Court rules against walkers over disputed right of way

 

The Labour Party has said it will introduce a Bill to protect rights of way after the High Court ruled against walkers in a landmark case involving an unregistered route in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow.

The decision was, however, welcomed by the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association (ICSA).

Members of the Enniskerry Walking Association said more than 90 per cent of walking routes in the Republic could be affected by yesterday's ruling.

In the High Court, Mr Justice Seán O'Leary ruled that the contentious Enniskerry route was not a public right of way and never had been.

The dispute centred on land owned by Neil Collen at Lambe's Lane, Old Bolley, Glencree, Co Wicklow, which the walking group Enniskerry Walkers claimed was a public right of way.

According to the judge, there was no evidence of Mr Collen or any previous owners of the land having dedicated any of the land to the public.

He also noted that not a single local person who took to the witness box used the expression "public right of way". While he agreed that in the past locals had used a pathway in the area as it allowed them access to the main Glencree to Enniskerry public road, the numbers using the route soon dwindled with the introduction of the motor car and better transport.

From the 1970s onwards, he felt very little use was made of the pathway, apart from locals, youths staying in a nearby hostel, and a very small number of recreational walkers.

Furthermore, while summarising the evidence given on behalf of the walkers, Mr Justice O'Leary said their use of the lands was no different to that by townspeople for Sunday picnics on farmland in fields throughout the country on an unofficial basis.

"It's open to legislature within the limits of Bunreacht na hÉireann to address how to provide facilities for walkers while respecting the rights of property owners. What should be clear from this action is that the use of the concept of public rights of way as a mechanism for creating new or reviving old rights for walkers is unlikely to lead to a satisfactory overall solution."

The judge will hear submissions on costs at the High Court on July 3rd.

Niall Lenoach of the Enniskerry Walking Association, one of the defendants in the case, told The Irish Times that "it was a bad day for tourism, a bad day for walkers". Describing the judgment as "comprehensive", Mr Lenoach said the only hope it held out for walkers was the judge's reference to the issue now being one for the legislators.

"At least this puts the issue back where it belongs, in the Oireachtas," he said. However, he added that "the amount of flak the main parties will have to endure from walkers would be much less than that which they would get off the IFA if they attempted to change the legislation."

Roger Garland said the ruling was a disappointment, but he said he expected the Green Party to get behind attempts to change the law. He also said he thought Sinn Féin and the socialists would support a proposed change.

The deputy leader of the Labour Party, Liz McManus, a Wicklow TD, said the decision was "extremely disappointing". She said the Labour Party would prepare a Bill "to protect the rights of way into the future. I will be working with the walking groups in Co Wicklow to ensure that this matter be progressed."

ICSA president Malcolm Thompson welcomed the ruling, saying it was "significant for farmers in scenic areas who find themselves besieged by hill walkers, particularly at this time of year".