488,000 walking tourists visited Ireland last year


THE NUMBER of walking tourists coming to Ireland increased last year by 150,000 to 488,000, Minister for Rural Affairs Éamon Ó Cuív has disclosed.

He was speaking at a function in Galway as it emerged that payments have begun to more than 300 farmers who have established walking trails under the New Walks Scheme.

Failure to find agreement with some landowners had held up the creation of new walkways but this was resolved in March last year by Comhairle na Tuaithe, the countryside council.

The council includes representatives of the farming organisations, recreational countryside users and State bodies, and was established by Mr Ó Cuív in 2004 to deal with access to the countryside.

Under the walks scheme, farmers are paid for the establishment and maintenance of walks. Payments are up to a maximum of €2,900 a year under a five-year agreement. The walks are being put in place by rural recreation officers in each of the areas.

Up to 50 per cent of the the payments farmers can receive annually from the scheme has been made to farmers with lands along four walks. These are the Sheep’s Head Way in West Cork, the Blue Stack Way in Donegal, the Suck Valley Way in Roscommon and Galway, and the Éamon A’ Chnoic Loop in Tipperary.

Irish Farmers Association hill committee chairman Neilie O’Leary, welcoming the start of payments, said it was incumbent on recreation officers to ensure the maximum payment applied to farmers in recognition of their work in maintaining the walks.

He said the scheme would apply to 11 National Waymarked Ways and one looped walking route in 2008 and this should be followed by additional walks as the interest and potential in the scheme was significant.

Mr Ó Cuív said he was convinced that the walking tourism sector could continue to grow between visitors from abroad and from Ireland.

“The development of the rural recreation and tourism sector is a key factor in ensuring the improved wellbeing of rural areas,” he said.

Mr Ó Cuív said the fact that the walking facilities were free and open to the public would send the message that walkers and cyclists were welcome and would increase our attractiveness as a tourist destination. He added that a national inventory of accessible walks and trails was being compiled.