Luggala and countryside access

 

A chara, – As a life-long walker, founder-president, and honorary life member, of the Irish Ramblers Club, I was glad to read the positive and informed comments in your Editorial (“Conservation conundrum”, August 11th) regarding the peculiarly Irish issue of access to the countryside.

Reasonable and responsible access is allowed in Britain and other countries, and also privately owned land may be included in National Parks. Such arrangements operate successfully abroad, promoting agri-tourism, which benefits local communities and also of course, promoting tourism in rural areas. So why not here?

Traditionally in Ireland, there was a welcome for walkers, as I enjoyed for many years. On our family farm lands in Co Wicklow, we saw no problem in the many walkers enjoying the Church Mountain area where we lived. More recent years, have regrettably seen land-owner lobbies, in many counties, who have changed the scene, with “Keep Out”, and “Private land” signs threatening prosecution. New draft access for walkers legislation is, meanwhile, buried somewhere in the Oireachtas.

Perhaps our active Taoiseach, in the best interests of the country, will look at the dormant draft Bill, and urgently review this important matter. He must realise that there could, realistically, be no possibility – or need – for the State to purchase private properties, such as Luggala, which alone would cost some €28 million.

Might I suggest that, without delay, he appoints a task-force of senior civil servants from relevant government departments, to examine the issue, and report to him, within say, six months. – Is mise,

SO’CUINN,

An Charraig Dhubh,

Co Atha Cliath.

Sir, – I support Mountaineering Ireland’s call for the State to acquire 4,000 acres of the Luggala estate in Co Wicklow (Editorial, August 11th).

It is heartbreaking that the access previously afforded by the late Garech de Brún is being withdrawn. As someone who has walked there on a regular basis,  it has to be said that the public who walked there did so with a sense of responsibility.

  There is a much wider issue at play here, namely, access to the countryside for the general public. As the example of other countries,  including our nearest neighbours in Great Britain, shows, it is perfectly possible to work out a compromise whereby the public has access to the countryside while, at the same time, the rights of farmers and other landowners are respected.

At a time when rural life is under pressure on many fronts, easier public access for walkers and hikers has the potential of becoming  a win-win situation, ie access for the public with the opportunity for people operating in the rural economy to cash in on their presence. The Western and Waterford greenways demonstrate that.

However, all access doesn’t have to involve the same level of investment in infrastructure. For example, the Fife Coastal Path in the east of Scotland brings something in the region of £29 million into the local economy.  Do we have to wait for major public protests before serious change occurs? – Yours, etc,

KATHERINE DOWDS,

Clondalkin,  Dublin 22.

Sir, – I hope the recent closure of Luggala estate (Editorial, August 11th) will open walkers’ eyes to the pathetic state of facilities for recreational users in Ireland compared to practically all countries in Europe.

Here in Wales 20 per cent of the land is designated as “open access” where walkers have a legal right to wander at will. There are hundreds of thousands of kilometres of rights of way mostly over private land, for which landowners normally get no financial reward. In spite of this recreational users and landowners rub along without serious problems.

In Ireland private land is sacrosanct and access granted only with the landowners’ agreement. This is despite these same landowners, in many cases, would be driven out of agriculture without the cash from the EU and increasingly from Irish taxpayers.

The difference between Ireland and Wales (and Wales is not exceptional) makes the difference between chalk and cheese look trivial.

Your Editorial’s solution follows that of Mountaineering Ireland (MI): shovel yet more money to landowners. MI’s attitude is consistent and long-standing. For instance, when the Irish Farmers’ Association made an outrageous demand to allow limited pathways, for which they wanted €5,000 per kilometre plus €1,000 per farm, all per year, MI was the first to enthusiastically support them. For decades they have gone along with almost every demand from farmers, no matter how outrageous. Walkers need expect nothing more than a feeble response from that quarter.

This approach is totally wrong. Instead, what is needed, not only for recreational users but also for tourism and other interests is to force landowners to concede legal rights over suitable land, as has been done all over Europe.

But Irish governments will never do that as long as those most affected grovel gratefully for a few crumbs and suggest yet more taxpayers’ money be thrown at the problem. Yours, etc,

DAVID HERMAN,

Wales.