KIO Newsletter No 17 : Nov 2002

EDITORIAL

You will have noticed by even glancing though this newsletter that there has been a lot of media interest in the issue of access to the countryside recently, much of it in the print media, but also on radio and TV.

Unfortunately, we have to say that some of it was ill-informed. Well, we would say that, wouldn't we, about any comment that did not suit our point of view? But let's face it, facts are sacred. It is one thing for an IFA spokesman to say, as he did, that there are no access problems and of those that do exist (is there a slight inconsistency here?) there is a history behind it. It is another matter for the Irish Times to claim in an editorial that the IFA* are generally supportive of walkers. This is simply not true. Neither is the statement, made in the same editorial that access would necessarily cost big bucks. It doesn't elsewhere in Europe and it needn't here unless we start of with the mindset that it will.

This is where KIO must present the recreational users' case. We must counter the half-truths, faulty assumptions and downright lies of those who are innocently ill-informed and those who are out to tell lies to further their own ends. To do that we must show that we are reasonable and know what we are talking about. And we must show that we have support.
Which is where you and your friends come in. We need you!

NO WALKERS ALLOWED
DINGLE, CO KERRY

The Three Sisters area and Sybil Point north-west of Ballyferriter on the Dingle Peninsula offer a splendid 6km walk along the tops of cliffs facing out over the broad Atlantic and with views back to the Brandon massif. Not any more, though. Local farmers have banded together to block off the whole area and have erected hostile notices on access roads, in English and Irish (this is a Gaeltacht) to keep walkers out.

It is hard to see what is behind this latest access difficulty but meanwhile a substantial proportion of the tourism industry in the area is going down the tubes. Incidentally, Cork/Kerry Tourism advertises their area as 'a region where the people's tradition of gentle courtesy and hospitality is legendary'!

This access problem got publicity, including photos, in the September/October issue of Walking World Ireland.

THE MEDIA

A TV programme Townlands, (25 July) with Damien Enright in the chair, featured our Chairman, Roger Garland, who gave a concise outline of the access problems facing walkers and others in all parts of the country. The scandalous case of the Old Head of Kinsale, where walkers and day-trippers alike found that the most popular sea coast area around Cork city could be successfully blocked, featured strongly. The Southern Trails group, which is trying to open a disused railway line in counties Limerick and Kerry and is being blocked in many places, also got an airing.

"People's Picnic" at the Old Head of Kinsale

The Irish Examiner (4 July) had a full page article on access entitled Invaders Threaten Walking Territory written by Damien Enright who showed his usual understanding of the problems of walking our countryside.

The September/October issue of Walking World Ireland had an editorial calling for Government action on access. This issue also had a thought-provoking article by Dick Warner calling for radical re-think of how land is used and ending with the comment: 'It (the Irish countryside) will increasingly be seen as a place where the most important activity is people going for a walk'.
Michael Murphy, Committee member from Westport, was on a radio discussion programme with the redoubtable Jackie Healy-Rae TD. Mr Murphy presented a reasonable case for walkers, but it seems from Mr Healy-Rae's comments that sheep in Kerry are quite different from sheep elsewhere in the world and will panic and run wild if walkers are anywhere around! So now we know!

There was an article in the Irish Times (22 July) aptly entitled Ramblers are Walking a Legal Tightrope, written by John O'Dwyer. It gave details of problems walkers face here and proposed that reform of CAP may include financial inducements to persuade farmers to allow access.

KIO had a letter in response (30 July), pointing out our general agreement with these proposals but stating that financial inducements were not a feature in other jurisdictions. Also in response there was a letter from the Chairman of the Long Distance Walks Committee stating that we had little to learn from the UK (or presumably anywhere else) on what can only be described as the most flimsy reasoning. His line of argument was countered by a member of KIO writing in a personal capacity and this resulted in some further correspondence.

There was a lengthy feature in the Irish Times of 28 August by Eileen Battersby, entitled 'Hill walking becomes harder as Farmers step in'. The tone was moderately favourable to the case made by KIO. Tellingly, on the same page, was an article by Ian Kilroy giving an account of the much better relations between farmers and walkers in the Pyrenees.

Following on these moderately encouraging contributions the Irish Times second editorial of 2 September was a sad let down. Without any regard to the situation on the ground it described the IFA as being 'generally supportive of walkers' and went on to minimise access problems. It stated that solving access problems would cost big money, even though they should know that this is not the case in the rest of Europe. KIO asked to be allowed to give a full response, or at least have a letter published outlining the sad facts. We were told that when the issue 'blows up again' we might be given a chance to expand on our views.

Following a fact-finding visit to the Ben Whiskin area in Co Sligo by two county council officials, Michael Murphy, a KIO committee member came in for a very hostile interview on North-West Radio. The programme involved was sponsored by Connaught Gold, which is managed by members of the Gilmartin family. This family is involved in the access dispute in the Ben Whiskin area. KIO are considering what further action to take.

YET MORE ACCESS PROBLEMS

CARNBANE, CO WESTMEATH
KIO learned only recently from a member in co Westmeath, that the important megalithic tombs in Carnbane, and the only area for hill-walking in the entire area have been blocked off by the landowner. We informed Duchas - the Heritage Service and got the usual dusty response that the tombs were in private hands and that was that. So the fact is that we have a wealth of heritage but unless it is in State lands don't expect to be able to see it. Here is the letter from our member:

23 June 2002

Dear Sir/Madam,

Just a few lines to highlight a local access issue. The only hills to walk in Meath are those at Lough Crew near Oldcastle. The Westerly hill (Carnbane), which contains a remarkable neolithic chambered cairn, has been fenced off by the landowner for over a year now. It appears he used last years threat of foot and mouth as a heaven sent opportunity to deny access on his land, and keep it that way. There used to be a stile in the fencing near the top, but this has been enclosed by the new barbed wire. There have been letters from tourists, in the local press, stating their disappointment at being denied access. All in all just one of hundreds of similar situations!

Yours sincerely,
(Name with Editor)


THE BEARA WAY
The blocking of the Beara Way is another new access problem which had an airing in Walking World Ireland. It published a letter from a walker from Northern Ireland who had been deterred by hostile notices on the Beara Way, where a dispute in which walkers are not involved has resulted in its (thank goodness, temporary) blocking off. The writer mentioned 'continental walkers who had travelled long distances at considerable expense' and were naturally incensed at this problem. We understand that the Sheeps Head Way was also blocked off in the same dispute.

BRANDON, CO KERRY
There are, or have recently been, access problems on the track leading to the pater-noster route to Brandon. This is a truly splendid approach to this fine mountain and undoubtedly one of the most dramatic stretches of hill country in Ireland. We learned recently from two independent sources about these notices; it is admitted by representatives of the local tourism interest in Cloghane, which has produced walking routes using this access. The notices appear to be intermittent, but even if they have now disappeared for good, it is still worth noting this problem. It is of little consolation to those who turned away to be later told, if indeed they ever hear, that these signs had later been removed.

TOURISM BOARDS DO NOTHING --- AS USUAL
We have obtained two items of correspondence directed at North-West Tourism in Sligo and Cork-Kerry Tourism in Killarney. In both cases groups who were about to hill walk in these areas asked about access problems. North-West tourism were prepared to talk over the phone but would put nothing in writing. Cork-Kerry Tourism were prepared to put something in writing. They claimed that there only responsibility was for the long distance walks and problems like the Three Sisters (see above) should be dealt with by some other body. They suggest the Sports Council (!) or the county council. We understand that both groups of walkers decided to go elsewhere.

AND SOME GOOD NEWS!
We have learned from a KIO representative in Kerry that the trouble at Glaninchiquin, near Kenmare where a waterfall amenity area has been privately developed has been sorted out. The owner of the amenity area has no objection to walkers accessing surrounding mountains from his land, but they should use his carpark (and pay a small charge) rather than obstruct the road. Fair enough.

THE EU AND ACCESSIBILITY TO THE COUNTRYSIDE

KIO's Chairman will be in Brussels in October and will make enquiries about what the EU has to say about access, particularly the blocking of access by barbed-wire fences, which seems to be a feature required by Irish sheep and no other.

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KIO has presented a petition to the European Parliament about excessive fencing, particularly in the West of Ireland. This seems to be a condition imposed, not by the Parliament, but by the Irish government.

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We obtained an EU document entitled Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on the Accessibility of Rural Areas (COM-2/012) dated 14 June 2000. This stated:

The EU regions and Member States are advised to adopt a policy of opening up rural areas as much as possible to outdoor recreation and sustainable forms of tourism.

and

In cases where paths and tracks are managed by individuals or private enterprises and 'right of way' is not defined by law, policy should be designed to encourage maximum additional use for recreational purposes.

Both statements are all too relevant to a country that has virtually no rights of way over private land, wouldn't you agree?

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There is another EU document that we are at present trying to obtain. We have heard that this picks out Ireland and Holland as being the two worst EU countries for access of the public to the countryside. Whatever about densely populated and intensively farmed Holland, surely Ireland should not have allowed itself to be in this unenviable category?

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OTHER NEWS

A KIO member had correspondence with staff in the Peak District National Park, an area surrounded by large cities and with a huge population of walkers, horse riders and cyclists. In spite of that all these recreational users seem to enjoy the countryside without major problems with landowners and the maps show huge areas of upland described as "Access Areas". The staff confirmed what we had heard before but still have difficulty believing, that it that landowners are not paid to allow access but only to enhance it and a similar situation pertains to rights of way. There are none of the high barbed-wire fences that we encounter in the West of Ireland and we were told that it fences are erected, there have to be stiles every 100m.

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KIO protested at the blocking off of access to Diamond Hill in the Connemara National Park for three years because of erosion problems. We consider that another route should have been provided to this fine viewpoint.

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Mullaganattin - the southern approach. This (the Pocket approach) is the usual circuit taking in this fine Kerry mountain. If you are walking it anti-clockwise here are the directions at the end to avoid climbing fences and so annoying the landowner. Climb pt 639m, then pt 381m and then continue south to a track. The north-bound track shown on the maps does not exist.

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Two members of KIO went with two of the staff of Sligo co council on a fact-finding mission to look at the access problems in the Gleniff area of Sligo. This area includes Benwhiskin, perhaps the most spectacularly shaped mountain in Ireland and blocked off by a local farmer, Andy 'The Bull' McSharry. The party encountered the Bull who was in his most self-effacing mood, obviously because of the council officials. However his bottom line was that walkers would have to pay €3 each for the privilege of walking his rough grazing land and the State would have to pay £40,000 for a stretch of poor road and track, the Miners' Road. The Bull also complained that North-West Tourism are not doing enough to promote tourism in Sligo. This coming from the man who has single-handedly managed to do more than anyone else to destroy tourism in the county!

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


*AN APOLOGY

We made a serious 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 most farmers are 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.
We apologise for this error, which was purely accidental.

Michael Carroll

Secretary KIO


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