truth slips out
KIO has long been convinced that the farming
organisations are being dishonest when they object to better public
access on the grounds that their members fear being sued by walkers
injured on their land.
The fact that not one single walker has successfully
sued a landowner since the 1995 Occupiers’ Liability Act became law
made that claim ridiculous.
And guess what has just emerged: The Government is
considering a scheme to indemnify landowners against injury claims and—wait
for it— two of the three farming organisations are not sure if their
members want that (see Page 2).
Why? Because they prefer to trot out that old canard
about fearing legal action when the truth is that they don’t really
want more citizens and visitors (who pay 90pc of their farm incomes)
enjoying our countryside.
The Government should press ahead with the indemnity
scheme, followed by bold new legislation expanding the public’s
right of access. Now the farmer reps have shown their real colours,
let’s stop pussyfooting around.
TD plans new law on access
Robert Dowds T.D.
A Labour backbench TD is to introduce a Private Member’s
Bill designed to make it easier for local councils to declare public
access routes over private land.
Robert Dowds, TD for Dublin Mid-West, intends to use
the recently created Friday afternoon rule whereby backbenchers can
The Bill will be drafted in the coming months and will
focus on enabling local councils to declare routes where they are
needed to reach seashores, lakes, mountains, rivers and national
monuments. It will also lay down a mechanism by which councils which
fail to respond to public pressure for access can be called to
Mr Dowds says his Bill will pick up the baton from
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn who, in 2007, proposed detailed access
legislation. That Bill was never proceeded with.
Mr Dowds says he has been moved to produce his Bill by
the chivvying of both Mr Quinn and of his own wife, Katherine Dowds.
"Katherine has lived in the UK and in Sweden for years and she
has been pointing out on a regular basis how pathetic public access to
all aspects of the countryside is in Ireland by comparison to other
It will be interesting to see how much Dail support Mr
Dowd’s proposed Bill will receive. Fine Gael – traditionally
wedded to the IFA - are unlikely to back it. Fianna Fail is also
scared of the farmers and Sinn Fein are split, with one wing
supporting Martin Ferris’s plea for better access legislation and
another wing, led by Pearse Doherty, taking an ultra-cautious
State insurance plan flushes out
the miserable truth
Two main farming organisations
admit that many of their members will not want to take up indemnity
offer in case it encourages more walkers to enjoy the countryside.
For years KIO has argued that the farming
organisations have been completely disingenuous when they insisted
that a major reason for their opposing more liberal public access laws
was that they feared their members might be sued by walkers who could
injure themselves on farmers’ lands.
Now two out of three of the main farming organisations
have provided the proof that our suspicions were completely correct.
The truth is that there has been no real fear of
claims since the watershed Occupiers’ Liability Act was passed in
1995. This Act, to all practical intent, absolved landowners of
liability to walkers unless the former deliberately set out to cause
injury. Not one claim for damages by a leisure user (walker, cyclist,
horserider, paraglider etc) has succeeded in the courts since the
Occupier’s Liability Bill became law. Nor is there any likelihood
that any such claim would prevail.
And what, you might ask, is the reason for this
resistance to the government providing indemnity for land accessed by
the public—the very thing that the IFA (Irish Farmers Association)
and ICMSA (Irish Creamery and Milk Suppliers Association) claimed was
needed? Well, the IFA and the ICMSA have informed the Government that
some of their members are worried that the availability of indemnity
might encourage more people out into the countryside.
So there you have it. The farming organisations don’t
want the taxpayers of Ireland and Europe, who last year stumped up
85pc of Irish farm incomes, to pass over their land.
Now some of them are preparing to take a stand against
this most intelligent and necessary Government measure to encourage
more use of the countryside – along with the broader rural
development that would surely bring.
The claim by the farming organisations that their
members feared being sued was bogus – a fig-leaf to cover a
resistance to reasonable access legislation.
The truth is that the farming organisations banged on
about their ‘fear’ of being sued in the mistaken belief that
holding out against legislative change would eventually force an
exasperated State to pay them yet more scarce (and scarcer) State
funds for access.
We in KIO welcome the Government’s indemnity
proposal with open arms. We hope it comes to pass after the IFA and
the ICMSA have learned to become a part of, rather than semi-detached
from, the rest of society.
The words "gift horse" and "mouth"
come readily to mind.
Fearful councils slow to list
Our intensive lobbying of the previous Government
resulted in a section in the Planning Amendment Act (2010) providing
for the mandatory listing and mapping of public rights of way by
county councils. It is now a requirement that all county development
plans must include these lists in their County Plans.
The first fruits of this breakthrough have just
emerged. Meath County Council’s draft County Plan has listed 24
rights of way.
While landowners have a right of appeal, we are hoping
that at least some of the routes listed will be adopted as rights of
The Wexford Draft Plan provides for listing before the
expiry of the Plan in six years time. We have pointed out to the
council that a list must appear in the final version of the Plan as it
is quite clear that this leisurely approach is a breach of the Act.
Another positive in Wexford is a summary of the
present law on the requirements for the identification of rights of
ways and a set of procedures to be followed, including involving the
However, even if we eventually finish up with a few
rights of ways here and there we are not hopeful of a comprehensive
list due to the present law based on a number of conflicting court
cases. (See reference to the Supreme Court Appeal in the EWA case on
Illegal homeowner blocks off
access to historic cromlech
The battle by locals in Enniskerry to preserve access
to a 5,000-year-old cromlech continues.
The monument at Glaskenny, close to the An Oige Hostel
at Knockree in the Glencree Valley, had always been accessible from
the nearby roadside via a narrow path. But in 2011 Dargan and Jean
Fitzgerald, demolished an old cottage called Marietta and built a new
house close to the cromlech. They also erected, without planning
permission, a 1.8metre chain link fence along the roadside, blocking
access to the monument, which is on the outer Western boundary of
The house which the couple built was also
substantially larger, higher and more visually intrusive than the one
which they had received permission to build from Wicklow County
Council. This did not go unnoticed and they have been seeking
retention for the illegal structure from the council.
Several members of the local Enniskerry Walking
Association have objected to the fence, for which the Fitzgeralds did
not have planning permission, and the section of chainlink leading to
the cromlech has now disappeared. In a new submission, the couple have
offered to replace the fence with a hedge but have not agreed to
restore public access to the monument.
Meanwhile, Wicklow County Council, who are noted for
being conspicuously useless when it comes to protecting public access,
merely asked the Fitzgeralds to supply a letter from a solicitor
stating that he or she did not believe there was a public right-of-way
over the land.
Given that most courts have held that a public right
of way must traverse a route from one public place to another and that
the locals were merely claiming a right of access to a monument rather
than a public right-of-way, the council would seem to be acting with
their customary dilatoriness.
The monument has been open to public access for 5,000
years but, given its past form, don’t be surprised if the council
fails to enforce the law over what is both a blatantly illegal
building and blocked public access to an important part of history.
Glaskenny cromlech – has been open for 5,000 years
Monuments Bill long-fingered –
The Government is again long-fingering the
badly-needed National Monuments Bill which was to regularise access to
our National Monuments. Word from our spies in the Dail indicates that
it unlikely to be introduced in the Oireachtas until, at the earliest,
the end of next year. According to information gleaned from the answer
given to a parliamentary question to Minister Jimmy Deenihan, it seems
that we have no fewer than 120,000 National Monuments of which only
727 are in state ownership. The rest are privately owned with
public access provided to only a
small number of these.
Two key appeals to Supreme Court
be heard in tandem
The appeal of the
High Court ruling made earlier this year in the case of the Old Coach
Road walking route in Co Wicklow is proceeding to the Supreme Court.
The judgment handed down in February by Justice John
McMenamin is regarded as untenable by KIO and by Michael Forde, the
Senior Counsel representing the defendants in the case.
Mr Forde, who is representing defendants Noel Barry
and Niall Lenoach, is expected to request that the Supreme Court hear
the appeal at the same time as another appeal over rights-of-way on
Lissadell estate in County Sligo, which is to be heard in January
after a two-year wait.
The plea to hear the two appeals in tandem arises out
of the fact that they raise similar issues for the court to consider.
It is believed that the legal bill for the Lissadell case will top €9m
by the end of the Supreme Court hearing. It was before the High Court
for 58 days.
The bill in the Old Coach Road case, which was before
the High Court for 11 days in total, is believed to be around €1million.
Both bills are clear proof of how unfit for purpose the law on access
is in Ireland.
A wake-up call for your walking
While we are pleased to have the support of many clubs
there are others out there who prefer to sit it out and let KIO do the
heavy lifting. We recently contacted a number of clubs to seek their
support. The excuses given for non-involvement varied but the main
Affiliation or any connection with KIO could damage
their relationship with landowners; also:
No problems with access: When we countered this by
pointing out access problems in their area their response was:
"We get permission for our club to go through his/her property or
sure we take an alternative route." Significantly, when we asked
what would happen if no alternative route was available or pointed out
that other routes had also been closed there was an embarrassed
To hell with people coming down from Dublin or our
foreign visitors. That’s their problem. People who take this
view are not concerned with the benefits to their local economy from
opening up the countryside. Access, they insist, is not their problem.
When we succeed, and we will succeed no matter how
long it takes, in opening up the countryside for walkers these selfish
groups will reap the benefits. This is really sickening.
We need many more clubs and individuals to join to
strengthen our hand when dealing with Government.
We also ask you to try to recruit more members. Those
of you in walking clubs should lobby your club to join us too.
Membership application forms are available to download
from our website: www.keepirelandopen.org
Barbed response: Supreme Court appeal over access to
the Lissadell estate in Co Sligo is set to be heard in January
following a two-year wait.
Access officers – the names you need to know
WHEN you run into an access problem, your first port
of call should be to your local Rural Recreation
Officer. He or she will be grateful for any updates regarding
access and will usually approach the landowner in question to see if
there is a problem which can be solved.
Here is a list of the current RROs:
Ann Lannigan (tel: 057 8661900 or 086 8447338; email email@example.com);
Deirdre Kennedy (tel: 071 9141138, Fax 071 9141162;
Martin Dunn (tel: 0906 488292; email firstname.lastname@example.org);
Maria Munckhof (tel: 066 9472724 -064 41930; mobile:
087 2957780; email: email@example.com;
Con Ryan (tel: 062 33360; mobile 087 0556465; email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
James O’Mahoney (tel: 023 34035; mobiles 0870556465
and 0870556465); email: email@example.com;
Pat Mellon (tel: 0404 46977; mobile 087 7888188)
Thomás Mac Gearailt (tel: 091 593410/091 523945;
mobile: 087 0521339) email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
Tom Carolan (tel: 094 9366692; mobile: 087 2196930)
Eimear McCarthy (tel: 094 9366692; mobile: 086
0495041); email: email@example.com
Published by Keep Ireland Open. KIO is an
environmental organisation dedicated to preserving public access to
our mountains, lakes, seashore and countryside.