Newsletter No 34 Spring 2008

 Editorial: Any questions for the Mininster?

We are pleased that the Minister in charge of facilitating access to the countryside, Mr O'Cuiv, has requested that he come to KIO's AGM . We hope that all our members and indeed anyone with an interest in the issue of access will turn up for the meeting on 12th April. We in KIO are none too pleased with the progress of Comhairle na Tuaithe, the Minister's vehicle for sorting out this issue. If it is the Minister's intention to deliver a few soothing words to us and assure us that he is doing all he can to help us then he need not bother to turn up. We have long given up the hope, that in spite of justice and the common good being on our side, and in spite of the fact that legal rights to access the countryside is the norm over virtually all of Europe, that the Minister would take on the powerful farming lobby. No, this Minister (and others of course) responds only to pressure; here the farming lobby have all the cards and are prepared to go into a paroxysm of rage at any perceived threat to their privileges. However, the Minister could have, but he did not, do any of the following:

 1. Gently point out to the farmers that 80% of their income comes from the taxpayers of   Europe and increasingly Ireland; 

2. Tell them about the harm they are doing to their own communities, specifically those who want to get into agri-tourism; 

3. Point to wider community concerns, for instance the rising threat of obesity and how walking is an excellent antidote, and the toll of road deaths with injuries to pedestrians who have nowhere else to walk;

 4. Assure them that what they are being asked to provide, freedom to roam over rough grazing land and limited rights of way in the lowlands, has been given freely in other European countries without the sky falling in. Cromwell it is not.

Instead the Minister, with the shameful connivance of some in the hill walking community, has repeatedly referred to the alleged misdeeds of walkers (and we do not deny that there are some) and has even gone along with the preposterous idea that walkers should pay individual walkers for access. We say to the Minister now and we will say it loud and clear at our AGM: No more carrots for the farming organisations, the use of the stick is now long overdue.

 Walking World article features Scotland's approach to access

Albert Smith, deputy chair of KIO, wrote an informative and prominently positioned article for the 2008 Annual of Walking World Ireland. This article was on the Scottish solution (i.e. freedom to roam almost everywhere) to what authorities here style the 'problem' of access to the countryside. The solution is simplicity itself: responsible recreational users have a legal right to walk almost anywhere in Scotland. (If all this sounds vaguely familiar it should: much the same sentiments minus the glossy photos appeared in Albert's article in the last KIO newsletter). The well-informed Editor of WWI described this article as 'an eye-opener on the way forward.' Of course he is being modest: he is fully aware of the situation in Scotland and elsewhere. However it might prove an eye-opener to walkers here and we hope a spur to action.

Also in the WWI Editorial the editor, seeming referring to Minister O'Cuiv's tiny step forward on access, stated ' we hear on the grapevine that substantial progress has been made in talks and there may be a solution in the next six months'. Here we beg to differ. The next issue of WWI is due to publish a letter from a leading member of KIO disputing this evaluation. The line taken is much the same as the article in the newsletter under the heading 'More Scheming than Walking',

The Tipperary Heritage Trail

You may recall from the last issue that we complained to South Tipperary County Council for blocking off the 6 km footpath section of the Tipperaty Heritage trail between Golden and Cashel from 1st Oct to 31st Mar because of what is described as 'flooding' (how predictable and long-lived flooding is in Tipperary!). We have not received even an acknowledgement. Rest assured, we will not let this matter drop.

KIO's AGM

This will be held at An Oige Head Office at 61 Mountjoy St, Dublin 7 on Saturday 12th April at 11 p.m. Minister O'Cuiv will be present so it should be a lively meeting. Please be there. Complimentary buffet lunch and off-street parking available.

More and more access problems

We have received an e-mail from a member in Co Clare who is rightly concerned about a developer who is attempting to get the local authority to extinguish public rights of way to a beach. This member intends to take a case to the High Court and has asked us a number of questions, which we have answered to the best of our ability. He concludes: 'As a result of a serious road traffic accident, I am a person with 'severely restricted mobility' and since the rights of way I am referring to have been closed and obstructed I now find it impossible to access the public beach I have enjoyed with my family for over 35 years. Is there a legal duty on my local authority, and/or indeed a mechanism in law where I can ensure that my right to access a public beach in Ireland is maintained?'

KIO comments: We hope that this case will not turn out to be typical of the casual way that local authorities treat violations of rights of way, of which the Ugool case, ongoing since 1989 and about which Mayo County Council abdicated its responsibilities, is the worse example.

Here is a recent e-mail from a member in County Cork

'Walking today on land I always assumed to have a right of way I was horrified to find my path barred by triple barbed wire. Crosshaven is the home of sailing in Cork, a once-sleepy village where we brought up our six children in great freedom and safety. Now it has 'taken off' and a big developer is building hundreds of new homes on land through which many generations of adults and children walked to the village from outlying areas. The neighbouring landowner whose strip of magnificent beech woodland. ablaze with bluebells in May, has obviously felt the pinch of encroachment, and has erected the barbed wire fence, although maintaining the friendly style between the next property. So, in effect, no children can walk to school any more, and the dangerous traffic at four local schools will continue to grow.

The following is a recent letter sent to the Irish Times, but not published. It is from an American visitor.

Madam, 

Your recent article, "Is tourism turning rural?," paints far too rosy a picture of Ireland as a destination for the overseas walking community. A walking guide from county Kerry is quoted as saying that "Ireland a great destination for walkers." Ireland is far from meeting that description. The international walking community has largely given up on Ireland because of access problems which are unique in western Europe. In contrast to Ireland, free access to the countryside in the UK has resulted in substantial tourism benefits. The Scottish Land Reform Act of 2003 resulted in a walking tourism boom in that country which in 2006 accounted for £3.6 bn(€5bn) in tourism revenue.

You describe the scheme to pay farmers up to €3,000 annually for allowing walkers as an "access breakthrough." So far from being a "breakthrough", this palliative will do little to improve the overall problem. It is another example of the government bowing to the perceived strength of the Irish Farmers Association, which is dead-set against any fundamental solution to the need for access to the countryside. See the website of Keep Ireland Open for a description of the lamentable situation which ahs existed for many years in the Republic. Despite misgivings I spent two weeks on a walking holiday in Ireland two years ago. First on my itinerary was to circumnavigate Gougane Barra lake in County Cork. This walk is described in every Irish walking guide ever published about this area. At the top of the walk was an ugly new fence, blocking the way. That stopped my way. I could have gone through, but there is nothing new about confrontations between walkers and Irish farmers - sometimes resulting in assault, as the walking community well knows. Until Ireland opens its countryside as has every other country in western Europe, Ireland will see only a fraction of the tourism benefits. You may indeed lure walking tourists here who don't know better but only once.

A woman running a trekking centre has emailed us with the usual problem of what she thought were rights of way turned out to be no such thing, since they were blocked off by locals.

She says, " I totally agree with you that these framers are extremely short-sighted. I live in North Tipperary and am facing the uphill task of attracting tourists to what is a beautiful and unspoilt area.[...] So, like many others who live in remote rural areas, I do not want to be seen to be actively 'stirring up any trouble' over rights of way and in addition my business depends on my not being seen as a threat.

KIO comments: This woman's livelihood depends on having suitable trekking trails. She enquires if the local council will help her, but in our opinion they will do little or nothing. Those with all the power, that is landowners, are in a strong position to stifle complaints. And so the problem persists.

Theory shattered : Farmers are generally 'decent skins'

KIO has always taken the line that the average farmer would allow access and it has only been the main farming organisations that have taken a hard line.

Unfortunately we were wrong:

A recent national conference organised by Teagasc, the main farm body, has revealed that:

          1. 50% would not allow walkers over their land

          2. 40% would allow walkers but only if they were paid 

          3. 10% would allow walkers and would not ask to be paid.

This revelation comes hard on the heels of the news that €1.6 billion (yes, billion) was received from the EU last year for agricultural projects. And they say there is no such thing as a free lunch!

KIO responds to article in British Ramblers Magazine

An article in the Winter 2007 edition of Walk, the magazine of the British Ramblers has caused a lot of heart-searching among the committee of KIO. The article extolled the walking facilities in a part of Leitrim and Roscommon and in general painted a rosy picture of hill walking in Ireland.

No doubt this picture is true for that small area but it is not true generally and even more relevant, the optimistic propaganda put about abroad by Fáilte Ireland is not true either. Even in the medium term Fáilte Ireland's advertisements will do walking harm. Walkers from abroad come here expecting to find adequate signposting, a network of clearly marked rights of way and the assurance that they have a legal right to walk the hills. As testified by numerous emails and letters we have received they find that this is far from the case ( we publish a recently received letter elsewhere in this issue). Disappointed tourists to Ireland tell their friends about their less than successful visit and the end result is that fewer visitors come here. For tourism then, it is a case of short-term gain but long-term damage.

What we have decide to do is to continue to counter overly optimistic reports of walking in Ireland, pointing out the true situation and mentioning that visitors might be advised to go with recognised walking tour companies.

More scheming than walking

The launch of the Walkways Scheme on March 4 has to be one of the most pathetic gestures to emerge from government in many a long day.

After four years of talks, four pilot walkways will be set up - three linear walks in the Bluestacks (Donegal), the Suck Valley (Co Roscommon) and the Sheep's Head (Co Cork) along with one circular walk. Landowners will be paid €14.50 an hour by the taxpayer for any work - notional or real - that they carry out 'maintaining' these walkways. The pilot walks will then be used as a blueprint for other walks around the country.

The landowners can pull out of the scheme at any time if they give six month's notice. At the end of five years, the whole scheme lapses and, you can bet your life, will only be resuscitated by a large increase in the amount paid to farmers. KIO is of the view that the money would have been better spent to make compulsory purchase of metre-wide strips of land where there are access problems. At least then the public would have real rights that would last in perpetuity rather than mickey mouse schemes which confer no rights on the public but yet more blackmailing rights on landowners.

Pedestrian Road Deaths

The statistics for deaths in car accidents for 2007 have been published and show a modest but welcome reduction from 2006. However the number of pedestrians killed on the roads is fully 20 % of the total number. We are not claiming that all these pedestrians were killed when they were walking their dogs on busy roads and that they were on these roads because they had nowhere else to walk. Of course not. Nevertheless even the long distance walking routes are for considerable stretches routed along national roads or on busy narrow roads such as Glencullen in county Dublin.

It's a topic worth investigating and we do not intend to do so in the future.

Time to bury C na T

You may recall that last year Minister O'Cuiv was given legal advice to the effect that there were few legal obstacles to introducing legislation to allow access to the countryside. The Minister later set up a small legal Committee, on which KIO was represented to enquire into the implications of this. Now read on ..

Despite high hopes, the legal Committee is proving an unmitigated disaster.

Pleas from Minister Eamon O'Cuiv that the Committee discuss listing and establishing rights of way, the setting up of an appeals commission and the notion that a bare license for access could be assumed have all been rejected out of hand by the three main farming organizations.

The representatives were united in insisting:

1) There must be no extension of rights of way legislation. 

2) There can be no commission to consider disputed routes. 

3) The notion that recreational users would have a right to assume a bare license will be oppose. (The bare license proposal is that recreational users could have a right of access on foot to open land unless they were informed - usually by notices or word of mouth - that it was closed off. It assumes no legal right of access.) 

4) The 1995 Occupier's Liability Act must be changed so as to remove from landowners any liability towards uninvited guests on their land. (This legislation was largely written by the farming organisations themselves. Since 1995 it has worked without any problems, as the farming organisations themselves admit.)

Further, the farmers now insist that the pathetic handful of walking routes that they will be paid to maintain on a five-year contract (see story elsewhere) can be the only extension of public access. Such utter obduracy is a disappointment - particularly since the proposal for a 'bare license' originally came from the ICMSA. They now repudiate it unless the 1995 Act is changed. It is increasingly clear that C na T has run into the sand. The idea that farmer's representatives and other stakeholders into a room and hoping that they would cut a deal and build up useful relationships is naive. As the law stands, landowners are the only people who possess any real legal rights with which to negotiate. Walkers, canoeists, horse-riders, cavers and plain Joe Public have virtually no rights and nothing with which to bargain. As far as the farmers are concerned, we can be ignored - even though this is damaging the health of our citizens, rural development and the tourist industry. Even though it leaves us as virtually the only country in Europe with no legal rights for citizens to access their physical heritage. However, one thing that C na T has made starkly clear is that Minister O'Cuiv lacks the will or courage to legislate. Despite the fact that farmers now only make up 3% of the population, he will not confront them. Progress can only be at the speed of the slowest - which means no progress at all. Except an early burial for C na T. It is a misconceived, lopsided chimera and, after four years of tortuous talking, has lost the will to live.

Frank Winder

We are sorry to announce the recent death of Professor Frank Winder. Frank was on the committee of KIO for many years and his wise council was always greatly appreciated. He had a long and distinguished career in academia and was a noted hill walker and rock climber over many years. We will miss him.

HELP WANTED ..... PLEASE

We need a Planning Volunteer to help with monitoring County Development Plans. This is important work as the Development Plan provides the legal basis for the listing and protection of rights of way and other access issues. It would be great to find someone with planning experience but computer literacy would go a long way. Please contact Roger Garland at (01) 493 4239.

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 

Links to Affiliated organisations

An Óige


Blackwater Valley Walks


Dingle Hillwalking Club


Federation of Local History Societies


Catholic Girl Guides of Ireland


Irish Ramblers Club


Irish Rural Link


Irish Wildlife Trust


Killarney Mountaineering Club


Scouting Ireland


or e-mail : info@keepirelandopen.org

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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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