Call for national council on land access

 

A report recommending the setting up of a national council to handle the issue of access to land by hillwalkers has been recommend in a report sent to the Minister for Rural, Community and Gaeltacht Affairs, Mr Ó Cuív.

The report has been prepared for the Minister by a special committee on tourism and rural development which is the responsibility of the Minister.

The report also envisages the setting up of local committees involving walking groups and farming interests to iron out any difficulties which may arise in areas where farmers are totally opposed to walkers having access.

The imprisoning of Sligo farmer, Andy "The Bull" Mc Sharry for failing to pay a fine imposed for intimidating walkers who had left his land last March, has inflamed passions in Sligo where dozens of supporters have already put up signs banning walkers from their lands without consent.

His case is now being pursued by the Irish Cattle and Sheepfarmers' Association, a small organisation representing beef and sheep farmers, who voted at a meeting in Sligo not to allow members of the public cross their properties without their consent.

The 4,000-strong ICSA was not represented on the special committee which has reported to Mr Ó Cuív and it has pledged to tackle other farming issues with the McSharry case including better entitlements for commonage farmers in the West who were forced to take sheep off commonage in 1998.

The Irish Farmers' Association's deputy president, Mr Ruaidhrí Deasy, said at the weekend that farmers must have the right to refuse entry of recreational users to the countryside and access people want should be with the farmers permission.

He said Mr Ó Cuív should show good faith in dealing with the problems that have arisen in some areas by a proactive approach through the introduction of a scheme similar to the one that previously applied under the REPS scheme.

"Farmers can be encouraged to open up their land provided that an incentive is put in place to ensure that walks can be maintained and an income," Mr Deasy said.

But at the weekend the Minister, who said it was legally unclear whether farmers could ban people from their farms, was emphatic that the State was not prepared to pay farmers for allowing access "in a blanket way".

He seemed to leave open the possibility that farmers who had been receiving payments for access to their lands under the first Rural Environment Protection Scheme, and lost these payments in the second scheme, might benefit in other ways.

He warned farmers there was no "crock of gold" awaiting them from the walking fraternity. He said there was an onus on the walking organisations and the farmers to sit down and negotiate a settlement where access difficulties had arisen.

The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association has called for immunity from accident claims from walkers who enter their land for recreational purposes.