Friday, 8 December 2006

Plan to offer farmers fees to allow access to lands

From Irish Examiner:

A PROPOSAL that would see farmers giving limited access to their lands in return for upkeep payments has met with a cautious response from groups campaigning for more access to the countryside.

The Irish Farmers’ Association disclosed yesterday that it had got agreement in principle from Minister for Community and Rural Affairs Eamon Ó Cuiv about a national countryside walkways scheme of some 2,000 kilometres.

As many as 5,000 farmers could be encouraged to create and maintain linear and looped routes through their lands, according to the IFA, which suggested fees of €6 per metre at an overall cost to the State of €12 million-€15 million each year.

The Mountaineering Council of Ireland (MCI) yesterday gave the development a guarded welcome.

According to Helen Lawless, who oversees access and conservation issues, it at least represented an “opening bid” in resolving a long-running impasse.

However, Ms Lawless said that the MCI had yet to learn of any details.

She expressed concern that something as narrow as a linear solution (ie linear paths) was being proposed as it would not answer the national need to open up the countryside.

“Our position is that we have looked for a reasonable level of access in return for responsible behaviour,” she said.

Ms Lawless said that one of the points that is missed is that access is not just an issue for walkers. “It affects every citizen of the State — those who want to take a photo of a sunset at a cliff, or go picnicking or who want to go kayaking, for example. They often have to rely on access through privately owned lands.”

Jackie Rumley of Keep Ireland Open said that fewer hillwalkers now come to Ireland because lack of access had also reduced goodwill.

Mr O Cuiv’s spokesperson said that the payments could be captured under an extension of the Rural Social Scheme.

The long-running stand-off over access has seen confrontations between landowners and walkers, some of which have involved intimidation and threats.

The IFA withdrew from Comhairle the Tuaithe — the forum set up to debate the issue — over the payments issue.

Niall Madigan, spokesman for the IFA, said this proposal was designed to encourage farmers to develop and maintain walkways on a voluntary basis. “Some people have claimed vastly inflated prices. A farmer who maintains a kilometre will receive only €6,000 per annum. The overall cost is about €12m, which is not a lot,” he said.

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