Ireland…. Right to Roam?

notrespassersKeep Ireland Open is the only organisation in the country which is actively campaigning for legislative change aimed at providing responsible access to the countryside.

Ireland, both North and South, has the most regressive and restrictive access legislation in Europe. Most of the routes used to reach our mountains, hills, seashores, rivers and national monuments pass over private land. In almost all cases, the walker has no right to be there. Every year routes are lost and the cost of fighting closures falls on the shoulders of ordinary citizens who, literally, must put their house on the line to protect the public good.

Incredibly, local authorities in the 26 counties are not even required to list, let alone protect, public walking routes. The disastrous 2000 Planning Act merely states that local authorities “may” list routes rather than that they must or should do so. Consequently nearly all county councils and corporations don’t bother even making a list and looking to your local authority to keep walking rights open is, as the law stands, nearly always useless.

Almost all of the laws relating to public access in the Republic are ancient English statutes dating back to before 1922 when the State was founded. Thus, while England, Scotland and Wales have all moved on with successive waves of progress legislation opening up the countryside to walkers, Ireland drags her feet as our politicians live in terror of organised farming and development lobbies who remain hostile to any proposals which extend the rights of access to land.

Despite the fact that farmers now make up only 3pc of the Republic’s population, TDs, particularly in rural areas, fear their “clout” and highly politicised organisational structure. This situation pertains despite the fact that, on average between 2006 and 2009, more than 90pc of farm income came from the Irish and EU taxpayer in the form of grants and benefits.

In other words, Irish politicians seem happy to continue to allow landowners receiving almost all the income that enables them to remain on the land to deny access to the very people – taxpayers – who pay that income.

Since 2004 KIO has been a member of Comhairle na Tuaithe, the Countryside Commission set up to deal with the issue of access. There we have continually incurred the wrath of the farming organisations by fulfilling our role as the only voice arguing for progressive legislation granting responsible access on the lines now found in every other European country. It is often a lonely fight, as the lack of access usually only intrudes into people’s consciousness when they find themselves blocked, fenced off, abused or even assaulted for trespassing.

KIO remains the only pressure group seeking to protect and expand your heritage through a protected right of access to the landscape which makes Ireland justly famed for her beauty.

We would ask you to join us. These are your basic rights that we are fighting for. Please help. You can start by downloading our membership form and learning more about the struggle and the arguments for improving public access on our website:

4 comments on “Ireland…. Right to Roam?

  1. John Moore says:

    A very interesting article. I am all too aware of the issues having seen them first-hand up in Sligo (which I believe some of which may not be resolved?). Looks like loads of work to be done and many hurdles to be overcome before walkers can fully enjoy the freedom of the countryside.

  2. paulocon says:


    To the best of my knowledge, some of the problems over in Sligo have indeed been resolved. I have heard that the 'Bull McSharry' has mellowed and now allows access up Benwiskin but I think that not all the local population are pro-hill walking. There's more info on it over on the Keep Ireland Open website..

  3. Hazel says:

    Ireland is a Disney ‘drive through’ country insofar as everywhere is owned. The only place you have a right to be is in places where you are spending money or you own home. There is little provision made anywhere for parking and this must always be paid for. In the end, I find whenever I am in ireland I am constantly driving through places, unable to get out of my car. Public access to the country is so limited as to be non existent and the countryside is bedecked with warning signs to ‘Keep Out’. Yes I will – and stay in England where the countryside is for the people.

  4. Aw c’mon Hazel, it’s not that bad. We’ve a number of national parks where there.s ample parking and yes the land is largely in private or communal ownership, however if you just present yourself in a civilized manner and ask around from the locals where can you hike or park, 9 times out of 10 you’ll get a warm greeting and be pointed in the right direction.
    Farmers and emergency services just can;t be having gateways blocked as this hinders their way of life and potentially has fatal consequences. Come back over sure and if ya like, gimme a bell and I’ll best advise you on parking and access, to the best of my ability, depending on area.
    I’m based in the north west, Sligo to be precise, but all this info is just a click or two away if ya know what links.

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