Following a very constructive meeting with Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring, the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association has outlined the need to address a number of key concerns in relation to land access and issues around liability.
Speaking on these issues, National Vice President Henry O’Donnell pointed to a substantial increase in the numbers accessing our hills for recreational purposes which have increased from 168,000 in 2003 to almost 2.35 million in 2018. In recognising the huge bonus this provides for the local and national economy, there is, he stated, “a strong feeling amongst farmers that they are left out once again with some of the opinion that they are starting to feel over-run by the ever increasing number of people walking their hills”.
Mr O’Donnell says everyone “appreciates how a thriving tourism industry can benefit local communities and the country as a whole, [but] there also needs to be the realisation that these hills are privately owned and seen by those landowners as business and farms with the primary objective being the production and maintenance of livestock.”
“Public access to these hills has adversely impacted on farmers through issues such as sheep worrying by dogs, increased pollution and litter, gorse fires leading to lands been made ineligible for farm payments, gates not been closed and fences broken allowing stock onto public roads and the concern of possible claims against them from walkers that may have got injured.”
“Farmer concerns have being ignored and while we acknowledge attempts being made by the Minister in addressing the issue of liability (which is being piloted in two areas) this issue and others outlined needs to be prioritised for all hill farmers.”
O’Donnell concluded by stressing “how a tourism industry that ignores the property rights and concerns of our farmers is not sustainable which is why we need full engagement in addressing these concerns and finding a way to include farmers and reward them for the public goodwill they are providing”.