The need for land access in Ireland

One way to help recover the Irish economy would be to take advantage of Ireland’s wealth of historic monuments and scenery to boost the tourist industry. In Ireland, look at any OS map and you’re practically tripping over historic monuments of one sort or another. I felt the urge to go visit a couple of the Tower houses in my part of Cork and I was not short of ones to choose from. There are an estimated 2,000 tower houses across the country, along with hundreds of stone circles and megalithic monuments. This handy wee tool should give you a feel for what I’m talking about.

However, the problem in Ireland is that we have no right to roam as in Scotland, nor even the basic land access (designated rights of way) in England. This is largely a throw back to the days when Ireland was ruled by the UK and much of the land owned by absentee British landlords. They made every effort to keep the Irish in their place, which meant not giving them any sort of rights, if it could be avoided.

In the lead up to independence and immediately afterwards, efforts were made to allow those on the land in Ireland to buy it, often at a significant discount, with little thought given to sorting out issues such as access rights first.

Consequently as the castles I was seeking to visit were on private land, I had to take a long stealthy detour to get near some of them. As unfortunately many farmers are reluctant to grant access to their land. This can result in some tourists telling right old horror stories about Ireland, which hardly does the tourist industry any favours.

Again, this doesn’t universally apply. Some farmers don’t just allow access but encourage it. For example one of the best starting points up Carrauntoohil (Ireland’s highest peak) is “Cronin’s Yard”, where Mr Cronin (a local farmer) has long allowed people to park in his farm yard and change afterwards in his barn, for a small fee (2 euro last time I was there).

But, at the other end of the scale, there are those that put up “no trespassing” signs and bluntly cut off access…or have threatened and intimidated walkers to the point that they’ve since been jailed. In part this is motivated by the usual towny v’s country prejudice (us with our mobile phones and DVD’s! ;D) as well as the mercenary attitude taken by some of the better off farmers (who seem to want a subsidy from someone to do anything). However it sometimes occurs out of genuine legal concerns.

The legal limboland that exists as far as private farmland in Ireland means that essentially it affords the opportunity for judges and ambulance chasing lawyers to make up laws as they go along. Now in theory landowners should have nothing to fear, as they should be exempt under a law passed in 1995. However there are so many contradictory clauses from other laws, that its difficult to be sure as the whole matter has only been tested a handful of times (but that said on every single occasion the case was struck down).

Ultimately the solution would be a new law that would firstly guarantee farmers have nothing to fear in terms of being sued and would require respect for the countryside code as a condition for access. Although I would note that most hillwalking and climbing clubs already have such a provision for that in the club rules, as well as a requirement for third party insurance for all club members. In return the law would open up access to land for recreational purposes. Just such a law is being debated in the Irish Parliament as we speak.

However the major road block is a combination of two things – money and politics. Like I said some of the farmers (not all, generally a few of the wealthier ones) are a bunch of crafty cute hoors. They have become quite apt at wriggling subsidies out of the Irish or EU governments. I described in a previous post the scandal of the “slipper farmers” who are paid subsidies for essentially doing no farming. Some Irish farmers (not all, often the more affluent ones, this is the very problem) get up to 71% of their income from subsidies. So ultimately this access issue boils down to someone paying the farmers for access and the sums they seem to think they should be paid are not small.

Now this would be the point where the government would step in and apply the national interest (i.e. the bulk of people want access to farm land, even among farmers, it would benefit the tourist industry, etc.), drive the law through and tosh a few coin the way of the farmers for a couple of stiles (to insure they don’t need to worry about people climbing over fences). Unfortunately, the Irish farmers lobby is too powerful for either of the main parties in Ireland to risk offending. Hence the stand off continues to the determent of the country.

Bottom Gear

Jeremy Clarkson has gotten a bit of a name for himself attacking all manner of things, from advocating Communist style repression of striking workers that even Joe Stalin would regard as going too far :no:, to insulting disabled people U-(, the families of suicide victims, lorry drivers, caravan’s (welll I can understand that one! they are a strange lot!) and nature lovers. He’s also pissed off the electric car lot by allegedly staging breakdowns of their vehicles |-| (he’s being sued by Tesla motors and Nissan claim to have evidence from a GPS tracker unit that their Leaf electric car was intentionally discharged by driving around a roundabout and the scene of one being pushed was staged).

Now he’s started on Mountaineers, bemoaning the amount of money spend rescuing them each year and the fact that poor prince William is being forced to fly around Snowdon every weekend and pick up commoners :oops:. His arseiness said :lalala::

“But why should I fund the rescue of a rambler?….He or she chose to go out there in the mountains. He or she knew the risks. And I’m sorry but if they fall over and get gangrene, they can’t furtle around in my wallet for assistance.”

Well firstly lets get our facts straight, the key lynch pin of Mountain Rescue is not the helicopters but the many thousands of unpaid volunteers members of Mountain Rescue Teams who co-ordinate searches, ultimately find the people for the helicopter to pick up and as it were do the bulk of the rescuing. They are a shining example of what Jeremy’s buddy Cameron calls “the big society”. And its not just fellow mountaineers that they rescue, but motorists (like Clarkson) whom they helped rescue the previous winters, and on one occasion the crew of an RAF helicopter that actually froze up in mid air during a rescue operation.

Of course if we take Clarkson’s attitude then next time there’s a snow storm you’d best keep a credit card handy :>>. After all those motorists who went out driving in the snow and then had to be rescued by the police/mountain rescue, they “knew the risks” and should obviously be made liable for the cost of their rescue, or drag their frostbitten I-pod deprived kids across the snow for several miles to find help. And how about getting motorists to pay something approaching the true costs of motoring? (about 3 times more than they currently pay!) Or how about a certain idiotic TV presenter who goes by the nickname of “Hamster” who went and nearly killed himself trying to drive a drag racing car and had to be evacuated by air ambulance. Clearly he “knew the risks” and why should my taxes pay for his rescue and treatment? No, if we follow Clarkson’s point of view, his moronic co-presenters should have been forced to carry him while trying to hold his brain damage skull together, to the nearest A&E where a matron should have been waiting for them with a credit card swipe.

There’s also a fallacy here that the RAF/RN helicopter pilots roll their eyes skyward every time they get the call to pluck some rambler off the side of a hill. Actually they are more than happy to do it. Why? Because to them its good training, allowing them and their crew to clock up more of those all important flying hours under challenging conditions (given that rescues are often at night and in bad weather). One of the key things any young aviator needs to do is build up his portfolio of flying hours, as this determines future promotion or the chances of a combat posting (which leads to yet more flying hours in a challenging environment and thus good promotion prospects). It’s no surprise that Prince William has been posted to one of the country’s busiest rescue centres as that will allow him to clock up lots of flying hours very quickly. And at some point they’ll need to promote him to senior rank (as they do to all royals) and to avoid the accusation of “fix” the military will whip out his flying record and show how much flying he’s done under difficult conditions and that its perfectly normal for such persons to be promoted.

Indeed I do note that there seems to be a much stronger willingness of the RAF/RN to commit a helicopter to any rescue in the UK, compared to other countries. So this is good news for everybody; aircrew, mountain rescue, the police, coastguard, those being rescued of course (of which mountaineers are but a tiny fraction). Everybody that is – unless you’re HM Treasury! Who are probably getting a bit sick of all these invoices with the word “rescue” written on top landing on they’re desks. This explains why they want to privatise search and rescue services. Unfortunately as the RAF/RN pilots will still need to train (else you’ll end up with a lack of experienced aircrews and the same Troy lot crying about search and rescue costs will be moaning about how the Irish aircorps have more experience pilots than the UK). So it will just mean two sets of slightly smaller bills landing on the treasury’s desk, one labelled “training” the other “rescue”. My suspicion is that when you add them up, they’ll work out higher than the current status quo, so it’s a false economy.

The fact of the matter is that we all do risky things from time to time. Often the most dangerous time of the day for a mountaineer can be the drive to the foot of the mountain. Do you have any idea how many car accidents and fatalities there are on the roads each year? And what about the pedestrians and cyclists who motorists knocked down? A range of figures comparing different statistics for sports (against other activities) can be found here and here. As you can see they both rate mountaineering (and even rock climbing) with a accident/fatality risk well below other sports such as soccer, watersports or motorsports (these three vive for top place depending on how you do you’re counting) or indeed other activities such as driving in general. Even on a per capita basis (i.e. taking into account that so few people climb against the many more who play football) mountaineering still only rates as “moderately” risk (i.e. less risky that driving!).

Oddly enough this link from America puts cheerleading on top 88| for danger….I’m afraid to ask if that includes the risk of STD’s :no:! Never understood the point of cheerleading other than a form of soft porn…or is American football really that bad :yawn: that fans need some distraction to pass the time!…but I digress!

It’s actually the people who don’t go out and do any exercise on a weekend that have me worried…such as overweight smokers like Clarkson :crazy: himself. We have an obesity epidemic in this country, with rates of diabetes and heart disease soaring. And do you have any idea of how much it costs NHS to treat hundred’s of thousands of these people each year? A lot more than we spend on mountain rescue I think! Indeed I used to know a Pakistani bone setter and he preferred to work weekends (so he could skip the Friday night graveyard shift and not have to deal with drunks). Inevitably most of his “customers” would be people involved in sporting activities who’d “over excreted” themselves or others who injured themselves doing DIY over the weekend. As he pointed out you were better off taking the risk of seeing him on Saturday afternoon, than seeing Dr Brooks in heart surgery on Monday morning, particularly as about 1 in 12 of heart surgery patients don’t last a year! Then again Clarkson would say that they “know the risks” and presumably should be just pushed in a corner and left to fend for themselves (with a donner kebab one assumes), himself included!

So we need to look at the bigger picture here, mountaineering might be risky and yes it might have certain costs to society, but such risks (and costs) must be seen in the context of many other activities we regularly engage in that are even more risky (and costly), such as driving…or eating big macs!…or how about having “affairs”? Can’t talk much about the last one as I think there’s still a super-injunction out >:XX (so I’ve just guaranteed you’ll all go to Google and type in “Clarkson AND super injunction”).

But if we take Clarkson’s attitude, i.e. that mountaineering is an unacceptably dangerous risk that society cannot bare the cost of, well we’d best ban driving then too, and all water sports, jogging, cycling (then again the biggest hazard to the last two is cars so maybe they can stay), smoking, cheerleading (actually that doesn’t sound like a bad idea), DIY, football, Rugby (not that I’m volunteering to tell the players mind, we’ll leave that to the cheerleaders :))), big mac’s and nihilistic womanizing TV presenters. Indeed why don’t we just replace the country’s flag with a hammer and sickle…on a denim background!