Michael Fitzmaurice

Farmers organisations express concern at hill walking judgement

Michael Fitzmaurice

Both the IFA and ICSA have expressed grave concern at the recent awarding of €40,000 in damages to a hill walker following an incident while walking on the Wicklow Mountains and the repercussions for farmers.

ICSA rural development chairman Seamus Sherlock said “This sends out a clear message to farmers and landowners that hill walkers can claim successfully for injuries sustained when walking. While the claim related to a structure put in place by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, there will now be a growing fear that this will embolden others to try their luck in the courts.”

Up to now, the state and hill walking lobbyists had been adamant that farmers had nothing to fear because no case had ever succeeded in the courts against landowners or state agencies. He went on to say “The ICSA has continuously lobbied for a Government national indemnity for farmers who permit hill walkers and mountaineers to walk across their lands, but so far we have not been successful in our pursuit”, said Mr Sherlock.

“Hill walking by its nature involves a small degree of risk and those who participate in this activity should be prepared to accept that risk themselves. It is totally unacceptable that a farmer or landowner should find themselves facing a lawsuit through no fault of their own.”

“We had made significant progress over the years in fostering good relations with hill walkers. Comhairle na Tuaithe have assisted greatly in encouraging this interaction, but if this judgement is upheld then all that progress will have been reversed.”

This ruling has set back all of the progress made in recent years and it makes it difficult for ICSA to encourage farmers to allow access. It also has potential ramifications for the development of cycling routes.

The IFA have said that While the judgement relates to property owned by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, farmers will be very wary of the consequences where hill walkers ramble off designated routes.

IFA Hill Committee Chairman Pat Dunne said this matter must be discussed now at the Comhairle na Tuaithe recreational body so that farmers and landowners can be given assurances that their rights are protected and that no such claims could arise on private lands.

The IFA believes that the development of walkways should be done through agreement and that where claims may arise, farmers must be indemnified.