Farmer unbowed after spell in jail

 

A Co Sligo farmer who spent two weeks in prison for refusing to pay a fine for threatening hill walkers on his land has said that he remains more committed than ever to defending the rights of farmers on their property.

Mr Andy McSharry, Gleniff, north Sligo, was released from Loughan House open prison just after 9 a.m. yesterday, and was greeted outside the gates of the prison by members of various farming organisations.

Following a "freedom rally" at which both Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA) and IFA speakers called for an urgent resolution to the growing hill-walking controversy, Mr McSharry returned to his mountainside home.

"I feel proud. I came back and like the Pope does, I kissed my own land. It is nice to be back on it," he said.

The self-named "Bull" McSharry was jailed on January 5th for two weeks for his failure to pay a €300 fine. The fine had been imposed by a judge at Grange Court in June 2003, after Mr McSharry was convicted of threatening a Co Meath couple who had crossed onto his lands.

"At this stage I'm 110 per cent more committed to the cause then when I started my campaign. The farmers are now out there protesting and the country sees that. I never wanted to go to jail, and I certainly don't want to go back. But that is up to the next hillwalker that comes onto my land and challenges me in the same way again. I'm left with no choice," said Mr McSharry.

The issue is likely to arise in the local elections in Co Sligo. Mr McSharry will meet his supporters soon, and says an Independent candidate will be selected to run in the north Sligo electoral area. Mr McSharry ran as an Independent candidate in the 2001 General Election in the Sligo-Leitrim constituency to defend the rights of farmers and their private property - he polled 303 first preference votes.

The president of the ICSA, Mr Malcolm Thompson, who was outside Loughan Prison to meet Mr McSharry on his release, praised him for his morals.

"Andy has carried out the full sentence of the law. The question I would ask is where are those people who broke the law - the trespassers who walked across Andy's land? They have walked scot free. The ICSA is calling for equity in all cases. I think that we want to see prosecutions brought against all people who break the law, and the trespassers should face the full rigours of the law in this case," he contended.

Mr James Gilmartin, the chairman of the north Sligo branch of the IFA, also declared his full support for Mr McSharry. "This is especially a problem with groups like Keep Ireland Open," he said. "They think they have a God-given right to trample over our rights."

The IFA in Co Sligo held a meeting last night to discuss the issues raised by the McSharry case.

"We want an agreed settlement. We want people to enjoy the countryside, to respect the farmers' rights to own private property, and the farmers, in return, to respect the rights of people who do wish to walk on their property," added Mr Gilmartin.