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Dáil Speech on Access to the Countryside Bill 2013 Friday 14th June

Deputy Anthony Lawlor: First, I congratulate Deputy Dowds on as he said himself hitting the jackpot first time. Deputy Kyne and I have submitted Bills which have been there for a long time. I do not know how Deputy Dowds persuaded the Ceann Comhairle but he might advise us on how to get our Bills through too.

Deputy Robert Dowds: Maybe they did not shake the box and just took out the one on the top.

Deputy Anthony Lawlor: Deputy Dowds must have weighted his a bit more than we did ours.

Like Deputy Kyne, I welcome the discussion on this matter. I do have problems with the Bill. I suppose I am the first landowner here to stand up and speak on the Bill. Herd No. I1764033: I do not think anyone else can quote that here in the Chamber.

Deputy Seán Kyne: The Deputy is a member of a privileged elite.

Deputy Anthony Lawlor: This is not a Bill about urbanites and rural people. I come from Johnstown, a small village on the N7. At one stage the N7 went through the village but the farm land that I work is attached to the village. I have a very strong mix of both sides because I do not live in a rural area but I farm in an area attached to an urban area. Part of the farm is within the Naas urban district boundary.

I can understand this Bill from the urbanites’ side but I also have a very strong rural passion. I have many problems with the Bill and welcome the debate on it. I also recognise the need that Deputy Dowds has described because from an economic point of view there are many benefits arising from the matters we are discussing. Many people have mentioned cycle ways and walking ways around the country. I would like us to develop our existing walking ways further and open other potential walking ways. I refer specifically to the canals where there is great potential to develop cycle and walking ways. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, is developing a cycle way from Dublin to Kilcock, along the canal. I encourage him to develop it all the way to the Shannon where it could be linked to a cycle way to Galway. There is potential for another from Dublin through Sallins and Naas on to the Barrow and further. We should develop those first so that we are seen to be serious about developing cycle and walking ways on land that is in public ownership before we discuss rights to cross land in private ownership.

I am disappointed by some of the language used today. Deputy Dowds spoke about the Irish people having a right to own and enjoy the countryside. I have to go back to Michael Davitt and the Land League when the lands were given back to the native Irish. My great grandfather bought the farm we have in Johnstown, County Kildare, in 1896, so there is a significant attachment to this. Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan also spoke about the Irish people having a right to the Irish land. They have a right to use it in conjunction with the landowner.

I also have a difficulty with talking about opening access to everyone. When people look at this legislation, they will not go into its detail but will assume automatically that every piece of land is available for them to walk across. I have a problem with this. I live beside a village and have always had young children coming to my farm at lambing time. I have always tried to give them a sense of responsibility about what farmers are actually doing and how, if they impinge on this, they impinge on a farmer’s livelihood and subsequent economic benefits. While 80% of people are responsible, 20% are irresponsible. Consequently, for example, when I make hay I have to bring it in straight away because if I leave the bales out in the field, I will have kids breaking them up and damaging them. I do not have a problem with young people coming onto my lands but I do have problem with the 20% who are irresponsible.

I can best describe these concerns through an example. Let us say Deputy Dowds created a walkway through his own house which allowed people to walk from the front door to the back door. While 80% will treat it responsibly, there will be those 20% who go through the kitchen and take something from it.

Deputy Robert Dowds: A Cheann Comhairle, on a point of information, that is not included in the Bill. I have actually excluded that kind of scenario.

Deputy Anthony Lawlor: The point I am trying to make is that if access to lands is made available, not all of those using the right will use it responsibly. I have had experience on my farms of gates being left open by walkers. I have let hunts go through my lands – mostly drag hunts – which knocked down fences and never repaired them. I am trying to illustrate for Deputy Dowds, with his urban perspective, how not everyone coming onto my land will treat it responsibly. If people are allowed access to lands as proposed in the Bill, then they might need to have an association with a walkers’ club which could pass on guidance about their responsibilities on the lands they would use.

Who will be responsible for the costs of fencing off lands that will be downgraded from agricultural use to allow for walkers? Who will be responsible for insurance costs and putting in place the physical arrangements for this?

I do not have a problem with most parts of the Bill but just the specific points I have raised. My main concern is that as soon as the Bill is passed, people will believe they have the right to access all lands. I live in an urban setting with rural lands attached to my home. I understand both sides of the argument on land access. I am very much in favour of allowing access for people who would show responsibility to our rural heritage. I also believe we can get this right if we have good strong communication with landowners and protect their rights. I, along with the agricultural community, am concerned, however, about the 20% of people who will see this legislation as giving them free and open access to all lands.

ENDS