Keep 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: www.keepirelandopen.org