Council claims it cannot restore to Uggool beach

 

MAYO County Council's lack of action in restoring access to one of the west's most beautiful beaches, Uggool beach on the northern shore of Killary Harbour, has been highlighted in this column a number of times.

Little has been done, although many promises were made. Now the council has informed the Keep Ireland Open campaign that because the beach has been fenced off for the past five years it is "precluded" from taking any action to restore access.

The KIO campaign has as affiliated organisations An Oige, the Mountaineering Council of Ireland, scouting organisations, the United Farmers Association and local groups.

At a meeting in Castlebar last week spokesmen criticised the reluctance of tourism interests and local authorities to face the growing problem of fenced off scenic or upland areas.

The chairman of the Connacht branch, Dr Tom Rea, said there was a widening gap between Bord Failte's branding of the countryside as a "quality destination" and the reality on the hills.

"The pressing problems of land degradation and loss of access to the countryside will never be properly addressed if we fail to admit they exist," he said.

"The `ostrich' mentality must be cast off, and if we wish tourism to play a role in our future, we must be more self critical in acknowledging our shortcomings as a region."

Access was increasingly being denied to amenities such as lakes, rivers, mountains, shores, and footpaths, Dr Rea said.

"It is a poor reflection on Bord Failte and country communities when, enticed by Mark Mortel's rosy picture, a tourist finds hills badly eroded through overgrazing, unauthorised fences across traditionally open spaces, ancient footpaths blocked, beaches illegally wired off, and a frequently hostile reception, from farmers and landowners.

On the seashore many farmers had set fences down to the low water mark, often with intimidatory notices warning people to keep out.

"A completely unjustifiable policy of litigation scaremongering by the insurance companies has further exacerbated the aggressive stance of farmers looking to preclude the public from traditionally accessed countryside. The National Parks and Wildlife Service has begun to impose charges on walkers, and some landowners are following suit.

"The long term result is that local families and visiting holiday makers alike are being imperceptibly but gradually deprived not only of major scenic walking experiences at principal beauty spots but also of the ordinary everyday pleasure derived from local footpaths, beaches and popular country walks traditionally open year round to everyone," he said.

Support for his stance came from the president of the United Farmers' Association, Mr Michael O'Callaghan. He called on the Government to set up a forum of farmers, conservationists and other interested groups to address the issue.