Fenit Island protest march

HUNDREDS of people took part in a protest march to assert what they say is a traditional right of way on Fenit Island, a scenic and historic island off the coast of Kerry, yesterday.

Gardaí accompanied the marchers and private security was also employed on some property.

Organisers said up to 350 people assembled yesterday on the walk which was stewarded by the Fenit Island Access campaign group which oversaw the first march at Christmas.

It is the third such march to the island in an increasingly bitter row between walkers and a small number of landowners on the island.

The island is the birthplace of St Brendan and contains a 16th century castle owned by the OPW. Much of it is a special area of conservation, and it is joined by a sand-spit to the mainland. In 2006 a road was upgraded to facilitate the Kerry island’s nine landowners.

The marchers claim the erection of fencing and ‘no trespass’ signs, shortly after the roadway was improved, by a small number of landowners, impedes their traditional walking route around the island.

Matt Hopper, spokesman for Save Fenit Island, said €150,000 had been spent on eight feet-high electric fencing over a number of years and locals were “very angry”. Three landowners were involved in fencing off access, he said.

“The fencing is going right down into the tide in several places, but particularly in the northwest of the island,” Mr Hopper said. There was no issue with landowners fencing off their property as long as they allowed safe access along the shoreline.

However, the landowners, who include Ennis-based solicitor, Seamus T O’Sullivan, deny any public right-of-way exists.

In a solicitor’s letter to a Fenit Island landowner who does allow access, Mr O’Sullivan and John P Murphy, another landowner on Fenit, allege trespass on their lands and they say no public right-of-way exists.

They also claim they are the subject of “harassment and intimidation” and that an online site on the dispute “is replete with threatening and offensive comment” about them — a claim denied by Mr Hopper.

A county council meeting on Friday heard calls for mediation.

Tralee area councillor Pat McCarthy (FG) said rights-of-way were “a grey area” often involving legal issues costly for the taxpayer, and he said attempts should be made to solve the dispute at a local level.

That meeting heard the council had spent €200,000 on upgrading the road into the island. Local councillor Toireasa Ferris said the council has been asked to intervene but “had done little against individual landowners”. She has asked it to allow a deputation from the access group.

However, director of planning at Kerry County Council, Michael McMahon, told the meeting that the county solicitor had met with the marchers’ Tralee-based solicitor. There were accepted procedures legally in establishing a right-of-way in law, but the council’s solicitor was still awaiting affidavits from the marchers. There were no planning issues with the fences, the council said.

Meanwhile plans to build a walking and cycling route, on the old Tralee to Fenit rail line have been delayed because of legal issues, the meeting heard.

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