Protest at prison over jailing of farmer


Over 200 farmers, including the president of the Irish Farmers' Association, Mr John Dillon, took part in a protest over the imprisonment of a Co Sligo farmer. Andy "The Bull" McSharry was jailed for failing to pay a fine of €300 imposed for threatening behaviour towards hillwalkers.

McSharry, who styles himself on "The Bull", the main character in The Field which was written by John B. Keane, is serving two weeks for failing to pay the fine. The incident for which he was convicted took place on the public road near his land last March.

He refused to pay the fine on principle and was arrested last week. On Saturday, neighbours and supporters from Sligo held a protest outside Loughan House prison, near Blacklion, Co Cavan, where he is serving his sentence.

Following what was a peaceful demonstration, Mr Dillon said the issue involved constitutional rights and he supported McSharry's stand. Hillwalkers or others, could not treat farmers like tenants and had no right to walk on their lands without permission.

Mr Gabriel Kilmartin, chairman of the Irish Cattle and Sheepfarmers' Association in Sligo said the demonstration was held to highlight farmer concerns over the flouting of their rights. "Our Constitution states that we have the right to private property without intrusion. Hillwalkers must understand that trespassing on private farmland is an intrusion, an intrusion on our rights and our livelihoods," he said.

"Most hillwalkers are courteous and walk on lands with consent of the farmer involved. However, our concerns lie with those who do not have the courtesy or respect to seek permission to cross lands," he said.

Farmers have valid reasons to be uncomfortable with people walking across their farms without permission, he said. At this time of year, hikers and dogs could cause stress to ewes which are heavy in lamb. "Farmers have genuine concerns about damage to property and personal injury to walkers with the associated insurance implications," he said.

"ICSA believes that farmers are very reasonable people and do not wish to see conflict between urban and rural communities. However, we will always defend the rights of farmers to be masters of their own properties, and to grant or refuse permission for access as they see fit."