Newsletter No 38                      Summer 2009

 Comment: The leopard won't change its spots, Minister

As our lead story reports, Minister O Cuiv says he will solve 90pc of access problems within a year. First, let's be clear about what access problem he is talking about. He is not going to deal with rights-of-way in the lowlands: that problem he has handed over to Environment Minister John Gormley, who in turn might just force county councils to list rights-of-way.

 No, what Minister O Cuiv is talking about is freedom to roam, so he intends to sort out the areas to be covered (mountain, bogland etc) and the limited permissive routes which he believes would be sufficient to get walkers to rough grazing land where they could presume a freedom to roam.

 If achieved, this would be a huge step in the right direction, particularly for hill walkers. So how does he intend to proceed? The Minister insists that it will all be done by voluntary means. He intends to offer farmers a few sweeteners but his aspiration (it would be an exaggeration to call it a scheme) will depend upon persuasion. Unless landowners, usually farmers, come up with an initiative, nothing will happen. 

More worryingly, Mr O'Cuiv insists that the persuasion for farmers to play ball with him must come from the farming organisations - - the same people have spent the last five years resisting every possible plea to take a more reasoned and imaginative approach to the problem of access to the countryside. 
 
Even in a changing economic climate, with the burden of grants to agriculture falling more and more on Irish taxpayers, the farming organisations show a myopic and grasping attitude. To believe that they will belatedly accede to the ministers power of persuasion is a triumph of hope over experience. Worse, Mr O'Cuiv now proposes to waste yet another year in which he could at last take on the farming organisations and push for the only real solution: legislation of the type enjoyed in almost every other European country.
 
I'll solve access problem within a year, says O'Cuiv
 


 
 
The Minister with responsibility for solving Irelands access problem now insists that he can 'solve' 90 per cent of the difficulties within a year". 
Minister Eamon O Cuiv also hinted that unless the farming organizations help to sell his proposals, he will have no option but to legislate for access. 
Mr O'Cuiv offered a few sweeteners to landowners but none of the substantial funding which the farming organisations have demanded. 
Among the sweeteners, landowners who sign up will receive full indemnity against damages claimed by anybody injured on their land. Their REPS (Rural Environmental Protection Scheme) subsidies would also be protected in the unlikely event that these were cut due to damages caused by walkers. 
The Minister's proposals depend upon local communities arriving at their own voluntary schemes to provide access to hills and mountains with landowners agreeing to a local ' right to roam' on rough grazing and upland areas. They could then receive help in marketing routes in their area in a bid to attract walkers and other recreational visitors.
 Mr O'Cuiv stressed that the only funding available to landowners would be a small amount to ensure that access routes and paths were kept clear and equipped with necessary stiles and signage. 
The two main farming organisations, the IFA and the ICMSA, were non-committal when the Minister asked them to co-operate at a Comhairle na Tuaithe meeting in Dublin on April 30th. They refused to give any commitments when he asked if they would be willing to promote his proposals.
 
Ireland worst in EU for access, researcher tells your AGM

   

Helen Todd, access officer with the Scottish Ramblers and KIO president Jackie Rumley speaking at the KIO AGM

Ireland is becoming known as the access blackspot of Europe, according to the main speaker at KIO's AGM. 

Helen Todd, Access Officer for the Scottish Ramblers, told members that her research into access problems throughout the EU left her in no doubt that this country has the worst record in Europe when it comes to defending the right of access to the countryside.

 She said that in her research paper delivered to rambler organisations throughout Europe, when they met in Malaga last Summer, she made it clear that Irish access gets, and deserves, the wooden spoon. 

In an informative and inspiring talk, Helen contrasted the present idyllic situation on access in Scotland, where all but he most obvious areas are open to responsible visitors, to the position here.

 

She described how Scotland is currently developing a comprehensive network of core footpaths complete with infrastructure such as stiles and footbridges. Recent research indicates that outdoor recreation is worth £5.2 billion (€6 billion) a year to the Scottish economy. 

The meeting, held in the An Oige HQ in Dublin on April 18th, also heard from KIO Chairman, Roger Garland, who said that Heritage Minister Eamon O'Cuiv has failed to deliver on commitments he made at last year's AGM. The meeting also heard from KIO President Jackie Rumley , who said that Ireland is denying its own citizens the right to access a huge part of their own heritage and that we are shooting ourselves in the foot by trying to sell walking holidays in a land where visitors have fewer rights to walk than anywhere else in the EU. How can we promote walking holidays in a land where visitors face being abused or worse for simply walking innocently on the landscape? He said it was shameful that the people of almost every country in Europe enjoyed better access to their heritage than those who live in or visit Ireland. Our politicians should be ashamed of themselves for their abject failure to put that right, he said.

* The European Ramblers paper on access by Helen Todd is available on www.ramblers.org.uk/scotland/ourwork_scotland/access/Access+in+Eu

 

Hopes rise that Gormley Planning Bill will ease rights-of-way logjam 

There are growing indications that Environment Minister is about to legislate to make the listing and establishing of public rights-of-way easier. 

Informed sources say that he will include new guidelines in his long awaited and much-delayed Planning Bill due to be published before the Dáil Summer recess. As things stand the 2000 Planning Act merely says that local councils 'may' list public rights-of-way. Almost every council in the country has interpreted this as meaning that they don't have to list , and therefore need not protect, walking routes. 

A minimal requirement would be for Mr Gormley's legislation to tilt the balance back requiring local councils to play a more pro-active role in both the protection and listing of rights-of-way. It is also hoped that the Bill will ease the criteria required to establish a right-of-way.

 This might go some way towards undoing some of the damage casused by the disastrous Collen V Leonach (Glencree) ruling in which a High Court Judge decided that a public right-of-way cannot be established unless a landowner has dedicated it to be so in writing. This judgment, if applied, would mean that there would hardly be a right-of-way left in the State. We await developments with interest.

Dalan de Brí visits the county with a reputation for hostility to walkers

Don't go to Sligo

 

 


 
Stolen heritage: Benwisken is just one of Sligo's access problems
Gleniff:
We couldn't find a path going up Benwiskin from Gleniff - atrocious weather- but went up the Miner's Track over three locked gates, lots of signs re private property, no trespassing etc. Two walkers we met on the Miner's Track, locals, told us what a nice man 'The Bull' McSharry is now, whatever settlement he has got.
 No problem walking up to Benwhiskin so long as one asks him! They recommended bringing a bottle of something or a box of sweets for landowners when looking for permission to walk on their land. They know a walker from Belfast who has been walking the area for years and keeps several bottles of wine and boxes of sweets in the boot of his car, gifts for landowners. An Irish solution to an Irish problem?
'One walker keeps gifts for landowners in his car'
Lots more unauthorised access, private property etc on the eastern side of Gleniff, including an interesting well-worn bit of graffiti on the road: 'Don't be a sitting duck. Watch out for Roger Gralnd(sic)' 
At the South end of the valley, near the Trosc Mór Transmission road (I don't see why that road has to be blocked by a locked gate either) a McSharry Private Property no trespassing sign, complete with his logo, but there's also a Land Sold sign there at the gate. The whole thing is outrageous, unbelievable and very depressing, more so since I read up the positive coverage McSharry got at the time. 
Castlegal:
I didn't get far enough up the path to see any sign, again because of the weather, but the beginning of the path coming off the N16 is overgrown and looks completely unused. Culeenmore beach: Visited Pegeen Doyle and Hugh MacConville. Lovely people. They brought us round the path where a fence has the been erected on the foreshore by Sligo County Council. Peigeen and Hugh hope their court case regarding this disputed right of way will come up this year. It doesn't seem a black and white case to me but I'm no expert.
Dalan de Bri is a director of KIO and our Irish language expert.
 
 
OOPS 
Our last paper newsletter was mistakenly labelled Spring 2008. Apologies for the confusion, We have now caught up on ourselves.
EU Commission asked to probe Irish access 
MP Kathy Sinnott has recently put a question to the European Commisssion regarding the lack of access in Ireland. Her move follows a meeting with a KIO delegation held in Dublin Airport in Mar 23rd. 
The question asks why there is such a huge disparity in access rights between countries such as Ireland, Scotland and England and why Ireland, despite its sparser population, has such poor access rights. It then asks 'Can the Commission comment on access to the countryside across Europe? Are there any plans for action in this area? The question was submitted on May 6th. An answer is expected within six weeks.
Farmers receiving 86 pc of income from the taxpayer 
Many members of KIO were gobsmacked by the proportion of farm income that came from the taxpayers of Ireland and Europe in 2006: a whopping 98%. 
According to the more recent Teagasc National Farm Income survey for 2007, the amount has fallen - to 84 % of income. That's right: on average just 16% of farm income comes from producing and selling things. 
And be warned. The Irish taxpayer will be expected to pick up the tab for all of this largesse in 2012 when EU subsidies for our farmers will cease. Given their myopic attitude to access, we are entitled to ask: What do the farmers do for all this generosity? 
KIO will intensify its campaign in the next year or two for cross-compliance. This would do as they do in England: make reasonable access a condition of receiving public money. You can access the Teagasc survey at www.agresearch.teagasc.ie/rerc/farm_surveys.asp
 
Note from a mystified visitor
 I am one of many people who wants to visit the summit of all the 2000ft hills in Britain and Ireland and the antics of Bull McSharry and his like are frustrating. I know that there would be many other like-minded people who, like me, would want to include Ireland if only there were clearer access laws (KIO comments: the laws on access are unfortunately all too clear: recreational visitors have no legal right to step unto private land). 
My experience of farmers I have met in Ireland is mixed - you never know if you are going to be invited in for a cup of tea (or something a little stronger) or sworn at. Some of the farmers I met in Ireland have been unbelievably friendly and generous - some have been distressingly rude. It is the uncertainty that is off-putting - do you try to avoid being seen by the farmer waiting at his/her gate or do you walk straight towards him or her for a chat and advice on the most interesting way up the hill? 
These days I do most of my hill-walking in Scotland and I take it for granted that I can walk almost anywhere- certainly outside the deer-hunting season. Occasionally in Scotland there are still GOML (get off my land) signs but it is generally quite safe to ignore them. In Ireland you just can't be sure.
Martin Richard (UK address supplied)
 
 
Election questionnaire 
We have sent a questionnaire to all political parties and independent MEPs on their attitude to access. We hope to have the results posted on our web-site a few days before the elections
 
 
New map shows the way


 

At last a new map of South Dublin and the North Wicklow mountains shows many of the trails, old roads and access routes either missing or hard to locate on almost all the maps that have gone before. Produced by East West Mapping www.eastwestmapping.ie , 1:30,000 sheet covers the mountains as far West as Blessington and Mullaghcleevaun and costs €9.95 It offers a totally different dimension to the maps available up to now, with handy historical notes on many geographical features. Handily, it is printed on water-resistant paper and should be available in bookshops and outdoor shops. The ISBN number is 978-1-899815-23-4.

Attitudes not hens the problem

 

Judge Paddy Brennan, who died last year, used to relate a tale of how he once had to defend a summons in Mayo involving trespass by two or three hens. 

On one level this is funny but on another, as our informant tells us, it is an example of the extreme, even crazed, narrow Irish attitude to land ownership. Our informant wonders, as we often do, if attitudes have moved on since those days.

Can you help us? 

We urgently need help with our work on county development plans, and heritage plans. This work would suit a volunteer. Expertise would be great but is not essential. Ability to use a computer would greatly assist.

 

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


Catholic Girl Guides of Ireland


Irish Ramblers Club


Irish Rural Link


Irish Wildlife Trust


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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