Council criticised for lack of leadership in dispute over walking trail plan

A local authority has been accused of lacking leadership in a heated row which could scupper plans for a major tourist walking and cycling trail along a disused railway line.

The proposed Great Southern Trail, which would run from Rathkeale in Co Limerick to Fenit in Co Kerry, is at the centre of a stand-off between farmers, walkers and CIÉ, which is adamant it owns the land.

Kerry County Council has declined to apply for grants to develop the trail because it doesn’t want to get involved in what could yet be a legal battle instigated by farmers claiming squatters’ rights to the land.

Great Southern Trail chairman Liam O’Mahony said he was disappointed the council was not showing leadership.

“The council seems to be adopting an attitude of see-no-evil, hear-no-evil and speak-no-evil. In effect, the council is facilitating the farmers’ delaying tactics.

“The farmers’ aim is to ensure grants will not be got to develop the trail, but they are refusing to state what their claims are. Let us hear what they have to say. They (farmers) should back up their claims, or else back off,” said Mr O’Mahony.

A farmers’ spokesman declined to comment.

Work has been completed on the trail from Rathkeale to the Kerry border, but walkers coming from the Limerick side have had their way blocked at the Kerry border by the farmers.

Kerry County Council spokesman Padraig Corkery said the council had not applied for funding, stating it was prioritising a number of more advanced walkways.

“One of the criteria is that walkways should be developed in a relatively short space of time, but there could be protracted issues with the trail in north Kerry which could drag on for some time,’’ he said.

A proposal in 2000 that the council seek to take over the land from CIÉ was opposed by councillors, he said. “We have not received any formal proposal to develop the trail. If we got such a proposal we would certainly have a look at it.”

Mr O’Mahony asked the farmers to meet a mediator made available by South Kerry Development Partnership. “They have refused three requests to meet the mediator. It’s hard to understand why they can’t sit down with someone who is prepared to help find a solution to this problem.”

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