and came in for a ritual bashing. The sponsors saw fit to give a platform to men who have been found guilty in Court of assaulting walkers (one of whom has also blocked off a public beach for over a decade). Nonetheless we hope that their efforts to establish upland forums in the West, along the lines of the one KIO help to establish in Wicklow, are successful. However, there is one significant omission in all the bonhomie between walkers and farmers evident in Sligo. There was no talk of rights - the rights of walkers. The line was that, in the short term, if walkers show proper respect, then farmers will condescend to allow walkers - chosen walkers - to walk their land. In the longer term society will eventually have to pay for the privilege. This is emphatically not the way it works elsewhere in Europe. There, over suitable terrain, recreational users have rights, legal rights. They do not have to worry that they may be turned away for any reason or none. Nor is society expected to foot the bill for normal access arrangements. How different are conditions here in Ireland where we have rights only over little more than the 1 per cent of land in National Parks. This is where KIO is important. No other national body is working for rights for recreational users, for rights which other Europeans take for granted. No other body is prepared to put the case for recreational users to Government or to research what is happening elsewhere. As for the love-in in Sligo, it's easy to enjoy harmonious relations when you are prepared to accept an inferior place and beg for crumbs. However, count us out on this cosy consensus.

AN ERROR

We made an error in the editorial of our last newsletter. This stated that the Irish Times had claimed that farmers were generally supportive of hill walkers and that we disputed this. What the Irish Times actually wrote was that the IFA was generally so supportive and this is what we should have disputed. KIO's position, many times repeated, is that farmers are generally decent enough in allowing access, but that the IFA, and indeed the major farm organisations generally, have been hostile to any move to legalise rights for recreational users and have supported individual farmers, no matter how reprehensible their actions against walkers. DONATIONS We are pleased to acknowledge two substantial donations, one from the CHA Club and another from an individual member. These donations are most encouraging and will be put to good use.

THE MEDIA

Our Chairman, Roger Garland had a long feature article in the Irish Times of 18 January. It gave in detail all our present concerns and the serious affect present access problems are having on the important outdoor recreational element of our tourism industry. The accompanying photo showed one of the 'keep out' signs erected by farmers in the Three Sisters area of the Dingle Peninsula We could hardly have asked for better publicity. The 2003 annual of Walking World Ireland had a letter from a Belgian writer on hill walking topics. He stated that he regretfully had to recommend the Pembrokeshire Coast Path rather than the Beara Way because of access problems on the latter. He ended with the plea: 'the sooner this access problem stops, the better'. These particular problems have been solved (for the moment) but as an editorial note points out, the perception lingers far longer than the problem itself. And for every tourist who relates a negative experience four potential visitors decide not to visit Ireland because of what they have heard ( and that's according to the Irish Hotels Federation). 'Ear to the Ground', the RTE1 TV series primarily for the farming community, ran a programme on walking routes in November. It mainly focused on the long walks and the on-going problems faced by walkers which highlights the limitations of these permissive rights of way. On 22nd December the Sunday Tribune ran an article on the court case (see elsewhere) in which the landowner at Uggool was prosecuted for assaulting a walker. The article, by the normally perceptive Brenda Power, was heavily weighed in favour of the landowner and prominently featured comments from our Chairman, Roger Garland, pulled out of context and greatly distorting our position. We wrote a letter in response but it was not published. We are investigating what further can be done. The Sunday Times also ran a balanced article about this court case. The Farmers Journal also had a long article on this Court case. Of course we all know where the FJ is coming from so it was no surprise that it took the farmers side. However, unlike the Tribune this newspaper is prepared to give KIO a right of reply and we took it, with a well reasoned article by a KIO member living in the area. KIO had a letter in the Irish Times, deploring the substantial decrease in the Budget allocation to the Ombudsman. We rely very much on the office to get some action from county councils in particular. Also in the Times, a member Declan White drew attention to the fact that areas of our countryside were blocked off and that he now intended to walk in Great Britain where conditions were so much more favourable. We followed this up with a letter supporting Mr White.

THE POLITICAL SCENE

We have been attempting since the election to get an interview with the Minister for Tourism, Mr John O'Donoghue to discuss the present deteriorating situation on accessing the countryside. After getting the usual acknowledgement and no further action we finally received a letter stating that some of his officials could talk to us about "walkways". Needless to say we had already made it perfectly clear that we wanted to talk about a much wider agenda. We later wrote to the Minister pointing out what this wider agenda is: the favourable situation for walkers in the rest of Europe, the importance agri-tourism might have as agriculture declines, the lack of guaranteed access to national monuments etc * * * We met the FG representative on the Environment, Mr Bernard Allen, in December. We asked him to suggest to FG councillors throughout the country that they support the inclusion of rights of way in county development plan. This is something councils have been extremely reluctant to do and even more reluctant to stand over once right of way status is challenged by landowners. We also reminded Mr Allen of the parlous legal situation facing recreational users in this jurisdiction. Mr Allen, who is himself a hill walker, was generally supportive. As we go to press, we have just met Eamon Gilmore and Ciaran Cuffe, spokesmen for the Labour Party and the Green Party respectively. Both meetings proved very worthwhile and further policy discussions are arranged for the near future.

A GUIDEBOOK DOES NOT BITE THE DUST … HOPEFULLY

A group of citizens of Enniskerry got together to publish a little guidebook 'Ten Walks in the District of Enniskerry'. They did it with no thought of gain and purely in the interests of their community. They thought they had taken care not to offend local landowners' susceptibilities by not including routes where there might be problems. At the launch of the book on 20 November, Liz McManus, a local TD and deputy leader of the Labour Party, and Roger Garland, our Chairman spoke. So did two aggrieved landowners, neither of whom were invited. They were polite but the bottom line was that they threatened legal action if the routes to which they objected were not withdrawn. Sad to say, one of the objectors is himself a hill walker who has never been known to object to crossing other peoples' land. Lesson: If you intend to write a guide book for walkers in Ireland stick to the National Parks (1 percent of the total land area), and the long distance walks, which hardly need a guide book. Anywhere else and you court the courts! Indeed, recently there has been a marked drop in the number of walking guide books available, at a time when the numbers walking are booming. The guide book was discussed at a recent meeting of the Wicklow Uplands Council Environment & Recreational Panel and it was decided that some members of the panel should meet the authors in an attempt to resolve any difficulties that may arise from the publishing of the book.

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION

KIO looked for and obtained correspondence on access to the countryside from both the Department of Tourism and Bord Failte. We acknowledge that the information came without fuss and as far as we can see is comprehensive within a limited ambit. But how comprehensive? For instance a long letter to the Department about the difficulty of accessing the Three Sisters area of Kerry was not released to us, and we only found out about it because we received a copy of the letter from the author. So how much more is missing? However what we did get illuminates both the Department's and Bord Failte's thinking. The Department's is complacent in the extreme. They think that there are minimal problems and therefore no need to talk to us, especially since we are 'extremists'. To be fair they did look at some of our concerns but dismissed them. They did not consider the many access problems that we detailed to be serious, they did not consider the effect these problems might have on tourism, they did not consider that other European countries have, or are implementing, legal measures to increase access. The line seemed to be: landowners must not be disturbed even to the extent of giving legal right to recreational users to cross remote bogland. It's all very sad. Bord Failte is another matter altogether. BFE are worried, far more worried than their bland correspondence with us and their 'no problem' advertising would suggest. BFE realise the importance of hill walking tourists and are concerned at the negative impression bad publicity brings. They even seem to be prepared to do something about it, though the lines are predictable ie pay the landowners for fear of a constitutional challenge (the assumption that there are constitutional implications is of course untested). Here's another point: it appears that neither organisation has all its information on access to the countryside in one file. How then are they ever going to know the extent of the problem and where the worst problems are? Maybe they intend to rely on the 'extremists' in KIO!

NEW ACCESS PROBLEMS & LETTERS ACCESS

Ballinrush, co Wicklow The track in this area is beside Pier Gates and leads by a lovely route almost to the shores of Lough Dan. It has been used by generations of walkers. About a year ago 'keep out' signs appeared at the entrance gate and at points farther along the track. We have been keeping an eye on this in the hope that the signs were temporary. However we are now led to the conclusion that they are not and this has been confirmed when walkers in the area have been confronted by the landowner. This is a serious case which could block off a most scenic area. We cannot afford to let it go without a struggle.

Uggool, Co Mayo Yes, Uggool once again. Having blocked off the beach many years ago the landowner has now blocked off the car park above the beach. All the while Mayo county council has done everything possible except take any action which might be effective. Now the Ombudsman, at the behest (once again) of KIO has intervened again to put more pressure on the council. The case goes on ….and on and on.

LETTERS (Names & Addresses with Editor)

Kerry & Munster Way - Offer from non hostile farmer Last August my wife and I walked most of the Kerry Way, meeting hardly anyone on our trek, a sad reflection of the missed potential of this activity. However there seems to be something seriously amiss in the Kenmare - Sneem section. The route has been deliberately blocked, the walker being forced back up onto the public road, which is extremely dangerous for walking on. This is a totally unacceptable manner in which to treat visitors. How can an established way properly marked on the map, just be blocked like that.? As an example of what should happen I intend offering that the newly opened ( without consultation ) road bound section of the Munster Way, which skirts our property up on the Sugarloaf in the Knockmealdowns, is as soon as possible re routed across the North face of the mountain on our property, thus creating a new off road section between the Gap and the Vee. This can be done very simply by making use of the old turf drawing paths from the past!. The fact that no one even considered asking if this could be done seems to indicate the a rather demoralized state of the administration of the Way scheme. By the way, as a non hostile farmer, I can tell you that the way to solve this issue is to make very certain at EU level, that the coming switch of subsidies from a numbers of stock basis to a nominal basis called de-coupling, will include a mandatory provision of Open access to traditional pathways. This walking issue and the gross miss use of the wild salmon resource are two areas in which we are stupidly shooting ourselves in the foot in this country, probably to the tune of several hundred million Euro each.

West Cork I was interested to learn of your organisation through Roger Garland's article in last Saturday's Irish Times. I have downloaded a membership application - both my wife and I would like to join KIO. In the meantime, I would value some advice. We live in West Cork and do a reasonable amount of walking. One of our occasional walks is in Rathbarry, near Roscarberry. Recently, Rathbarry Castle has been renovated (we think by a private individual) and in the process, a walking path has been blocked off. We believe this to be a right of way as it is marked in an Ordinance Survey map. The walk is also described in Kevin Corcoran's book of walks in West Cork. Those blocking the path have gone to some lengths to disguise what they have done. Can you suggest what we might do to find out if blocking off of this path is legal or illegal? If illegal, what's the best way of dealing with the situation? Keep up the good work.

Wicklow HeadI learned about your website from a letter in yesterday's Irish Times and find the aims of your group to be very important if we are to preserve our heritage for future generations. I live in Wicklow Town and we have a problem here with access to a walk which Wicklow people have enjoyed for generations. It is the Cliff Walk, which was always a right of way for as long as people can remember and extended from Wicklow Town, via the Black Castle and the Glen Strand, right on to Wicklow Head. If you are familiar with this walk, I think that you will agree that it is an area of outstanding natural beauty. Co. Wicklow has only two sea cliff walks - one between Greystones and Bray, and this one here in Wicklow. Our walk is particularly interesting for the great variety of flora and for the extensive range of seabirds which nest around the cliffs. Very often, one can see seals just off shore. Now, this walk has been closed down for the past year or more by the Council for safety reasons. Wire and notices have been erected which forbid entry. I was told some years ago that Ducas would be quite prepared to erect a board walk and possibly a bridge or two where necessary - that there was funding from Europe for this kind of project, but it seems as if the Council were not too anxious to do anything about it at the time. A few years ago, the local Golf Club extended their course to eighteen holes and they erected wire alongside the right of way. This wire, in one place, is only about six feet from a crumbling cliff of clay. So, it seems to me that both the Golf Club and natural erosion have conspired to deprive walkers of their rightful heritage. I understand that the Wicklow County Council, the Urban Council and the Golf Club are holding a meeting shortly to determine the future of this right of way, but being mindful of what happened down at the Old Head of Kinsale, I wouldn't exactly hold my breath. If you have any ideas about the role of Ducas in matters such as this, or any suggestions to offer, I would be very grateful. Some of us here in Wicklow are very anxious about the whole problem, and indeed, there have been some letters on the local paper expressing concern. If anyone from your organisation would like to have a look around the area in question, I would be very glad to take them along.

PLANNING

KIO seem to be the only national organisation undertaking this unglamorous an rather tedious work of monitoring county development plans. We are seeking to have rights of way listed therein so as to establish their legality. So far, progress has been painfully slow. However, we are slightly more optimistic about Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown. We have been advised by the Council that in response to a list of rights of way which we submitted, council staff have walked the routes and intend to include them in the Draft Plan. The final decision lies with the councillors. We have many members living in the county and we would appeal to you to make your views known to your councillors.

INFORMATION EVENING

KIO are holding a party in May!. Well, not exactly a party but there will be refreshments and finger food for everyone. The snag is that we will be giving a short presentation indicating what we are about, how our campaign is going and

WE WILL BE LOOKING FOR PERSONS WHO MIGHT CONSIDER GOING ON OUR COMMITTEE

If you are on our membership list then please come along. The date will be announced later.

ASSSAULTED WALKER FAILS TO TAKE HUMBLE ATTITUDE!

The case in which Gerard Burke, the landowner at Uggool in Co Mayo who has blocked off a public beach, was accussed of manhandling a walker on his property came before the circuit court in December. The learned judge gave Mr Burke the benefit of the Probation Act, even though she found the defendant guilty of a technical assault. The judge more or less made the assaulted walker the author of his own misfortunes, since he had 'a superior attitude'. It seems that, here in Ireland, if you try to do what in neighbouring states would be quite normal and legal, you should take your well deserved punishment like a man (or woman) and adopt a suitably humble mien. Visiting tourists please note

 

Heritage Officers in the Countryside

We are delighted to report that Heritage Officers have been appointed by several local authorities with what we understand to be a brief on rights of way and access issues. It remains to be seen how effective they will be with the various issues that continually arise in the countryside.

Listed below is a full list of existing Heritage Officers which we are led to believe will be increased to thirty six. Contact them if you have access or rights of way problems in your area.

County Council Telephone No. Heritage Officers Address
Carlow (0503)70300 Lorcan Scott County Buildings
Athy Road
Carlow
Clare (065)6821616 Congella Maguire New Road
Ennis
Co. Clare.
Cork (021)4276891 Sharon Casey C/o SWRA
Inismore
Ballincollig
Co.Cork
Galway (091)509000 Marie Mannion Forward Planning Section
County Buildings
Prospect Hill
Galway.
Kerry (066)7121111 Una Cosgrove Áras an Chontae
Tralee
Co. Kerry
Leitrim (078)20005 Bernie Guest Governor House
Carrick - on - Shannon
Co. Leitrim.
Limerick (061)318477 Tom O'Neill O'Connell Street
Limerick.
Laois / Offaly (0506)46800 Amanda Pedlow C/o Offaly County Council
Courthouse
Tullamore
Co. Offaly.
Roscommon (0903)37100 Nollaig McKeown Courthouse
Roscommon.
Sligo (071)56666 Siobhan Ryan County Development Centre
Cleveragh
Co. Sligo
Tipperary (NR) (067)31771 Siobhan Geraghty Courthouse
Nenagh
Co. Tipperary.
Tipperary (SR) (052)25399 Brendan Mc Sharry County Hall
Clonmel
Co. Tipperary.
Longford / Westmeath (044)40861 Gerry Clabby C/o Westmeath Co Co
County Buildings
Mullingar
Co. Westmeath.
Wicklow (0404)20100 Deirdre Burns County Offices
Wicklow.
       
City Council Telephone No Heritage Officers Address
Dublin (01) 6722222 Donncha O Dulaing Civic Offices
Wood Quay
Dublin 8.
Galway (091) 536400 Jim Higgins Town Hall
College Road
Galway.

KIO Contacts

President - Jackie Rumley 098-36144

Chairman - Roger Garland 01-4934239

Secretary - Michael Carroll 01-4943221

Membership Secretary/Treasurer - Kitty Murphy 01 - 8378594

Minutes Secretary - Patricia Hamilton 834 2054

Campaigner - David Herman 01-2984821

Committee

Tony O'Sullivan,01 837 4440

Frank Winder. 01 497 0016,

Seamus Mac Gearailt 01-2840322

Connaught: Secretary - Michael Murphy 098 25068


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