NEWSLETTER 20, AUGUST 2003
EDITORIAL: BORD FAILTE'S PLAN FOR WALKING
This recently published Plan makes interesting reading. For instance,
it states that there has been 'a sharp rise in walking as a leisure
activity in all European countries' (no surprise there) and that the
majority want walks of 2-3 hours and a circular route (our comment: this
group is hardly catered for).
Most significant is the following: "Let
it be emphasised once again that access is the most critical issue for
the developers of the [walking] product right now and needs to be solved
This is certainly a clear statement of intent and a far
cry from the complacent approach which we have had from Bord Failte,
among others, up to recently. Unfortunately where Bord Failte falls down
is in how it intends to solve the problem. To suggest, as the report
does, that 'remedial action will only be successful when partnership
principles are adhered to, when the rights of every participant are
recognised and respected' etc, etc is far too vague and wooly and a
recipe for endless procrastination. The farming organisations gave not a
square inch after the foot and mouth crisis and are unlikely to
volunteer anything now or in the future. The legislative route is the
only feasible option.
THE COMMITTEE ON AGRI-TOURISM
This Consultative Committee, on which KIO is represented on a
sub-Committee, was set up early in the year to enquire into the blocking
off of the long distance routes by aggrieved farmers. In a surprise
development all the participants, including the farming organisations
and the Mountaineering Council of Ireland, agreed that its brief was too
narrow and should be broadened to include the whole question of access
to the countryside.
On the Committee the farming organisations have
been advocating payment for access alone, which if conceded would be
without parallel in Europe. They have also frequently pushed the line,
which the media and Bord Failte also follow, that farmers were paid
under a former grant scheme for access. This is simply not true: farmers
were paid to maintain the long distance routes, a very different
As a fall-back position they are asking the tourist industry
and Bord Failte to pay. We merely note that the farming organisations
were not queueing up to compensate tourism interests which suffered such
a hit from the foot and mouth crisis.
Of course KIO disagrees with
payment for access, but Minister O Cuiv has made the dispute academic by
claiming that there is no money available from the Irish taxpayers. It
is of course EU policy not to pay for access alone.
KIO made a written submission to the All-Party Oireachtas Committee
on the two Articles on property in the Constitution. The Committee's
advertisments specifically mentioned the problem of access to the
countryside and this is the only subject we addressed. As a result we
were invited to make an oral presentation to the Committee. This took
place in July and KIO were represented by Roger Garland, Frank Winder
and David Herman. The presentation went well and there were a number of
genuine queries. We emphasised the need to test the Constitution
urgently to see if freedom to roam would infringe it. This meeting led
to further exposure for KIO in the press (see below).
received copies of over 130 submissions made to the Committee by other
organisations and individuals. A preliminary perusal of these shows
support for the freedom to roam over rough grazing land from the
Ombudsman, Chartered Institute of Building Ireland, Irish Planning
Institute, An Taisce, Friends
of the Irish Environment and
We would like to single out the contribution from the Office
of the Ombudsman which obviously considered the issue of access to the
countryside to be so important that it gave seven pages (including three
pages on Uggool Beach) out of their nine page submission.
Of the two
main farming organisations the ICMSA their usual "head in the sand, not
an inch" policy. The IFA were at least prepared to look at possible
changes, but the general tenor of was very negative.
Meetings with politicians.
met Fiona O'Malley TD (PD), Mary Upton TD (Labour) in July and Fergus
O'Dowd (FG) in August to discuss access and the affects present problems
are having on the tourism industry. All meetings were frank and
encouraging. Dr Upton promised to tease out the implications of the
latest version of the CAP for us to see if it has any bearing on
Meeting with Wicklow farmers
was invited to meet farmers' representatives in Wicklow to discuss our
approach to access problems and our seemingly different attitude to
farming organisations in the West ('confrontational') and in Wicklow
('much more sympathetic'). We explained that farmers in Wicklow had far
more real access problems than those in the West and were nonetheless
much more ready to allow access. The meeting was considered useful.
Unnecessary barbed wire
KIO's complaint to the European Parliament, which
we understand is an add-on by the Irish Dept of Agriculture and not an
EU requirement, has been accepted as an admissible petition. We await
the next stage with interest.
Sligo farmer faces jail
the heading 'Sligo Farmer Faces Jail' the Farmers Journal covered the
refusal of Andy McSharry to pay a fine of €300 and expenses of €100 for
intimidating walkers whom he said had trespassed on his land. The judge
described his behaviour as 'intolerable'.
This is the second time
that McSharry, who has the support of the IFA, has found himself in
court for his actions against walkers. We wish Mr McSharry
to reflect on the
fact that it is the cheques in the post from the taxpayers of Ireland
and Europe that are making it possible for him to pursue his farming
(and assaulting) career.
Information Evening on 7th May attracted a large attendance including
TDs from Labour and the Green Party and enquiries for information from
the PDs and FG, whose representatives could not attend. We hope to
attract new members to our Committee from the meeting.
Legislation on Access
Quinn, former leader of the Labour Party and a member of KIO, is
preparing legislation for us on access to the countryside.
Meeting on REPS
attended a meeting of farmers and others in Tullamore in July and gave
the case against the barbed wire fencing now so prevalent, especially in
the West. This meeting was also attended by an EU representative.
Wicklow Uplands Council
thank Frank Winder who has represented KIO on the council for some years
and welcome Michael Carroll, who has now taken over from him.
KIO has new editions
of its documents A Hundred Thousand Welcomes? and Freedom to Roam: the
International Experience, as well as a new document Access to the Irish
Countryside, which is a summary of our stance on all access issues. If
you want copies please let us know.
In July Roger
Garland addressed a group meeting of over 20 County Council Heritage
Officers on rights of way.
At a time when both
the farming sector and the tourist industry are under pressure, a
valuable opportunity is being lost to earn foreign currency and create
jobs. Walking and hiking tourists have become so fed up with the
difficulties and the unpleasantness which can be involved in accessing
the Irish countryside that they are taking their business
The statistics are damning. According to Bord Failte
figures, the number of international walking and hiking visitors
declined from 322,000 ten years ago to 266,000 in 1999 and reached
241,000 in 2001. In spite of that decline, overseas walking tours were
still worth about €144 million to the economy, more than that earned by
golf, angling and cycling. But, instead of developing this lucrative
business, the authorities failed to take remedial action when
individuals and groups of farmers closed off access to places of
particular beauty and responded aggressively to walkers who crossed
The result has been that rural tourism suffered
disproportionately following the downturn in international travel in
recent years. Keep Ireland Open, a group representing recreational users
of the countryside, has urged an Oireachtas committee examining property
rights under the Constitution to provide for a 'freedom to roam', where
this is compatible with protecting the environment, privacy and other
issues. Part of the existing problem stems from the withdrawal, two
years ago, of an element of the EU's Rural Environment Protection Scheme
(REPS) under which payments had been made to allow for public access to
An upsurge in the closure of walking routes by farmers was
intended to put pressure on the Government to finance a replacement
scheme. But, instead of securing replacement funding, the closures
encouraged foreign visitors to do their future walking in Wales or
Scotland. Wales gets two million walking visitors annually. And the
Scottish Assembly is preparing legislation on 'freedom to roam' in order
to develop its growing outdoors business. Organised walking tours are
highly developed in France, Spain, Italy and Greece. And there is no
reason the business should not be expanded here, bringing benefits in
terms of employment, transport, accommodation and cash flow.
to happen, however, the Government needs to get to grips with a
worsening situation particularly affecting tracts of the west coast.
Farming organisations, tourist interest and community groups must all
become involved in resolving these difficulties as a matter of urgency.
There are benefits to be had for all in properly regulated and funded
walking arrangements that provide easy access to the countryside.
--Irish Times editorial, 26th July 2003
We are quoting the following email of 21 April '03 and addressed to
us. It speaks for itself.
'Hi there, glad someone is thinking about this. We've just spent our
second holiday in Ireland, we love the people, love the places and love
the culture, but the problem is we're walkers, and we were shocked when
we were told that we couldn't go into the Connemara national park and
other places. We were frustrated, fed-up and angry. Wherever we turned
to for advice we were given vague excuses and half truths about the
situation and although we enjoyed being in Ireland again and even
persuaded two friends to come with us because we though it was such a
lovely place, we doubt we'll visit again until the access problems are
sorted out. We're English, and we thought we had problems with access
over here. Hand on heart we'll have to tell our walker friends to
reconsider any holiday plans in Ireland, it's just a little too hard to
get into the outdoors. We wish you well with your
Dr D Sleightholme, Dr J
And here is a recently received account from another English couple
in similar vein:
'On a touring holiday one hopes to get our of the car to walk, and
preferably walk off road. To our frustration the Irish countryside is
fenced off with barbed wire and effectively placed off limits to
visitors and natives alike. In the UK by contrast walking is widely
facilitated, thanks to sign-posted footpaths, trails and right of way.
These are not confined to scenic areas or national parks.
the Irish countryside, one generally needs to have local knowledge or
permission. Leisurely walking, off road, across fields and away from
traffic is rarely possible, let alone encouraged or facilitated in any
way. Thus the inviting landscape beyond barbed wire can only be admired
from the car or the roadside. A less than memorable holiday experience
for visitors and sadly not one that we can recommend to our British
friends considering an Irish touring holiday' [our italics].
Eamonn Kennan, Grace Timmons, Chester le
Street, Co Durham
Good news from West Cork
Farmers Journal of July 8 featured an article "Walking Tall in West
Cork" about the setting up by the community of the Seven Heads
Millennium Walk in the Courtmacsherry area Farmer Harold Kingston is
pleased with the formal setting up of the trail: "There were no signs
and you would have people wandering all over the place" said Harold, "so
that it is a benefit to me to have people sticking to the well marked
route". He goes on to say: "I like meeting walkers from all over the
world. This is a bonus since I can be on my own all day." Certain
farmers in Mayo, Kerry, Cork and Mayo have a very different
Access to a Stone Circle in
We have received a complaint from members in Kerry
that a Stone Circle, which is probably the largest in the south-west and
has an impressive boulder dolmen with a huge capstone. There has
traditionally been free access, but now it has a new gravelled path and
a wooden cabin, from which money is being collected. It has also been
surrounded by garden types of conifers so that in the words of one
observer, 'it is now like seeing an elephant in a tutu'.
case of the blocking off of our archaeological heritage, without a
murmer from the authorities.
Ardmore, co Waterford.
As of now
a landowner is threatening to close off a cliff-top path which has been
walked from time immemorial. Nearly all the residents of Ardmore have
signed a petition against closure. Once again, in the absence of clear,
sign-posted, legally defined rights of way another battle, similar to
that at the Old Head of Kinsale, is looming.
Magheramore Beach co Wicklow.
dispute over access to this popular surfing beach has got a lot of
publicity recently. Wicklow co council have stated that they will not
buy the beach but will enforce what they consider to be a right of way.
We await developments with interest, especially to see what implications
this has for other supposed rights of way in the county and
Tibradden and Hellfire club carparks, co
These popular forest carparks have been closed all
day of late. Coillte has taken this step because cars have been broken
into and burnt out wrecks left in the parks. We have made the point
strongly to Coillte that their action merely moves the problem elsewhere
and a more promising policy would be to try to deal with the
Uggool, co Mayo. Yes, yet again in
this 14 year saga of county council ineptitude. The new Ombudsman, Ms
Emily O'Reilly is showing a personal interest in this, the longest
running dispute on her books, and we hope to be able to report positive
Quite a lot of reports in this issue with almost all of it strongly
supporting our line.
The Irish Times had a second editorial entitled
'Walking Away' on 26th July, which mentioned us and was unreservedly on
our side in the issues it discussed. It is most gratifying to have such
unstinting support from a prestigious newspaper. This editorial is given
in full elsewhere in this newsletter.
On Prime Time, the flagship
RTE1 TV news programme, discussed access on 24th July, seemingly as a
result of our submission to the Oireachtas Committee (see above). Roger
Garland was shown at Lough Bray; he spoke well about current problems.
This was followed by a studio discussion with Fintan O'Toole speaking
with knowledge and authority from what appeared to be (but wasn't) a KIO
script. Francis Fanning spoke for the IFA. He exuded a modicum of
goodwill but was short on concrete concessions.
The Irish Times had a
long article on 18th July by John G O'Dwyer, who has no connection with
KIO, entitled 'These Boots were made for Walking, but not on Roads,
Road, Roads...'. The content is evident from the title, with Mr O'Dwyer
complaining specifically about the long stretches of road on the Burren
Way. He also compared the number of tourists Wales welcomes compared
with the much fewer numbers we attract (the word 'welcome' is becoming a
bit of a joke in Ireland).
The Irish Times also carried an article on
13th August from two members of the Irish Uplands Forum, proposing
partnerships as a solution to our access problems. It contained two
serious factual errors: that the Constitution permitted access only with
the consent of the landowner and the old chestnut, that farmers had been
paid in the past just for access.
KIO's contribution to the
Oireachtas Committee was reported in the national newspapers. We had a
letter to the Irish Times expanding on the points we had made to the
Committee and as a result recruited several new members.
Garland had a long, informative article with excellent photos in the
Summer 2003 issue of An Taisce's magazine. He also appeared on Annalivia
Radio and a Tipperary local station in July.
"Walking wars rumble on
as ramblers gain access by force" is a heading across four columns of
the Farmers Journal of June 21. The article quoted local Sligo Farmer
and IFA activist James Gilmartin "Up to 30 carloads of walkers are
arriving every week-end". From our information 30 carloads a year would
be more like it. Mr Gilmartin feels that walkers "are being directed by
KIO" to tackle landowners about access to Benwhisken. The FJ didn't
bother checking with us prior to publication but did publish a letter
strongly denying the claim.
[We apologise that we are reporting the following items so late: this
was because of problems with the publishing of the May edition.]
Irish Times had an article on 8th May claiming that the MCI were
campaigning for 'Unhindered Access' to the uplands.
KIO had a letter
expanding on the article on rights of ways in the current issue of
Consumer Choice. Walking World Ireland, in its May/June issue had a
letter from a walker in Lincolnshire praising the attitude of landowners
and others in the Erris area of Mayo but complaining about the attitude
of the farming organisations and 'the spread of subsidised fencing'.
There was also a letter from a walking guide complaining about limited
access to the cliffs of Moher (this was also a major theme of John G
O'Dwyer's article (see above). This is completely unacceptable in such a
well-known and majestic area.
The Irish Times also had an article by
Fintan O'Toole (29th April) titled 'Lunacy to Fence off the Land' and
attacking the farming organisations for their shortsighted attitude to
access. However the article was based on Fintan's walking experience in
Wicklow, where landowners have suffered damage. The true lunacy is in
Heritage Officers in the Countryside
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
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.
Carrick - on - Shannon
Jackie Rumley 098-36144
Roger Garland 01-4934239
Michael Carroll 01-4943221
Secretary/Treasurer - Kitty Murphy 01 - 8378594
Secretary - Patricia Hamilton 834 2054
- David Herman 01-2984821
O'Sullivan,01 837 4440
Winder. 01 497 0016,
Secretary - Michael Murphy 098 25068
If you would like to inform us of any problems in your area please email us at
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