Newsletter   47                                                               Spring  2013

Comment

A modest proposal

Robert Dowds TD is dead right to describe his proposed access Bill as modest. It falls far short of the kind of rights available in all  other European countries, most notably Scotland and Scandinavia,

 But his pointed comments about the difficulty of persuading TDs from various parties to support a more radical Bill along the Scandinavian or Scottish model is well made. Even if  Mr Dowds’ modest proposal passes in the Oireachtas, which is far from certain, the new law would be a necessary and welcome first step on KIO’s continuing quest to open up Ireland to our own citizens and to visitors.

 We therefore find it puzzling that Mountaineering Ireland, which claims to represent the interests of those involved in outdoor pursuits, can only bring itself to offer the most luke-warm and mealy-mouthed support for Mr Dowd’s efforts. Backing for a new law which would so clearly benefit those paying their subs to keep MI in business would appear to be basic common sense.

 We can only conclude that MI has spent too long on its knees afraid of offending its political paymasters. Keep Ireland Open remains the only organisation seeking changes in our deeply unsatisfactory access legislation. What a pity MI is too supine to join us on such a fundamental issue.

 

Your chance to question TD over proposed access Bill

KIO members will have a chance to discuss the new Access to the Countryside Bill with the TD planning to introduce it into the Dail when he attends the Annual General Meeting on April 20.

Robert Dowds, Labour TD for Dublin Mid West, will speak at the AGM, to be held at An Oige’s Dublin HQ in Mountjoy Street on April 20.

 The Private Member’s Bill, which Mr Dowds hopes to introduce to the Oireachtas under the Friday member’s Bill rule, aims to greatly improve access to Ireland’s mountains, rivers, lakes national monuments and land not under cultivation. It would make local councils responsible for identifying and preserving access routes and establish an appeals system whereby representations could be made directly to the Minister for the Environment where members of the public believe councils to be failing to protect access.

 The Bill also provides for an expert group to be established which could offer a view where routes have become a matter of dispute and seem destined for court action.

 The AGM will begin at 11am and Mr Dowds is due to speak at noon, after which he will take questions.

 At a meeting held on March 6 in the Dail to discuss the Bill, Mr Dowds said it represents a first step in helping Ireland to  catch up with the rest of Europe with regard to access.

 “It is a long way short of the Scottish or Scandinavian solution but is, hopefully, modest enough to gather widespread Dail support.”

 His hope is that his proposals are modest enough to attrach widespread backbench support. A draft of the Bill has been available for some weeks but it is likely to undergo further tweaking from legal draftsmen before it is finally published, probably later this month. 

 

Have your say: AGM on Saturday, April 20 at 

the An Oige HQ, Mountjoy Street, Dublin 7. 

Meeting begins 11am. Free lunch!

 

Opposition growing to Coillte sell-off proposal

 

                        

Coillte timber rights sell-off could have serious implications for public access to 7pc of the landscape

 

The battle to persuade the Coalition Government to drop plans to sell off Coillte’s felling and timber rights has reached a critical point with a growing number of Labour TDs clearly voicing their opposition to the sale.

 Their view has found economic backing through a consultant’s report which claims that the sell-off makes no economic sense.

 At a lively meeting held in the Labour Committee Room in the Dail on February 5, a substantial number of the Labour Party’s TDs voiced their opposition at a public meeting.

  The Government’s plans for a sell-off were dealt a further blow with the publication of two reports warning of the dangers it poses.

The first was issued at the end of January by economic consultant Peter Bacon. That report, commissioned by the Coillte branch of the Impact trade union, says the State would remain liable for costs of €1.3 billion following a sale of harvesting rights. To cover these costs, which include the funding of the agency’s future deficit and its pension deficit, Coillte would need to sell at €78 per square metre, which is “well above current or recent prices”.

 “There is no basis in these prices for assuming that this would be achieved,” continued the report, entitled Assessment of the Consequences of the Proposed Sale of Coillte’s imber Harvesting Rights. “This means that, rather than generating State income, a sale of Coillte harvesting rights would represent a substantial cost to the exchequer.”

   A second report issued by the Irish Exporters’ Association said that 2,500 jobs in the Irish sawmilling industry would be in immediate danger if the sale goes ahead.  The IEA agues that selling timber rights will cut off reliable supplies to sawmills and timber processors, killing a viable indigenous industry and hitting exports

  The Coalition has been under pressure from the Troika managing Ireland’s bailout to sell off the timber rights.

 The Government’s “decision in principal” would see the future sale of 75pc of Coillte timber for a period of 80 years and it is believed that this could have a disastrous effect on public access to Ireland’s forests, which make up about 7pc of the country’s land mass. KIO opposes the proposed sale.

  To read the Bacon report for  yourself, go to http://cdn.thejournal.ie/media/2013/01/forestryfinalreport1.pdf

 For an overview of the sell-off issue, see www.saveourforests.ie

 

Pilot schemes still all at sea

 

Two ‘pilot schemes’ to open up Mt Gable in Co Mayo and routes up Caurauntuohill in Co Kerry are still floundering four years after they were announced with much fanfare. Both are stalled over promised indemnity schemes to protect landowners against court action. Government plans to introduce such a scheme are being blocked by the IFA (see story, below. At this rate it will take centuries for voluntary schemes to open up the countryside.

Further proof, if it were needed, of the need to legislate for access.

 

 

 

State turns a blind eye to land-grab

 

                            

Kerry farmers resting on their blockade during their standoff with walkers

 

In a further instalment of what can only be described as a cyncal attempted land-grab, farmers last month placed a barricade across the part of the old Limerick to Tralee rail line which is earmarked for a long-distance walking trail.

 This led to a tense three-hour standoff with 150 walkers who were blocked from walking over to the Kerry side of the line from Limerick on February 2. Over the past two decades sections of the former Limerick-Tralee rail line have been developed into the Great Southern Trail, a public walking and cycling route which today stretches from Rathkeale to the Kerry border at Kilmorna, Abbeyfeale.

   There are hopes to extend the trail along the rail line into Kerry as far as Fenit. However a body calling itself the North Kerry Abandoned Rail Line Action Group, mostly land-grabbing local farmers, is claiming ownership of the line.

 The issue of the North Kerry rail line’s ownership was addressed by Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar in January. In response to parliamentary questions by Fianna Fail TD Eamon O Cuív, Minister Varadkar said that CIE insists that it remains the owner of the property and “will continue to access its property as necessary”.

 It is estimated that the area of land on the old North Kerry line comprises 125 acres, and could be worth up to €1 million based on current market prices.

 Denis O’Mahony, chairman of the Great Southern Trail group, said that he “had inklings this was going to happen” ahead of the barrier blocking the February walk, which marked the 50th anniversary of the last scheduled passenger train on the Limerick-Tralee line on February 2, 1963.

 Mr O’Mahony said that the rail line was dug up over a decade ago to lay fibre optic cables, which are “part of the national infrastructure”.

 He said that in the past the concerns of Limerick farmers along the trail have been allayed, and he hopes agreement can be reached with Kerry farmers too.

 “We want to to see rural development, keep a bit of tourism spend locally and facilitate local farmers”.

 Some of the Kerry farmers are believed to be claiming squatters’ rights.

 Following the opening of the most recent section of the trail from Abbeyfeale station to the Kerry border at Kilmorna, the walking and cycling route now stretches from Rathkeale the border via Ardagh, Newcastle West, Barnagh and Devon Road.

Community support for the Great Southern Trail is strong in both Limerick and Kerry and there is growing anger at the failure of both CIE and the government to face down what  appears to be a cynical land grab. There is also the fear that the  longer farmers are left squatting on public land, the stronger their claim may become. 

 

 

Good news on listings front

 

We can report some progress on the task of listing rights-of-way front. KIO lobbied successfully to persuade former Minister for the Environment, John Gormley, to include in the 2010 Planning Amendment Act a requirement that public rights of way must be listed and mapped in county development plans. This gave them some legal status.

Now at last we can report some progress. So far Meath has complied - with an Interim List of 24 and Westmeath is proposing 16 (subject to Objections).  The bad news is that Wexford, Donegal and Monaghan have refused to list.

We have seen a circular letter from the Dept of the Environment to county councils  reminding them of their obligations and we will be asking the department what they propose doing about the recalcitrant counties.

 

IFA still blocking progress

 

Government plans to extend insurance cover so as to absolve landowners of any liability towards walkers or other leisure users continue to be blocked by the Irish Farmers’ Association. Despite the fact that the farming organisations have lobbied for years for exactly the kind of State insurance package that the government is proposing, the IFA has decided not to co-operate unless they get guarantees from the Department of Agriculture on a host of issues which have nothing to do with public access.

The IFA position is at variance with that of the other two main farming organisations, the Irish Creamery and Milk Suppliers’ Association and the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association, who have both welcomed the indemnity proposals with open arms.

 

A little food for thought . . .

 

                           

Walking is by far the biggest activity-based tourism activity in Ireland, attracting 743,000 overseas visitors, four times more than golf, which is the second largest activity. (Fáilte Ireland, 2012)

According to a recent estimate, Scotland generates £1.4bn from nature-based tourism (Bryden, Westbrook, Burns , Taylor , & Anderson, 2010).

By 2015 walking tourism is  projected to account for 22pc of Scotland’s tourism revenue. (Tourism Intelligence Scotland)

Evidence from Fife in Scotland shows that the Fife Coastal Path contributes between €24m and €29m to the local economy, supporting the equivalent of 800-900 full time jobs. (TNS Travel and Tourism & SQW, 2006)

Based on this data and similar case studies, we estimate that if Irish land access laws are similarly modernised, hundreds of jobs could be created in the tourism sector in the medium term.

Walking is by far the largest activity-based form of tourism in Ireland – attracting projected to account for 22% of Scotland’s tourism revenue. (Tourism Intelligence Scotland) Evidence from Fife in Scotland shows that the Fife Coastal Path contributes between €24m and €29m to the local economy, supporting the equivalent of 800-900 full time jobs. (TNS Travel and Tourism & SQW, 2006)

Based on this data and similar case studies, we estimate that if Irish land access laws are similarly modernised, hundreds of jobs could be created in the tourism sector in the medium term.

Surveys suggest that Ireland’s scenery is a huge draw for overseas visitors to Ireland, but much of it remains inaccessible. (Fáilte Ireland , 2010) (Buckley, Hynes, & van Rensburg, 2008)

Contrary to common perceptions, hikers and walkers spend significant amounts: the average spend per person among hikers and walkers in 2011 was €873. (Fáilte Ireland, 2012)

As landowners have discretion to deny access, a wide network of well-documented walking routes has not been established.  Many walking routes are on roads rather than land and lack of signage leaves tourists confused about where they are allowed to walk. Taking these factors combined, Ireland currently offers a walking tourism product which is significantly inferior to that of Scotland, England and Wales. (URS Scott Wilson, 2012)

Physical inactivity costs the Irish exchequer €1.6 billion per year. (Cullen, 2010) Changing the land access laws could help to reduce these costs by increasing recreational walking.

*Above is an extract from Open for Jobs – the case for modernizing Ireland’s land access law.

To access the full document is available elsewhere on our website.

                                         

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:

Co Laois:

Ann Lannigan (tel: 057 8661900 or 086 8447338; email rrolaois@gmail.com);

Co Sligo:

Deirdre Kennedy (tel: 071 9141138, Fax 071 9141162;

Co Roscommon:

Martin Dunn (tel: 0906 488292; email martin@southrosleader.ie);

South Kerry:

Maria Munckhof (tel: 066 9472724 -064 41930; mobile: 087 2957780; email: mfarmer@skdp.net;

South Tipperary:

Con Ryan (tel: 062 33360; mobile 087 0556465; email: con@gleann.net;

West Cork:

James O’Mahoney (tel: 023 34035; mobiles 0870556465 and 0870556465); email: jamessheepshead@eircom.net;

Co Wicklow:

Pat Mellon (tel: 0404 46977; mobile 087 7888188) email: pmellon@wicklowleader.ie;

Co Galway:

Thomás Mac Gearailt (tel: 091 593410/091 523945; mobile: 087 0521339) email: slichonamara@hotmail.com;

Co Mayo:

Tom Carolan (tel: 094 9366692; mobile: 087 2196930) email: tcarolan@southmayo.com;

Co Clare:

Eimear McCarthy (tel: 094 9366692; mobile: 086 0495041); email: emccarthy@cldc.ie

 

Published by Keep Ireland Open. KIO is an environmental organisation dedicated to preserving public access to our mountains, lakes, seashore and countryside.

 

Correspondence

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 : info@keepirelandopen.org

Links to Affiliated organisations

 

An Óige


An Taisce


Catholic Girl Guides of Ireland


Countrywide Hillwalkers Association


Friends of the Irish environment


Friends of the Murrough


Irish Rural Link


Killarney Mountaineering Club


Scouting Ireland


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If you would like to inform us of any problems in your area please email us at info@keepirelandopen.org

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