Anyone who enjoys the freedom of the outdoors and appreciates the access to Ireland’s countryside more or less freely given by landowners will have welcomed yesterday’s High Court ruling in which Mr Justice Michael White overturned a circuit court decision to award a hillwalker €40,000 for injuries sustained after a 2013 fall on a boardwalk on the Wicklow Way.
Landowners, especially those generous enough to allow responsible, respectful visitors, will greet the decision with a degree of relief too.
Had the award not been overturned the future of the Wicklow Way, and many other established walking routes across Ireland, would have been brought into question as it was feared that private landowners would withdraw the essential consent needed to allow walkers to cross their lands.
The possibility of a substantial landowner’s liability arising from an accident would have closed swathes of rural Ireland to visitors. This would have been more than unfortunate as it would have undone decades of co-operative work between farmers, forestry owners and those who enjoy the enrichment of a day in the countryside.
It would probably have provoked another bitter round of the debate around the conflict between private property rights and the aspirations of those who want to enjoy the outdoors.
The case hits on another issue too — why do we think someone else can be held to account for our misadventures? Surely we are responsible for our own actions.
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