My Department is presently establishing a strategy group with broad remit including monitoring the operation of the delivery of the rural agri-tourism measure under the national rural development programme in the regional operational Programmes. Nominations have been invited from the farm organisations, rural organisations, the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism, the Irish Sports Council and tourism promotion groups. The inaugural meeting of the rural – agri – tourism strategy group is scheduled to take place in February. The walkways access situation will be included on the agenda for discussion in the strategy group. I have also discussed the situation with the IFA and made clear that the concept of open access to the countryside that has always existed is fundamental. I have made clear my view that any proposal for Exchequer payment for access would not in principle be acceptable.
Discussions are being scheduled with FÁS to ascertain the extent to which work on walkways maintenance might involve farmers. Ultimately, I believe that the access problem can be resolved through a local community approach, recognising that the value of walkways in generating tourism accommodation and income accrues to the community where farmers and other rural dwellers live.
Question No. 121 answered with Question No. 106.