Time for a right-of-way commission

 

Sir, – We have all learned a lot since the current global crisis descended on us. One thing many of us will have noted, in trying to stay within our 5km confinement, is the paucity of places in which one can safely stroll, other than in the shamefully few and frequently crowded public parks and along the narrow footpaths of increasingly congested roads.

All too often this reader has devised a nice local walk, only to find that laneways and boreens which the Ordnance Survey marks as public have been blocked off as if they are the driveway of a private residence or a farm-entrance.

Sometimes gates are installed on what were previously public routes but more often than not what confronts the casual stroller is a panoply of unwelcoming signage that warns (often mendaciously) that one is about to enter private property.

This is all the more egregious when members of the public are denied access to important archaeological or historic sites which are the common heritage of all of us.

Can I suggest, therefore, that the parties currently engaged in trying to put together a programme for government add to the latter a commitment to establish a right-of-way commission which will prevent the further erosion of traditional public routes and remove impediments to public access that have appeared in modern times.

In Scotland, there is an organisation called the Scottish Rights of Way and Access Society. It has existed since 1845! Its objective is self-evident, and we in Ireland need something similar. When self-government was restored to Scotland, one of the first great acts of its parliament was to secure the right to roam for its citizens under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003.

Again, we in Ireland need something similar. Covid-19 has, despite all, helped many of us rediscover the joy of open spaces. In a post-pandemic world, can we have a few more of them please? – Yours, etc,

SEÁN DUFFY, FTCD

Professor of Medieval Irish

and Insular History.

Department of History,

Trinity College Dublin,

Dublin 2.