Newsletter No 35                       Summer 2008

Editorial: What is KIO on about?

‘Well, we have had only a few run-ins with farmers. For instance, we have got to know farmer Murphy up the road and he allows us to walk his land - some of it anyway – and all is hunky-dory if we send a bottle of whisky his way each Christmas. What is KIO about?’

How often have we heard this type of comment? How often have we heard it and wondered if those who made it have ever considered the wider picture.

For instance:

· What about those who want to go for a casual walk for an hour or so with their dog and find that they have to walk hard tarmac roads because there are no paths and no infrastructure such as styles, gates and footbridges.

· What about visiting walkers who are told in no uncertain terms to go elsewhere because they don’t know farmer Murphy? And what happens when local walkers go to other parts of the country and find that they don’t know the local farmer Murphy?

· What about local B and B’s and walking festival organisers who are afraid to put their hands above the parapet since, if they do, what meagre ‘privileges’ they have for their customers to walk private land will be withdrawn?

· What about hill walking guidebook writers who find that they are enjoined to do the impossible: consult every landowner on every route they propose for their books?

· Lastly, what about the future? Why should the State take on powerful and ruthless farming organisations to facilitate recreational users who haven’t the gumption to speak out for themselves?

KIO is working for all who want to recreate in the country: walkers, cyclists, canoeists, cavers and the rest. It is the only organisation campaigning for legal rights to access the countryside.

If you belong to a club that is not in KIO then please put the above points to the committee. Ask other club members to join. Only in that way will we be strong enough to win the rights that recreational users in other countries have enjoyed for decades.

 

More access problems

At KIO's AGM: Chairman Roger Garland, Minister Eamonn O'Cuiv and President Jackie Rumley

 

Kilmashogue

Kilmashogue is a forest area close to Dublin and so attracts a large number of walkers, both on the Wicklow Way and on numerous pathways in the old forest there. A perpetual problem has been a NO ENTRY sign at the car park, which is ignored by everyone who is in the know, namely those who are aware that some signs are just for display and not to be taken seriously.

However there are now developments that must be taken seriously. Part of the Coillte forest has been sold off and the Wicklow Way has therefore had to be diverted into a new and crude forest road. A high fence has been constructed around the sold-off area and trees have been planted on it. Fine, except for those who used to walk the forest paths around here and are now confronted by high fences.

These paths are of course not rights of way: if they were this development would have had to take that into account. So another amenity for Dubliners disappears while the government pursues its ‘voluntary only’ approach to access.

Another Irish solution

Most Dublin walkers know the featherbed, the area of open bogland from South of Kilakee to somewhere near Glencree. It’s been open to turf-cutters, people out for a stroll and hill walkers for generations.

Now a series of signs have been erected stating that Olwell limited, the owners of the land, do not accept responsibility for injuries etc to persons entering the land. Which is fair and reasonable enough – except for the last four words: TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED.

Like the instance mentioned above, most of us know that these last words can be ignored. But what about those who are not acquainted with our odd ways? Surely the disclaimer is quite enough without causing unnecessary unease or even causing the uninitiated to go elsewhere?

‘Seasonal flooding ‘ on the Tipperary heritage trail

You may recall from previous issues that this 6 km footpath running from Golden to Cashel in South Tipperary is closed from October to March inclusive because of what South Tipperary Council describes as flooding (with this degree of prescience they could make a handsome contribution to the Council’s coffers as consultants world-wide). We have tried consulting them without success but now we have help from someone who is in a position to demand answers. We will keep you informed.

 

A Plan for the Dublin mountains

A welcome plan for an important and at present degraded area

 


 

 

 

 

 A few years ago a voluntary group, the Dublin Mountains Initiative, was formed to campaign for the improvement of leisure facilities in the Dublin Mountains, an area that could provide a much-needed outlet for the many citizens on its border.Alas, it all too often gives the effect of neglect and drift.                                                                     

This has now resulted in the final report ‘Strategic Development Plan for Outdoor Recreation 2007-2017’ , which pulls together the collected thoughts of the local councils and Coillte among others. It’s an impressive document, mostly free of the jargon which envelopes most such in a fog of vague verbiage. It sets out the present all too often woeful condition of the mountains (two of the latest problems in these mountains are detailed elsewhere in the issue) and proposes a set of measures which if implemented should greatly improve the amenity value of the areas. It also costs its proposals but of course has no funding at the moment.

It hardly needs saying that the report does not put the slightest pressure on the private landowners to open up their land or provide rights of way. KIO has consistently said that where there are persistent problems of vandalism we would be against opening up such areas to the public – and this is undoubtedly the most vandal-prone area in the country.

Nevertheless over half of this area is in private hands and we wonder how walking or cycling routes are to be developed if landowners do not cooperate. The problem prompted a second leader in the Irish Times in mid-June appealing to farmers to consider the wider community. KIO followed this up with a letter to the newspaper commenting on this forlorn appeal to the farmers’ better nature’, a rare commodity indeed.

 

KIO’s AGM

KIO’s AGM in An Oige HQ in Dublin on 12th April attracted a large crowd of about 70, many no doubt influenced by the fact that Minister O’Cuiv, the Minister whose task it is to facilitate access to the countryside, came (at his own request), spoke and answered questions.

It was a lively and absorbing meeting and the Minister was present for nearly two hours. He was factual about his modest achievements to date (and since he is committed to a purely voluntary approach these achievements are indeed modest) and made no commitment to do other than continue up this cul-de-sac, though he did ask KIO to formulate its ideas on legislation. He answered a barrage of questions and comments courteously and without waffle.

Ruari Quinn, the TD who sponsored the Labour Party’s Access to the Countryside Bill last year was also present and forcefully made a point in favour of Freedom to roam, a key KIO requirement.

In general, comments from the floor were of two types: firstly individual access problem of which there are a wealth of various types and from all areas of the country; consequently the need for legislation as in other countries. The Minister was left in no doubt there is a strong wave of anger and indignation and that the grovelling attitude of some organisations was not shared by KIO members at the AGM.

 

Tourism boards go for soft soap

The four western tourist boards prefer evasion and downright fibs rather than tell the sad truth about Right to Roam in this jurisdiction

Correspondence from a would-be walking visitor from the UK has recently come into our possession. The writer intended to come to Ireland and inquire as follows

What type of areas are covered by Right to Roam legislation (moorland, rough grazing, coast etc)? How extensive is the footpath network in your area? If we do meet an angry landowner what steps will the Council, the police or yourselves take?

With one exception each of the four Western Tourist Boards queried answered promptly and enclosed a lot of literature, nearly all of it irrelevant. None of them even attempted to answer the question about who to go to if challenged.

Cork Kerry Tourism required a reminder before replying. After explaining that there is no Right to Roam legislation in Ireland it stated ‘Some walkers however who believe (sic) they have a right have crossed private property without permission and this aggravated landowners.

Our correspondent, equally aggravated, asked if it would be possible for the tourist board to forward a list of farmers in upland areas, give the locations of their farms and their general disposition so that he could get permission from each of them about the possibility of walking across their land. He answered his own question by deciding to go elsewhere!

Shannon Development stated that there are no access problems with the walking trails and admitted that there was no Right to Roam legislation in Ireland.

North-West Tourism merely sent a standard letter and made no attempt to answer any of the specific questions.

The West Region stated ‘With regard to upland walks in the region we have no issues with access as long as walkers are courteous and mindful and observe the Countryside Code of Ethics’. It went on to state that there is no formal Right to Roam policy.

The last response is particularly worrying. There is a notorious access problem in Ugool Beach blocking an approach to Mweelrea, and two problems in the Bens, to name but the most serious.

These evasive and misleading replies might be fine in the short term but if not factual Ireland’s tourism trade will inevitably suffer badly.

Fáilte Ireland will be informed and we look forward to their response.

 

Offa’s Dyke and the Irish long distance walks

The Offa’s Dyke Path runs roughly all along the border between England and Wales, a total distance of about 300 km. A correspondent recently reported to us that she had just completed the Southern section of it and found it an enjoyable and revealing experience.

Enjoyable because the Path traverses such a variety of country; river bank, deciduous wood, hamlet, moorland and this is important – long stretches of private farmland. Revealing because though our correspondent has not walked the entire Wicklow Way or any other Irish long distance path what she has seen does not encourage her to try any. She has experienced boring coniferous forest and busy roads far too often.

And why? Not because Irish scenery is inferior to Wales. Far from it. The reason is that so much of Ireland’s long distance paths have to be routed through public land, with only 14 per cent of their meagre distance over private land. Yet another reason to introduce legislation to facilitate access to this land.

 

The Kerry – Find your own way

A correspondent writes:

"I was walking in the South West after Christmas and came upon this statement in a leaflet published by the Kenmare Tourist Information Office:

‘Kenmare to Castle Cove Road walk[…..] It is advised to get a map of this walk as some of the signs have gone missing and are covered up by brambles and gorse".

It seems therefore to be the case that there are two categories of errant signs: those that have been removed by landowners ("gone missing") and those that are covered by vegetation. In neither case is anyone going to do anything about it. Is this ah-sure-they-can-buy-a-map passivity acceptable in a country that has so few way-marked routes? She also notes: "On the Beara Way (and luckily you do not need a map for this walk) each stile has instructions for crossing it. Are re really so stupid?".

 

The kinder Scout Mass Trespass

This trespass in 1932 by many well-known people in the North of England eventually led to the excellent legal access situation at present in Great Britain. It was a mass trespass demanding the Right to Roam, not rights of way, which already existed in that area and elsewhere in Britain. So given that we have only a skeleton network of Rights of Way here we are not only 76 years behind our neighbours – we are more than that!.

 

News from Spain

A correspondent who has been recently in the Canaries reports that these islands are making a determined effort to attract hill walkers. For instance the small island of Gomera and La Palma each have about 100 km of signposted paths traversing all parts of these islands, and the situation seems to be much the same in the other islands of the archipelago. The result is that numerous walkers, particularly from Germany, are visiting the area.

 

Pedestrian deaths on the roads

With 15 killed and 71 injured in one year on roads with no footpaths, those who are hindering a network of rights of way have a case to answer

 

The latest year for which the Road Safety Authority has complete statistics is 2006. These show that in that year 73 pedestrians were killed and 944 were injures. The total number of dead on our roads in that year was 365 so that the pedestrian toll accounted for roughly 20 per cent of the total deaths. Of these 15 were killed and 71 injured on roads with no footpaths.

These are the people who would have most directly benefited from off-road rights of way. (We also note that six people were killed and four injured while lying on the road, a quite bizarre statistic.)

In addition please note this. Who knows how many people who have to travel by car could have walked had there been off-road rights of way? Maybe it would have taken longer. However maybe it would not since a right of way could easily be a much shorter distance than the road. And this is to say nothing about the health benefits.

We hope that those who are so selfishly blocking a network of rights of way in this jurisdiction have this toll on their consciences – but we very much doubt if they have.

We would like to thank the Road Safety Authority for providing the above figures so promptly.

 

International Seminar on Rambling in Europe

This important seminar was held in Malaga, Spain early in June and considered arrangements for access to the countryside in the following jurisdictions: Denmark, England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. KIO contributed to the submission from Ireland.

The survey was depressingly familiar: Ireland (north and south) bring up the rear of the countries surveyed, though it would be truer to say that the gap is so wide that they can hardly be considered in the same race. Scotland gives rights to recreational users to walk practically anywhere, while Denmark, taking into consideration its intensive agriculture is not far behind. In addition it provides excellent facilities for cyclists as well as walkers. England has 188,000 km of rights of way and Wales has 33,000 km; and both have extensive areas covered by right to roam.

The only consolation for us in the Republic is that Northern Ireland is almost as far behind as we are.

KIO meets ministers

Two KIO representatives held a meeting on May 1st with the two Government Ministers whose brief is central to sorting out a new legislative dispensation on public access.

During the hour-long discussion with Environment Minister John Gormley and Minister for the Gaeltacht and Heritage Eamon O’Cuiv, both promised to make a special effort to find a way forward on what they both agree is an unsatisfactory situation whereby native walkers and visitors do not know where they can and cannot go.

There was a clear indication on the part of Mr O’Cuiv that he is increasingly impatient at the attitude of the farming organisations, who have made no effort to reach any agreement through Comhairle na Tuaithe, the body set up four years ago to find a way forward. He also pledged that he will table proposals for legislation unless the farm groups play ball.

Interestingly, the Minister indicated that he intends to visit Scotland over the summer to see how the 2003 Land Reform Act, which opened up almost the whole country to access, is working on the ground, an initiative proposed by KIO.

In a change of direction, Minister Gormley said that he believes that, instead of amending the 2000 Planning Act to require local councils to list rights-of-way, it would be better if he were to instruct them to list and take on the harder cases as if these could be won in the courts.

Doing this would make councils less fearful of putting routes into their development plans. He has asked KIO to furnish him with a list of the "worst" cases and promised to push for these to be taken to the courts.

Mr O’Cuiv also said that he favours our suggestion of a national commission to look at tendentious rights-of –way before they can go to law. Mr Gormley agrees that this would be a good idea and both seem well disposed towards setting up such a commission.

The Ministers suggest that KIO produce a list of access problems countrywide and we have recently submitted these to Minister Gormley. Both Ministers suggested that some of the more contentious rights-of-way problems be tackled in court and if they were won then the councils might be emboldened to tackle the easier ones without having to go to court. KIO pointed out that in the Glencree case the Court decided that the landowner has to dedicate a right-of-way to the public before it legally became one. The Minister said that this case need not be binding on subsequent judgments.

They also said that if key cases were lost in the courts, this would point up where the law is deficient and help in the drafting of any new legislation

More unhappy visitors

My attention has come to the existence of your organisation via Mr Roger Garland’s letter in the summer edition of Walk – the magazine of the Ramblers Association*. I was particularly drawn to this as my wife and I, together with our two dogs, have very recently visited Ireland for the first time and, regrettably, were extremely disappointed with the holiday which we had due to the almost complete lack of public footpaths and/or public access.

We stayed in the Wicklow Mountains National Park and it seemed to us that with the notable exception of the walking opportunities at Glendalough the countryside is effectively closed to walkers . Apart from some signposted routes along gloomy and boring forest tracks the only readily evident tracks were the Wicklow Way and St Kevin’s Way – both of which appeared to have much of their routes along tarmac. We ventured into Offaly, imaging from tourist information that the Slieve Bloom area would offer some enjoyable walking but once again found that the area was dominated by dense conifer forest and that the Slieve Bloom Way is, in fact, a walk on the tarmac roads which pass through it.

We most certainly will not be returning to that area of Ireland but did wonder if we should , on anther occasion, make the long trip over to West Cork to see the undoubtedly beautiful scenery, and perhaps have better walking available to us. However, in view of what I have discovered since about access throughout Ireland, it is now unlikely that we shall bother.

Good luck with your campaign to improve access to the Irish countryside especially for the sake of those who live in Ireland but I’m sure that you need, if possible, to bring pressure to bear on Tourism Ireland to make them understand that many would-be visitors must be put off as they do not just want to see the countryside from their cars – they actually want to be able to get at it! Until this happens, I am sure that Ireland will miss out on the revenue which a lot of walkers would bring with them.

[Name withheld] South Staffordshire, England

 

* This refers to a letter from KIO in response to a glowing report in Walk magazine about walking in one area of north-west Ireland. The letter pointed out, in non-dramatic terms, the hazards of walking in a jurisdiction where there is no legal access to the countryside and suggest that visiting walkers might like to consider going with a recognised walking operator to avoid problems.

 

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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