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It was reported in the Mayo News that disaffected farmers threatened to block the path up Croagh Patrick, because of a row with the Department of Agriculture about commonage-based grants.
The centuries-old path is across commonage and it has never been declared a legal right of way. No doubt that will be a shock to many people but we have been trying to get the message across that all access can be closed and that the law in Ireland will do nothing to prevent this. Most Irish people think that Croagh Patrick, or at least the ancient,much-used pilgrimage route to its summit, is untouchable. Not so.
This is a perfect illustration of why this and all other tracks need to be listed, declared rights-of-way and protected by legislation. The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) got windy and dissociated itself from the threats to close the mountain. Ironic that, given their continuous attempts to block better protection for public access. The core issue remains the same: nothing is protected because, without legislation, the power remains firmly in the hands of the landowners.
But in the interests of citizens and the tourists lured here under the false impression that our countryside is open, to say that the voluntary approach is “not always appropriate” is to grossly understate the problem. And compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) seldom work.
Take the case of the Mayo Greenway. It has been blocked several times and threats to interfere with it are constant. The route was never taken into public ownership, though €8million of public money was spent on it.
Can you see this Irish solution to an Irish problem continuing as ordinary folk look for a reasonable share in access to the outdoors and the Irish landscape?
No. The only permanent answer is legislation. In England/Wales and in Scotland, they have got it right. There, and in most other European countries, legislation protects the rich heritage of ancient tracks and paths.
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