Newsletter 44 Autumn/Winter
you know how it feels, Eamon
is hard not to smile over the predicament in which former Minister for
Rural Affairs Eamon O Cuiv now finds himself (see story, below).
For years Mr O Cuiv argued that there was no need to
change the law to improve public access. All that was needed, he
argued, was reason on both sides. He had nothing to say about all
those cases where landowners are not reasonable. He was out of
sympathy with members of the public who see walking routes vanishing
before their eyes but lack the financial resources to oppose
landowners bent on closure.
In September Mr O Cuiv, now in opposition, joined a
protest march organised by his constituents in Cong who are angry at
the closure of what they insist is a public right-of-way through part
of the grounds of the Ashford Castle hotel. He now finds himself
facing the High Court accused, among other things, of slander of
title, that catch-all civil charge brought by landowners seeking to
close down routes.
He will now be faced with the expense, worry and
byzantine circumlocutions of the 17th and 18th Century English laws
which make establishing a right of public access so difficult and
soul-destroying. We have offered the poor man a year’s free
membership of Keep Ireland Open. We’ll be here for you, Eamon. Who
knows, you might be ready to speak a few home truths to the Dail about
the need for reform when your ordeal ends.
Race facing shutdown
over demands for cash
AN endurance race which
brought hundreds of high-spending participants to Achill Island in Co
Mayo faces being abandoned by the organisers who say they are fed up
with demands for cash from three commonage holders who threatened to
sabotage the event.
One of the organisers says they felt that they had to hand over €2,800
to three men who said they would block the event on September 10
unless they were paid.
The row broke out because the organisers of the three-year-old event have
used commonage land near Keel to start and finish the race, which
involves running, cycling, swimming and canoeing.
They were approached by three local men who style themselves the
Custodial Missions Group to Protect the Commonage. In an effort to
save the event, the worried organisers
handed over €2,800. One of them, who has asked not to
identified, says the
experience means he will never again run the event.
A total of about 600 people actually have title to the commonage which
the three members of the Custodial Missions Group claim to be
Failte Ireland have pumped more than €60,000 of public money into the Achill
Roar over the last three years and it has been an outstanding
success. In 2010, 750 participants took part. Each participant usually
brings along two or three family members and supporters and the race
helped to prolong the tourism season in a part of the country
desperately in need of employment and a boost in visitor numbers. This
year 650 participants registered for the race but numbers were down to
600 on the day due to bad weather.
“What I want to know is: Where were the other 597 commonage holders
when these three men were demanding money on their behalf?” said one
of the outraged organisers. “This kind of uncertainty and greed is
the very last thing that Irish tourism and events like ours needs. Why
should a few greedy short-sighted people be allowed to destroy a
successful event that brings money and jobs into their area? Why are
they allowed to do this?”
The answer, unfortunately, is because the law allows them to. And that
will remain the case until it is changed to protect responsible public
Court battle looming over
An ongoing battle over access to scenic Fenit Island in Co Kerry may come
before the courts early in the New Year
Solicitor and landowner Seamus O’Sullivan has caused outrage in The
Kingdom by erecting a series of industrial scale fences barring access
to most of the island. He has also issued writs against a local
farmer, Willie Parker, and the chairman of the local Fenit Action
Group, Mike McCarthy, accusing them of slander of title. This is the
legal charge normally brought in disputes over rights-of-way where the
landowner accuses a defendant of damaging his or her title to land,
and thereby its value, by claiming it is ‘burdened’ by a public
However, there have been indications that the legal battle over access to
the island, which has been used by walkers, birdwatchers and anglers
for decades, may be taken up by Kerry County Council. A number of
councillors are of the view that the local authority clearly should
protect a right of access to a beautiful scenic route reached by a
causeway which has the historic ruins of McCarthy’s Castle at its
If the council do take up the cudgels then it is likely that the actions
against Mr Parker and Mr McCarthy will lie on the file until after
The local action committee has organised a series of protest marches over
the past year and has spent recent weeks compiling more than 40 sworn
affidavits from a wide variety of people who say they have
traditionally enjoyed unfettered access to the island.
Olivia tells it how it is on access
OLIVIA O’Leary has written another excellent and thought-provoking
essay on the need for Irish society to rebalance individual property
rights against the common good and to develop a state capable of
protecting and developing walking rights.
In her ‘Drivetime’ slot on RTE Radio 1 she compares Ireland
unfavourably with France, which has tens of thousands of miles of
protected walking routes. If you want to hear what she had to say, we
have put a link to the broadcast at the top of this website, www.keepirelandopen.org
Sugar Loaf protection plan
Attempts to provide extra environmental protection for the area around
the Sugar Loaf mountain in Wicklow have been rejected by Wicklow
The Sugar Loaf, one of the most popular hillwalking areas in the country,
was designated a Special Amenity Area Order by former Environment
Minister John Gormley. But councillors voted by 14 votes to 4 at their
meeting on September 5 not to enforce this decision, which would have
placed extra restrictions on building and quarrying in the area, which
includes the Little Sugar Loaf and commonage around about. Bray
District Councillor Ciaran O’Brien, who has been battling for years
to extend SAAO protection to the Sugar Loaf, described the County
Councillors’ decision as “shameful”. “This area is much more
valuable as an amenity than it is for extra quarrying or building,”
he said. “It is incredibly short-sighted for councillors not to see
Cuiv in dock over five-star path protest
EAMON O Cuiv, who as the Minister responsible for access issues under the
previous Fianna Fail Government argued that there was no need for
legal reform over the issue, has been cited as a defendant in a
right-of way dispute.
The Fianna Fail now faces a claim for damages over what he claims is a
right-of-way through the grounds of the five-star Ashford
Castle Hotel near Cong in Co Mayo.
Mr O Cuiv joined a protest march through the estate in late September at
which about 150 people voiced their objection to the closing off of a
popular riverside walk. James Dwyer SC, barrister for the hotel’s
owners, told the High Court on September 27 that they would be seeking
damages from Mr O Cuiv. Mr Dwyer claimed that the former Minister for
the Gaeltacht and Rural Affairs had blatantly ignored a High Court
injunction banning the protest walk.
Mr O Cuiv later denied this claim, insisting that the injunction had been
granted against two known local organisers of the protest, Hugh Lavell
and Sile Gibbons, and he had no reason to believe that it applied to
him or other members of the public. Mr O Cuiv also said that public
money had been spent on the disputed route and there was strong
grounds for believing it was a public right-of-way.
A full trial of the right-of-way issue is expected before the courts next
During his time in office Mr O Cuiv rejected repeated pleas from KIO to
change the law so as to make it easier to establish rights-of-way. He
may very soon have grounds for wishing he had done so.
Bitter Wicklow walkway
actions costs to
is expected early in the New Year in the longest, bitterest
right-of-way case to come before the courts for many years.
What has become known variously as the Old Road or Old
Coach Road case over a longstanding walking route in the scenic
Glencree Valley in Co Wicklow has been before the courts for 12 full
days and two half days of hearings over the past year. It is nine
years since the threat of court action was made in the case and more
than three years since writs were served.
Members from a number of walking groups, including the Irish
Ramblers, Na Coisithe and the Holiday Fellowship walkers, gave
evidence in the case, describing how they had all used what they
believed to be an old roadway. Some described using it since the
Several locals from Enniskerry and the Glencree Valley
gave similar evidence.
It is more than three years since misnamed landowner
Joe Walker took out High Court injunctions against two members of the
local Enniskerry Walking Association in a bid to seal off a scenic old
roadway which runs through woodland which he owns between Kilmolin and
Curtlestown in the Glencree Valley.
Mr Walker’s legal team argued that the 14 maps
showing the route as an old road or footpath were in error.
The defendants, schoolteacher Niall Lenoach and retired
Dublin Bus driver Noel Barry, are respectively the chairman and
secretary of the Enniskerry Walking Association, which has more than
Costs in the case are now believed to have topped the
million euros mark. That is almost certainly more than the value of
the land through which the disputed section of the walk runs.
It is nine years since Joe Walker first began blocking
the route by erecting fences and hiring, on occasions, paid security
guards with video cameras to record people on his land. He continues
to patrol the disputed route in the company of a large mastiff.
On the final day of
hearings on October 21 Mr Justice John McMenamin announced that he has
already walked the disputed route and intends to do so again before
writing his judgment, which the defendants’ legal team expect some
time early in the New Year.
appeal still awaits Supreme Court ruling
THERE is still no indication as to how much longer it will take the
Supreme Court to get around to considering the appeal made by the
plaintiffs in the groundbreaking Lissadell judgment.
Plaintiffs Ed Cassidy and Constance Cassidy, both barristers, lost their
marathon case against Sligo County Council almost a year ago when High
Court Justice Bryan McMahon ruled that there are three public
rights-of-way through the Lissadell Estate. The costs in the action,
which lasted an unprecedented 58 days, have been estimated at €6.2
million. All of these were awarded against Walsh and Cassidy.
Judge McMahon said last December that he hoped the appeal would be heard
by the Supreme Court within a year, even though it normally takes
about two years for a case to make its way through the Supreme Court
The judge said that he believed that the appeal could be fast-tracked
because it evolved around two points of law. The first is whether, as
Judge McMahon argued, usage is sufficient to create a route. The
second is whether a former occupant of the house was in a position to
recognise use as granting a right-of-way as he did not actually own
The Lissadell case is particularly important because it effectively
overturns a bizarre judgment made six years ago by the late Justice
Sean O’Leary, who ruled in Collen vs Lenoach that a right-of-way can
only exist if there is evidence that a landowner dedicated it in
writing to public use.
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.