Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2004: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I wish to share time with Deputies Boyle, Eamon Ryan, Morgan, Cowley, Finian McGrath and James Breen. I am grateful for the opportunity to introduce this modest legislation. It addresses an issue, which, if not resolved will have far reaching implications for the tourism sector. The intention of the legislation is plain and simple. We want to ensure the listing of public rights of way becomes a mandatory function in the drafting of development plans. Under current legislation, the preservation of existing public rights of way is deemed optional and it is not taken up that frequently by local authorities.

The background to the legislation, however, is much more complex. By introducing legislation that obliges local authorities to list rights of way, we are attempting to prevent the continued erosion of both urban and rural rights of way throughout the Twenty-six Counties. They have gradually diminished for different reasons. While protecting them, we would like to go further to ensure access via rights of way to commonage and rough grazing ground but not without an inclusive deal.

My colleague, Deputy Boyle, will outline the position in urban areas later while my party's environment spokesperson, Deputy Cuffe, will deal with the overall legal framework under the planning Acts, as will Deputy Gormley. These issues, however, are only part of the story. The broader story relates to how walking and hiking, a vital element of our tourism sector, is being allowed to die because no one is prepared to make tough decisions. Rural and agricultural communities are being denied incomes because of bad leadership and a lack of balance at both local and national level. My colleague, Deputy Eamon Ryan, who has years of experience in the tourism industry, will discuss these and other matters from a business perspective shortly while my party leader, Deputy Sargent, will examine the issue and opportunities for farmers tomorrow.

Walking is an important but declining part of our tourism industry. According to Fáilte Ireland, approximately 320,000 overseas walkers visited Ireland in 1993 but by 2002 100,000 had been lost and it is possible they will never return. Last year, 50,000 fewer walkers visited Ireland, which represents a 23% decline in 12 months. Given that the remaining sectors of the tourism industry are holding up following 11 September, why is Ireland haemorrhaging walking tourists? The anecdotal and factual evidence is that when it comes to walkers Ireland has changed from céad míle fáilte to céad míle "f. off".

While only a minority of angry, frustrated and sometimes downright ignorant landowners are giving Ireland a bad name, there is enough of them to do our tourism industry untold damage. Abusing law abiding and polite visitors is an insult to our nation and it is also hits rural communities where it hurts most, in their pockets. There is no excuse for the antics of a minority of landowners, whatever their frustrations. Equally, there should be no place for the cold, stony refusal to allow walkers to roam on lands on which their forefathers roamed for generations. That stony silence is, however, more understandable.

Every day more restrictions are placed on walkers throughout the country through the erection of fences around old commonage, tracks and roads and a plethora of unfriendly and unwelcoming "Keep Out" signs. This is wrong, damaging and dangerous. UK and continental organisers of walking holidays are withdrawing from Ireland because of these access difficulties, which are not experienced elsewhere in Europe. The figures reflect the word of mouth message spreading across Europe that Ireland is not a good place for a walking holiday, unlike Scotland or Wales.

Are we shooting ourselves in the foot? What needs to be done? The Green Party has acknowledged that a solution to the current impasse involves the full input of the farming community, which should also include a financial recognition of the role playing by farmers. I pay tribute to the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs for his role in setting up Comhairle na Tuaithe, which has attempted to create dialogue between walkers, mountaineering groups and farmer representative bodies. Such dialogue has not been easy on both sides and while it is a welcome and positive development, it has not yet been a resounding success. The reason for this lies in the refusal of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to introduce a system similar to that which pertained under REPS 1. This would recognise the role played by farmers and provide financial remuneration.

Farming groups insist that walkers should seek permission to cross private land and they will continue with such insistence, some nicely and some rudely. However, if a deal could be struck, it would be a win win situation. Farmers maintain the countryside in a state that walkers enjoy and it would not be in a fit state to walk across if farmers did not do so. However, they do not generate revenue similar to people in other sectors of the tourism industry for doing so.

As my colleagues, Councillor Mary White and Deputy Sargent, have pointed out, farming may be changing but farmers are being presented with new opportunities. A healthy walking tourism sector could provide additional income opportunities for farmers such as the development and maintenance of walking routes, working as tour guides, providing transport or even offering walkers lunch. However, financial recognition of the valuable role of farmers in this area is needed. This would allow them to contribute to the rural economy so that everybody would benefit from tourism as equal stakeholders.

The Green Party, contrary to a number of scurrilous remarks by Government Deputies, is a true friend of farmers and rural communities. I have pushed in previous contributions for the recognition financially of their substantial contribution to tourism. However, we are precluded from introducing provisions with budgetary implications in this legislation. In the interest of common sense and, hopefully, with a shared concern for the future of both our tourism and agriculture sectors, I ask the Government and Opposition Members to support the legislation, which is a small but important first step. I also urge the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and the Cabinet to examine our recommendations regarding the essential financial package needed to bring farmers on board. Then everyone can be brought together for a proper nuts and bolts debate.

I welcome the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the House. During previous debates on environmental issues, his predecessor did not appear. I also acknowledge Deputy Quinn's presence, as he has shown an interest in this issue. The legislation presents us with an opportunity to broaden the debate. Deputy James Breen and other Deputies representing rural constituencies have assisted us in raising this issue, which is important to many people domestically and internationally.

Prior to my election to the House, I was involved in the tourism industry, particularly the walking sector. I served as chairman of Walking Cycling Ireland, a group which represented walking and cycling operators. I will make a few points based on my experience to enlighten the debate. There is a perception that organisers of walking holidays make significant money and are extremely successful but my experience is that the organisers have small businesses usually run from their homes but they have a knowledge of their communities bar none. Michael Gibbons in Connemara, whom Deputy Quinn knows, is an example. These people love their own areas and love showing it to visitors. This type of tourism should be encouraged. A Fáilte Ireland survey highlighted that most money was spent not by golfers, sailors or tourists on coach tours but by walkers and cyclists. They tended to stay in the country longest and spent more. These are the tourists we should attract.

Between 12 and 15 companies operated in this sector of the industry a few years ago and they were successful. Ireland was one of the leading countries in this sector and it was looked on similar to Tuscany, Umbria, the Loire valley as a great place to walk. Our country has a fantastic mixture of scenery and it has a perfect climate for walking, which, with the new Gortex rain gear, is not too bad. It was a thriving successful industry run by people who were sensitive and local. They brought money directly to the landladies they knew in the community and the local pub. They kept the local bus company going by using it rather than someone from overseas.

What happened? Long before foot and mouth disease, uncertainty came into the business. Five or six years before foot and mouth disease, walkers began to get nervous. Their acute antennae to the sensitivities in their community picked up the message that they were not welcome. The uncertainty came from the Government's lack of action to support them. Although the Government recognised this was becoming an issue, over the past five years it failed to do anything. As a result of that uncertainty, the business people pulled back. They realised that if they did not have community support, they would not push it.

When it came to the foot and mouth disease crisis, there was a remarkable response from those small business people to the Irish farming community. They showed a remarkable voluntary willingness to withdraw from business. I can think of various examples where people by their own initiative shut down for a lengthy period in support of farmers, even after the crisis had passed. I hoped that would create an atmosphere where the farming community would recognise the remarkable generosity and co-operative spirit shown by the industry and that we would have a new era where it would have been possible to make arrangements and agreements.

There was nothing specific. These people would not get into trouble because they were too closely connected to the community to allow matters develop to that stage. However, they were concerned that they could not even afford the risk of bringing visitors and being told they were not welcome. In that sense of uncertainty which existed and was created by the inaction of this Government, they withdrew from the business. The business has gone away to other countries and we have not seen it back since.

This Bill is one step of many needed to bring certainty into the area. We need certainty as to rights and obligations of landowners and visitors. Earlier today we were talking about Bewley's. There is a famous statute in the city council that Deputy Quinn will know that landowners have obligations as well as rights. It is important to remember that and to recognise that this may not be convenient for every landowner with regard to some rights of way. However, they have an obligation, as part of society, to allow access to locals and visitors.

As a local Deputy I have been working for the past three years to try and create the idea of a Dublin upland park in the Dublin hills with better access to them and better routes across them. As well as the Wicklow way which heads north-south we could have an east-west route. We could also have a circular bus route connecting different points on the routes. We could get off in Tallaght, walk into the hills as far as Glencullen or further and get a bus back home. This would be a creative use of the best facility we have. One of the cornerstones we need to achieve this is acknowledgement of the rights of way that exist. Everyone knows they exist. I have spent the past 30 years of my life since I was a child climbing from Dundrum into the Dublin hills, up Ticknock, Kilmashogue etc. I have been using those routes for years. The rights of way exist, but they are starting to disappear.

The M50 has cut off the majority of these rights of way. It has cut off the sense of connection from our city into the hills. Others of them have been covered by overgrowth or have been lost because of private development or because of fences. If we do nothing and just stop and let them go, the next generation will not have the experience of the connection I have had with the Dublin and Wicklow hills. They will have nothing like the experience Beckett had in the previous century, which formed all his literature, the sense of getting up into the mountains. That sense of space is hugely important in a city. This Bill would push councillors to work on the sort of plan needed to provide rights of way and that is the reason I urge Government Deputies to support it.

The obvious effect of the passage of this Bill will be to identify, hopefully for greater usage, rights of way and walkways in the countryside. Another effect is that the same provision with regard to listing rights of way will also apply to all urban authorities. I would like to mention briefly the advantages of such provision in the development plan of urban areas.

The provision would help in a number of ways. Ordinarily, rights of way are something that come about historically in a community. They are the quickest route from "A" to "B" that people have chosen and trodden for generations. Unfortunately, as a result of bad planning in many of our urban areas in the 1960s and 1970s we created laneways and passages, concrete mazes that need to be identified and properly listed. Actions must be planned and put in place with regard to their future value and use. We know that in many communities these artificial rights of way and walkways have become centres of anti-social behaviour and areas of threat for people who live in communities in their immediate area. The value of listing rights of way in a comprehensive fashion will help urban local authorities to properly identify and deal with this problem.

Given the scope of urban renewal and development in inner city areas, many laneways are being lost. These laneways carry a heavy social history. To be honest, many of them were former slum areas and open sewers. However, they still represent the social history of the areas in questions and efforts should be made to list and acknowledge these routes. In my local authority area of Cork city, the old laneways of North Main Street, for example, are all acknowledged and named even though they have been closed.

Another important area with regard to rights of way in urban areas is the natural hinterland. Most towns and cities are built on waterways, rivers and canals. The access the public has to these areas is often restricted. Many local authorities make brave attempts to open as much of these sites as possible. However, as a result of the ownership of various bits of land that are not open to the public and the building of properties that affect direct access over prolonged periods of time, many of the areas are not as open as they should be.

One of the advantages of the Government's and other parties support on this Bill and for the listing of rights of way would be the recognition of the natural routes that exist along waterways in cities. Ultimately, that would not only help add to the quality of life in urban communities, it would also have potential health benefits. I remember the four mile route I took every day to the third level college I attended in Cork. It was more on pathways than roadways because it passed through a number of secondary schools and hospital grounds. People choose the routes most beneficial to them and this is as true of cyclists as it is of walkers. In our urban areas we need to give formal recognition in our development plans as to how those routes can be best identified and utilised. The likelihood is that if we fail to put in place legislation of this type, we will not bring about the potential that exists.

That said, we should recognise the work that has been done by various local authorities despite constraints. The addition of the boardwalk on the river Liffey is an example of what can and should be achieved. I suspect the difficulties many urban authorities have is the lack of legal instruments that would help them do the type of developments they would like. It is a sad state of affairs that in both rural and urban communities, most of the promoted walkways come about through the urging of outside agencies, some of whom are in the Visitors Gallery tonight, for example, Keep Ireland Open. The work of the Irish Heart Foundation should also be acknowledged as regards the putting in place of walks and routes for people.

We want the Minister to speak positively about what can and should be done in this area. In presenting this Bill we acknowledge the limitations that exist on all Private Members' Bills, in terms of not being able to put forward any measure that would bring a cost upon the State. If the Bill is allowed proceed to Committee Stage — we hope it will — a number of amendments can be made and accepted both from the Government and other parties that will allow it to become a stronger Bill. We hope the Minister will take this positive attitude in his response.

Go raibh maith agat. I thank the Green Party for sharing time. Sinn Féin has stated on many occasions that the land of Ireland belongs to the people and that it must be managed in a manner that prioritises the public good. This means finding a balance between the right of people to enjoy Ireland's mountains, woodlands, boglands and seashore and the needs of farmers who struggle to make a living from that same land. Sinn Féin wants to see access to the countryside improved and regulated in a manner which safeguards the livelihoods of small farmers, protects the environment and contributes to the improvement of economies in rural communities. We also want to see the State network of waymarked walking ways further developed.

There have been a number of high profile cases in recent years which have highlighted the deficiencies in public policy and legislation in regard to access to the countryside and pathways which, though used by the public for generations, pass through private land. There has also been an increased level of tension between hill walkers and farmers who in many cases fear they will be held responsible for accidents which may occur to hill walkers while on their land.

The European Union has commented that there should be a presumption to allow access to the countryside unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise. Ireland is among the most restrictive in the European Union in terms of such access. This is not helpful for a State whose primary selling point for tourists is its unspoilt and scenic countryside.

There is evidence that the current situation is having a negative effect on rural tourism. The number of hikers and hill walkers fell from 322,000 in 1993 to 219,000 in 2002. Addressing this issue will benefit both rural communities and those who seek access to the countryside for recreational purposes. Tourism generated through promoting the use of the rural environment for recreational activities can be of significant benefit to rural communities.

I welcome the approach being taken to this issue by the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív. The establishment of the rural-agri-tourism advisory group to consider the relevant issues and the commitment to consult interested groups before drawing up proposals is to be welcomed. A partnership approach to this issue is clearly the right way to proceed.

The proposal to establish a countryside recreation council needs to be teased out further and examined to assess whether this would be sufficient to deal with the issues involved. While the proposal for such a council would address the majority of the problems between rural communities and hill walkers and hikers, I question whether it would be adequate to deal with cases where the issue is a genuine concern by a small farmer that he or she would be held liable for accidents on his or her farm.

In addition, there has been an attempt by the wealthy to fortify and exclude the public from traditional walkways which, though there may be no legal right of way, have been used from time immemorial. Such paths are traditional rights of way with which most people are familiar, though they may not be aware that they have no legal standing.

The Old Head of Kinsale case is of interest in this regard. It is a scandal that local people who have walked on it from time immemorial can no longer do so. The land was bought from Cork County Council by developers who were given permission to develop an exclusive golf course on the condition that public access to the land would not be restricted. However, it became clear that the developers had no intention of allowing the public access to the land. In 2003 the Supreme Court issued a judgment to the effect that there would be no public access to the Old Head of Kinsale. It held that a condition imposed by An Bord Pleanála granting public access was outside the powers of the board and, therefore, void. It found there had been no lawful public access to the Old Head of Kinsale before the golf club was built and the purpose for which it was developed was unrelated to the question of public access to the Old Head of Kinsale. It concluded that the condition of public access imposed by the board was outside its powers. I envisage major problems in regard to this issue.

Another issue worth raising which is connected with this debate is the damage being caused to hills by off-road vehicles, quads and scrambler bikes. This is a recent phenomenon but one that is growing rapidly as off-road vehicles become ever more popular. Often those participating in this activity are unaware of the resulting destruction of the hillside. Although local authorities have powers to introduce by-laws to severely restrict such activities, it is unfortunate that only a small number have chosen to do so. There must be exemptions for farmers who of necessity require the use of such vehicles for hillside farming. The Department should require local authorities to introduce legislation restricting vehicles such as those to which I refer. The issues of access and erosion are of the utmost importance for the protection of our hillsides. Proper access must be allowed so as to preserve this outdoor activity for the many people involved in it, while at the same time encouraging the enormous untapped tourism potential of this sector. However, the needs of small farmers must also be protected. I welcome the Bill and hope it will go some way towards encouraging the Government to act quickly to resolve the matter.

I wish to share time with Deputy James Breen and Deputy Finian McGrath.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I very much welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. Land has been sacred in our history, particularly to those living in rural areas. I am aware of the deeply held views of people living in my area. John B. Keane has written about this issue. Everybody in my area realises the value of land because in the past people were taken off vast tracts of land by the occupier. As happened in my area, in some cases entire villages were relocated in order that a landlord could have a very nice garden. As a result, land is very dear to people.

I welcome this debate which aims to balance the rights of landowners and others. There has been a certain amount of bullying on the part of those who push aside the property rights of small landowners, particularly in the west. It is obvious that such an approach does not work and I greatly welcome the attempt to reach a rational solution. What has happened runs very deep with rural dwellers. Insurance and public liability are major issues in terms of people coming onto private land. As I stated, property rights have not been respected. A balance needs to be struck because farmers must have their livelihoods protected.

Current development trends have resulted in an increase in the number of people drifting towards urban areas. We are increasingly becoming an urban society as the population in rural areas continues to drop, which in some cases is due to a planning approach which lacks rural proofing. I would welcome anything which would redress this imbalance and allow people to stay in rural areas. Too often people have been driven away. There was a sad migration of older people to institutions because there was insufficient accommodation for them in their own communities. This could be redressed by supporting sheltered and social housing which helps to keep people in their own areas rather than being driven into urban centres which are already totally congested. For example, yesterday there were traffic jams on the southern route into the capital which probably made history. This is because everything radiates from the capital. This needs to change.

Statistics show that the population of rural areas is constantly falling but with proper support people could stay in their own areas. I know the Minister is agreeable to a proposal intended to deal with returned emigrants, for example, those in County Mayo, who cannot even build on their own land. This is very regrettable. Special accommodation should be made available to people who have been away from this country for a long time, many of whom have nothing left except a small holding, two examples of which I have encountered. Some have great difficulty in staying in rural areas because they cannot find proper accommodation. There needs to be a greater bias towards rural dwellers.

I welcome the opportunity of speaking to the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2004, which progressive legislation has been presented by the Green Party. I commend Deputy Gogarty for bringing it before the House. As an Independent Deputy, I will always take a serious look at all new Bills and, if I like them and consider them worthwhile, I will support them. That is why I am supporting this Bill.

When one considers the detail of the legislation, one can see that its intention is to ensure the listing of public rights of way becomes a mandatory function in the process of drawing up a development plan. In the current legislation, the Planning and Development Act 2000, the preservation of existing public rights of way is deemed optional. This Bill seems to be stronger and more progressive. In regard to rights of way in general, it is also appropriate to raise the issue of open spaces, violence, anti-social behaviour and the drug sales which take place in many lanes throughout this city and State.

I am sure many Deputies agree with the proposal to erect gates on laneways and block entrances in order to end gang warfare, anti-social activities and threats to the elderly. These lanes have become a nightmare for many communities. I urge the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to wake up to this reality. It is unacceptable that families and the elderly are bullied and intimidated by anti-social elements hanging around lanes and open spaces. This is also a major policing issue.

We need to see more gardaí working in and for the community. What is happening is a total disgrace. I wish the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform would take his head out of the sand on these important crime-related issues. I raise this issue in this debate to try to highlight the pain and suffering in many communities, particularly disadvantaged ones. The people are sick and tired of the lack of action and need our support.

There is a lack of respect for parks and open spaces. It is all very well to live in a wealthy society and a booming economy but we also have a sinister side which destroys local parks, communities and laneways. This reality must be confronted. It is a justice issue which requires the attention of a Minister adopting a hands-on approach.

In the context of planning and development, a word of caution must be expressed in regard to wild-cat developments which are totally out of character with local areas. I am working with residents in my constituency in Clontarf, Killester and Artane to improve the quality of life for all residents and emphasise the need for proper planning in line with the local area. Building huge seven storey apartment blocks in areas of two storey houses is not quality planning. We need to stop the destruction of our cities. I raise these issues in this debate because of the need for common sense when it comes to planning and development.

I urge all Deputies to support this Bill and work closely with farmers, the tourism industry and walkers on the question of access to public areas. I commend and thank Deputy Gogarty and the Green Party for bringing the Bill before the House which I am happy to support.

As a member of the farming community, I oppose this Bill. I do not agree that the public right of way to a recreational utility or otherwise should be made optional. Existing rights of way should be accessible to the public without the creation of new introductions which would place an enormous burden on the farming community. The public and visitors alike access the countryside for a variety of pursuits, including walking, cycling, hunting and fishing. In nearly all instances, there is access to the countryside and farm land without objection from farmers. However, farmers are faced with major concerns about certain issues surrounding recreational access to their properties.

A key factor in the life of farmers is that farm land is a working environment with machinery, crops and livestock. If new public rights of way are introduced in the light of farmers' activities, it could prove detrimental both for the safety of the recreational user and the farmer. This cannot be done without some form of control and vigilance to watch out for people who may not be aware that such activities are a normal part of country life. Farmers are faced with litigation from recreational users or trespassers due to risks not of their making. It is also becoming increasingly likely that some property owners may not be able to afford the cost of liability and, should they suffer a successful case against them, stand to lose everything.

Other issues also arise from damage to property and the pressure and number of recreational users entering farm land at particular popular locations. The development of the commercial use of private property by tour operators and the decrease in economic viability of upland farming have led to a search by farmers for alternative sources of income often at odds with easy access. All of these problems are very real for small rural communities and additional losses through a drop in farm incomes could prove disastrous for many. I support the appeals for access to the countryside by all but would welcome a more practical system, providing sensible solutions which would ensure such public rights of way do not adversely infringe upon the rights of farmers and land owners.

In County Clare there are a number of historic monuments, including the Burren, a popular destination for tourists. Existing rights of way must be protected. In County Clare we have walkways which are a welcome development and general access to the countryside is easy. I oppose the Bill.

I thank the Deputies who have contributed and the Green Party for introducing the Bill which I am opposing. I will outline the basis on which I am so doing. I am sympathetic to the idea that we must keep and develop our extraordinary asset of the countryside, as expressed by Deputy Eamon Ryan. However, there are serious problems with the legislation which I will outline.

The Government is fully conscious of the importance of ensuring access to the countryside and the importance of access to rural tourism and sustainable development. For this reason, the Government wishes to promote maximum access to the countryside consistent with the rights of land owners. We believe strongly a balance must be struck and that the measure promoted by the Green Party, while well-intentioned, is misguided in the extreme.

The objective of the Bill may be positive but its effect would be bureaucratic and do little for the real objective of promoting greater access to the countryside. In fact, it could have unforeseen consequences. While it may be well intentioned, it is not workable. It would be prejudicial to the dialogue being facilitated by Comhairle na Tuaithe between all the parties involved in the issues associated with public access and public rights of way. The partnership approach will achieve more than force majeure; it will produce more workable, sensible and less bureaucratic responses.

Will the Minister give farmers the financial recognition they deserve?

I did not interrupt the Members opposite, even though I was tempted to make references to Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Deputy should show the same forbearance.

Public rights of way are separate from development plans. They are frequently rooted in history, for example, the mass paths in Greystones arise from mores in another time. The Planning and Development Act 2000 allows planning authorities to include objectives in their development plans for the preservation of specified rights of way. In addition, a new procedure for the inclusion of rights of way in the development plan is set out in the 2000 Act. This procedure provides for the giving of notice by the planning authority to the owner and occupier of the land over which there is a right of way and the receipt of submissions from the owner or occupier which must be taken into consideration by the planning authority. The decision to include a right of way is made by the elected members and there is a right of appeal to the Circuit Court. There is, in fact, a democratic way of dealing with the issue. This is an example of the legal instruments in place. Deputy Boyle appeared to ignore them.

Surely they are bureaucratic.

Once a public right of way has been included in a development plan through these procedures, it may be included in subsequent plans without further formalities. It is also important to note that the 2000 Act also permits planning authorities to create new rights of way where it is felt they are necessary. This point was also missed in the Members' contributions. The existing legislative position sets out a reasonable approach. It allows planning authorities, at their discretion, to gradually add to the rights of way listed in their development plans.

The Bill is unworkable for a number of reasons. Partnership works but force will not in this area. The issue of public access is better dealt with through co-operation and consultation with landowners rather than through the mandatory approach outlined in the Bill which would be prejudicial to the dialogue being facilitated by Comhairle na Tuaithe between all the parties involved in this complex issue. Suggesting that complex issues such as this can be resolved by diktat may appeal to some Stalinist inclination but shows little understanding of human nature.

That is propaganda.

Comhairle na Tuaithe has only been operating since January this year. It needs time to find its feet.

It can be difficult to establish whether there is a right of way. There have been many difficult cases, arising in part from the type of urban change and development mentioned by Deputy Boyle. Any attempt at listing all public rights of way would lead to much discussion, acrimony and, possibly, controversy in the preparation and adoption of the development plan. It could lead to an extraordinarily protracted period of arid debate.

That is the partnership approach.

Any omissions would be in limbo. If the Bill was passed, there would be many appeals by landowners against the inclusion of rights of way in the development plan. This would clog the courts, produce much sterile and wasteful arrangements and invariably prohibit sensible compromise. Any attempt to press a solution on all landowners, the good and welcoming as well as the small proportion mentioned by Deputy Gogarty, would damage the partnership approach. This is a complex issue which can best be resolved by a partnership approach.

I am anxious to see resolution of these matters because I am more than a little familiar, as a Deputy representing County Wicklow, with the things that can occur. We have seen some extraordinary examples. One is in the Enniskerry area where rights of way and access points which had been walked on for years are now subject to court actions. As a result, the issue will be tied up forever. If the parties involved — the walkers are particularly willing to do so — would meet in a forum such as Comhairle na Tuaithe, the issue could be resolved without resorting to the wigs.

The walkers did not initiate the legal action.

The Deputy is correct. However, they now find themselves enmeshed in a legal mare's nest not of their making. If we tried to deal with this issue in a prescriptive way, imagine how many more times that would arise. Dialogue can and should resolve such issues.

Another inevitable consequence if this proposal becomes law is that it would divert planning authorities' scarce resources away from priority operational tasks. Listing all rights of way would be no small task. A further point is that the proposed mandatory listing of all public rights of way would produce documents of such complexity as to render them and the development plans unintelligible. Under the Roads Act 1993 all roads are classified as public rights of way and, as such, would have to be listed in the development plan. If the Bill became law, there would be a bureaucratic nightmare which would not produce the results its sponsors seek but simply sterility.

The Bill would mean an amendment of the Planning and Development Act 2000 which, together with the Planning and Development Regulations, 2001, was the product of a major review of the planning code and which revised, extended and consolidated the legislative basis for the planning system. Such a piecemeal approach to a complex area such as planning, while well intentioned, has nothing to commend it.

Amend it.

The 20% social housing requirement was amended.

The new planning arrangements need time to bed down. The Government wishes to promote access to the countryside for the benefit of rural tourism and sustainable development. In the few weeks I have been in office I have sought major proposals in these areas. We have landscape which is accessible and open to the people and which could have a tremendously positive benefit. The issue of public access to the countryside is better dealt with through co-operation and consultation with landowners. This partnership approach is at the heart of recent initiatives pursued by my colleague, the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív.

Comhairle na Tuaithe — the Countryside Recreation Council — was established in January this year and is just finding its feet. Its purpose is to ensure all those with an interest and concern for the sustainable development and management of recreational amenities in the countryside are fully consulted on the future development of these amenities. The council is widely representative of countryside and outdoor interests, including the Irish Uplands Forum, Irish Ways, Coillte, Keep Ireland Open, Mountaineering Council of Ireland, Failte Ireland, the ICMSA, the IFA, the Irish Sports Council and Walking Cycling Ireland. This is an impressive partnership by any standard.

The positive outcomes from a partnership approach are illustrated by the national social partnership agreements achieved to date and which have played such a positive role in the State. It is important that all stakeholders buy in to the solutions in this area. Anybody trying to force solutions in rural Ireland is barking up the wrong tree.

I come from County Wicklow where there has been a degree of unwelcome pressure to close rights of way. Therefore, I sympathise with the Bill. However, there are practical arguments against it. It attempts to implement legal change when what is necessary is a change in mentality. That is the more appropriate solution. This will be achieved through the partnership approach. The Bill could put at stake all the progress made by Comhairle na Tuaithe if its constituent bodies feel under threat and remove themselves from the partnership process. It could bring us back to the well publicised confrontations which occurred in previous years.

Deputy Cowley is correct that there is a need to proof legislation for its impact on rural life and rural lifestyles. I agree with Deputy Gogarty that the best people at preserving our countryside are often farmers. However, we will not secure any benefit if they feel their backs are being put to the wall. I was interested in Deputy Boyle's remarks on urban rights of way. He is correct that the discussion takes place all too frequently in a rural context.

I was puzzled by Deputy Finian McGrath's contribution on the same issue. I am very familiar with the problems of thuggery in lanes and the difficulties in terms of closing them off. There has been an amazing debate on one such particular right of way in Greystones during the past year. People have argued with vigour and passion that they have a right to walk. Everyone agrees with that. However, those who live beside the problem area to which I refer argue that their lives have been made miserable. A pensioner has had to abandon her house, a family was obliged to move to the back of its house and property has been damaged. The issue of creating a mandatory requirement in this particular area could end up making difficulties for us. I am sure that is not the intention but it could be the effect.

The issue of public rights of way and access to the countryside is significant in rural policy terms. I am convinced that the partnership approach being adopted, together with the discretionary powers available to planning authorities is the best way to deal with this issue. In the context of the initiative established by the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, we have set up a partnership arrangement which can solve some, if not all, of the issues.

I am interested in this area but, for the reasons I have outlined, I cannot accept the Bill.

Tááthas orm deis a bheith agam labhairt ar an mBille seo. Ní inniu ná inné a tháinig an cheist seo chun cinn agus tá muintir mo cheantar féin go mór chun tosaí in obair le deis a thabhairt do dhaoine taitneamh a bhaint as na cnoic, sleibhte agus locha thart ar an gceantar.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill, which proposes that rights of way be listed by law when development plans have been drawn up. The Bill is well intentioned and I commend the Green Party for its interest in the matter. I am of the opinion, however, that if a Bill is unworkable, good intentions count for nothing. This Bill is unworkable for two reasons. The first is a practical reason, to which I will return later, while the second is that if legislation is not built upon a consensus approach — this is somewhat espoused by the Labour Party — it cannot work.

This legislation is, unfortunately, based on a pre-emptive strike by one of the members of Comhairle na Tuaithe. I am disappointed the Labour Party did not advise that member to return to discussions in Comhairle na Tuaithe——

It is the Green Party.

Gabh mo leithscéal.

The Minister is trying to tie all the Opposition parties together.

An comhaontas nua atá bunaithe acu ag cur mearbhaill orm. The Deputies opposite are all the one, or so we have been informed.

Níl siad.


The Minister to continue, without interruption.

Those opposite have me believing in the new rainbow. I am disappointed the Green Party did not advise the individual in question to return to discussions with Comhairle na Tuaithe and chose to move matters forward in this way.

For a number of years, a minority of people have consistently stated that the way to solve this problem is to introduce increasingly inflexible legislation. I have stated on numerous occasions that this does not represent the way forward. The Government is always being accused of trying to create a nanny state by introducing too much restrictive legislation. On this occasion, however, it is not the Government but the Green Party which must stand accused of the same fault.

In reply to a parliamentary question last month, I made it clear that I did not have any current proposals to introduce legislation in respect of access to the countryside. It is interesting that the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution also considered this issue in the context of Articles 40.3.2o and 43 of the Constitution, which relate to private property rights. Its report did not recommend any requirement for changes in the existing legislative framework in this regard. I reiterate that I do not see legislation as the solution to this problem. Legislation should only be considered when a consensus has been arrived at and not as a partisan way of solving problems.

I wish to make it clear that where public rights of way exist, they must be left in place. Nobody can remove a public right of way. However, if no public right of way exists, including it in a county plan will not make it, of itself, a right of way. The Bill proposes to include public rights of way in county plans. However, it would first be necessary to prove they were public rights of way.

The amendment to the Planning and Development Act 2000 proposed by the Green Party does nothing to resolve disputed rights of way. If enacted, the legislation would only create an impossible situation for local authorities. The Green Party is concerned about all public rights of way and that must be implicit in the legislation. That is where the practical difficulties arise. By making it mandatory to list all public rights of way, one would obviously register those rights of way where there is no disputing the county plan. The latter would cause no problem. However, an interesting question would then arise, namely, if there was a disputed right of way, would every local authority end up in the courts before their next county plans were finalised in order to establish whether a right of way exists?

It is similar to the position with listed buildings. It is the same procedure.

There are major and fundamental differences here.

There is another issue that arises. We know there are strict timeframes in terms of preparing county plans. Let us imagine a scenario where a court did not give an immediate adjudication in a dispute. Endless disputes would arise, particularly if there was a necessity to list all instances where doubts might exist about the existence of a right of way. Would the planning authorities adhere to the timeframes laid down in legislation in respect of introducing their county plans or would they wait for the adjudication of the courts? Would they include them on the basis that they might be rights of way when the courts had concluded their deliberations or would they leave them out? If they left them out and it emerged that they were rights of way, would the local authorities be in breach of the law? The matter would become a total morass.

How are buildings listed?

There is no need to list all buildings. This legislation states that all rights of way must be listed and the Green Party does not even know the location of those rights of way.

That is the problem.

The Government is already tackling the issue in respect of walkways and public rights of way. Following the publication of the report of the consultation group on access to waymarked ways, I established Comhairle na Tuaithe in February 2004. This group was established to ensure that everybody with an interest or concern in this area would be consulted. Membership of Comhairle na Tuaithe encompasses representatives of all the main farming organisations, landowners, tourism marketing bodies, the Irish Sports Council, the Heritage Council and those of recreational users of the countryside, such as Keep Ireland Open, Waymarked Ways and the Mountaineering Council of Ireland. The membership was based on the recommendations in the report of the consultation group on access to waymarked ways.

The course of action taken is consistent with the recommendation of the all-party committee's report. The committee felt that such an approach would help encourage joint tourism projects, as well as avoiding the heavy mapping costs incurred during the legislative approach taken in England and Wales. I envisage trying to help bring about a solution through a community based approach will point the way forward. Given our general partnership approach to solving problems, this is, in my view, the correct way to proceed.

I am satisfied that Comhairle na Tuaithe is working well. When I addressed its national conference earlier this month, I pointed out that the community spirit is still very much to the forefront in Irish society. We need to try to see the bigger community picture in respect of this issue. By listening to each other and working together as a community to reach an amicable agreement which accommodates all sides, we can present a positive image of rural Ireland and, crucially, rural tourism. This can only serve to benefit all members of our rural communities.

I have also made it absolutely clear that there must never again be a situation where people using advertised and agreed walkways are accosted on them. The damage this type of behaviour does to our international tourism reputation is incalculable and is particularly damaging to rural areas. If those on both sides of the access debate are reasonable, generous and community-minded, this would serve the best interests of rural tourism in Ireland and more important, the best interests of rural communities.

The recent conference was a first step in the development of a countryside recreation strategy and I look forward to hearing from Comhairle na Tuaithe on its proposals in this regard next year. There is an agreement with the farmers that no waymarked way will be advertised next year without their agreement. The farmers have been equally accommodating by saying that, in that event, they will not accost people on waymarked ways. At least there is now some certainty. It is a situation of non-confrontation which will not create headlines in newspapers. We are not creating the kind of publicity that is manna from heaven to those in other countries who are our rivals in the market.

How will the farmers be consulted?

They will be consulted through the farming organisations who are total participants in this process. I have first-hand experience in dealing with this situation and how progress can be made. Many farmers are very interested in developing walkways and are proactively involved, and creating a divide will not bring the situation forward.

I have launched the rural social scheme which includes as one of the identified areas of work the maintenance and enhancement of waymarked ways and other agreed walking routes. I estimate this could provide work for 500 farmers. The advantage of this scheme is that people see the payback. Even if the person whose land is being used in the scheme does not work on the scheme, one of their neighbours will inevitably do so. I believe — it is certainly true in my part of the world — there is still enough community spirit for people to see that if something is good for their neighbour, it is good for them.

I am also examining ways of using other programmes such as the CLÁR programme to develop walkways, turnstiles, parking areas etc. This will serve to improve the infrastructural amenities as agreed walkways help to develop the rural tourism product and provide increased opportunities for sustainable rural development and promote rural Ireland as an attractive and viable tourist destination.

When the rural tourism award was presented yesterday, it was interesting to see that farmers had developed walkways on their own land and were developing marvellous tourist products. I do not believe a big rural-urban divide exists in this issue and there is no need for it. We must persuade people to see the common interest. This legislation would be seen as partisan, as taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Agreements already in existence can be cemented into the county plan on a voluntary basis. They can be picked off, one by one, until agreement is reached but no one is forced head on into the controversy with an initial plan.

I ask Deputies to consider this very seriously and not run ahead of a process which by its nature is slow. Agreements have been achieved to date which mean there will be no public dispute, please God, next year. Walking places will be available by agreement. These might be limited in number but it is surely better to have a limited number of agreed walking places than to have a huge number which are disputed.

Mention was made of the REP scheme. During my time as Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, I investigated this matter. I was informed that the European Union was not willing to have a REPS 3 similar to REPS 2, and that door was closed. Others on the Opposition side have suggested that rights to cross land should be paid for. That is dead money and I have said this to the farming organisations. A farmer might receive approximately €1,000 a year, but giving a farmer a job could be worth €20,000 a year. Would that bring tourists into the country? It would not and it would be dead money. It would be a better idea to invest the money and many farmers are now persuaded in this direction. Investment in facilities, in the development of walkways, car parks facilities, bed and breakfast accommodation, restaurants and so on would be preferable. Everybody in a rural community would benefit.

The Minister is sharing time with Deputy Fox. Is he aware of that?

I apologise to the Deputy. I was not aware of that.

The Minister has spent too much time wandering and roaming.

I read a very interesting fact about the Brehon law. It is very short. It states that the Brehon law might not have been perfect in the abstract but the great advantage of it was that it had the loyalty of the people. Any laws we introduce must have the loyalty of the people.


I welcome the opportunity to comment on the subject of public rights of way and to outline some of my concerns with the proposed amendment to the Planning and Development Act. The issue of rights of way cannot be completely ignored simply because they are controversial. It certainly is desirable that every public right of way should be clarified, but this is idealistic and unfortunately the practicalities of that process will not be a quick or easy fix solution. I do not believe this amendment is the way to address the issue of rights of way, by simply making it a mandatory requirement on local authorities that all public rights of way should be listed in their development plans.

Many people automatically think that public rights of way are a rural issue but that is not the case. As has been outlined in the debate they are a major problem in many urban areas, where public rights of way through housing estates have caused anti-social behaviour and often have had to be closed off by local authorities, which has caused division within communities. Often the local authority is forced to carry the can financially and has to remove dumped rubbish, provide lighting and install CCTV in extreme cases to prevent anti-social behaviour. In many cases the financial burden has implications for the Garda and the emergency services.

This amendment focuses on the more amenity-oriented rights of way, but there is nothing in it to exclude the huge network of urban rights of way, and roads, which as a previous speaker noted are all public rights of way. I do not believe that the financial burden of listing and preserving these rights of way should fall on the limited budgets of local authorities.

The mechanism of how a right of way is determined is not dealt with in this amendment. That issue should be determined before the law is changed. Who determines what is an existing right of way and what should be created as a right of way? Who is arbitrator where a dispute arises? The courts decide in the case of a dispute and this amendment will not change that. Local authorities should not be expected to foot large legal bills in the establishment of rights of way.

The Planning Act deals with the creation of new public rights of way under section 14. This section outlines the method in which the landowner is required to be notified of the council's intention to create rights of way across the property. There are various provisions for appealing this decision, including the right to go to court to decide the matter. Under this section any rights of way already listed in a development plan are not required to be readvertised nor the landowner notified.

I refer to my local area and the Wicklow county development plan. A large number of what were termed "access routes to amenity areas", similar in description to those outlined in the Green Party amendment, were listed without the knowledge or consent of the landowners. These routes first appeared in the 1999 development plan as proposed access routes to amenity areas, yet somehow five years later, in 2004, the description changed from proposed access routes to existing access routes. This creates a lot of mistrust among landowners in particular. On the question of the practicalities of forcing a local authority to list and preserve rights of way as part of the development plan process, the making of a development plan is time-consuming and covers a wide range of issues. Often the few controversial issues, which no doubt will include rights of way, will dominate other areas of the plan requiring attention.

The Act as it is worded is balanced. It allows local authorities to list public rights of way, but does not put the onus on them to take on a role which is financially or administratively cumbersome. In most of these cases issues such as liability, maintenance and other matters will have to be thrashed out locally. The local authority should not have to take on the role of referee in these matters, but a model such as Comhairle na Tuaithe is more appropriate.

Bhí muid i gCiarraí i mbliana, mar is gnáth, ag siúl sa Ghaeltacht. Tháinig muid go dtí an áit bhreá sin, Na Triúr Deirfiúracha. Le blianta fada anuas, bhí cead siúlóide ag gach duine. An t-am seo, áfach, bhuail muid le daoine as an Eoraip agus thaispeáin siad fógra nua dúinn a rá nach raibh cead siúlóide ansin. Ní raibh mé sásta leis sin. Tá locht mór ar an scéal nuair a thiteann sé amach mar sin, níl sé sásúil ar chor ar bith.

I welcome discussion on this Bill to which the Fine Gael Party will table amendments on Committee Stage. The response of Government Deputies has been derisory and negative. We do not need a root and branch parsing of every sentence and possibility. The approach to hill walking could and should be much better. If this debate improves the position, it will have made a constructive and positive contribution.

Let us stop being negative and work on behalf of everyone, regardless of whether they are farmers or hill walkers. Let us recognise the benefits of recreational and amenity hill walking and the rights of farmers. The consultative process is the key and must be the cornerstone of any change in legislation. Above all, let us recognise the principle of consent for all parties. This is how we will make progress and get people to work together. This is where action must be taken.

We could take lessons from the statute books of other European countries, which appear to have resolved this matter. They have ironed out their problems, not by the mailed fist, ruthless parliamentary legislation or whatever concept the Government has in mind. That approach will not work. People must sit around a table, identify how the current position can be improved and take the necessary action.

That is not what the Bill proposes to do.

I noticed the Minister's speech described someone as a "Stalinist", although the word was misspelled. He should do a spell check before printing his speeches so that he or someone else would at least learn from the debate.

If we are to resolve problems in the area of hill walking, we must take a constructive, practical approach. Fine Gael's position is that we should sit down together and address the matter. In a recent speech the chairman of the IFA hill farming committee, Michael Cumiskey, stated that the conflict between farmers and hill walkers in some areas is primarily related to people trying to access land without the permission of the owner. He also noted that farmers, in particular, have shown themselves capable and willing to facilitate hill walkers in many parts of the country, with walking routes agreed through a partnership approach. This approach lies at the core of the Fine Gael Party's position.

According to Mr. Cumiskey, farmers have shown in the past that where incentives such as the REPS I scheme were in place, a number of walks were created which, through increased tourism revenue, created widespread economic benefits for the rural areas concerned. He warned, however, that any attempt to legislate access to the countryside would be fiercely resisted by landowners because the right to private property is a basic tenet of Irish society. His words offer a carrot and indicate that the IFA has constructive proposals. If it is made financially rewarding and beneficial for farmers to give their consent to hill walking, progress will be made. This is the road we must take.

Although a short Bill, it is welcome because it provides an opportunity for debate. The Government is wrong to shoot it down. It should be allowed to proceed to Second Stage and perhaps Committee Stage to facilitate a full and proper debate.

Problems with rights of way are not confined to rural areas. They cause more concern in housing estates built in urban areas over the past 20 years or thereabouts because they have been enclosed by such estates. The intention of the Bill was not to address this aspect of the problem but, as the explanatory memorandum states, to ensure that the listing of public rights of way becomes a mandatory function in the process of drawing up development plans. We should concentrate on this aspect of the Bill because it is from this that the current public debate arises. Other forms of rights of way, which are a distinct but serious matter, should be addressed elsewhere.

Many of the difficulties with access to the countryside have arisen due to lack of communication between the two sides. I am a firm believer in dialogue as opposed to confrontation because it can solve 90% of problems. Who could have envisaged the dialogue taking place in another part of the country which may solve its problem? Dialogue cannot be bettered. If landowners, hill walkers and all those who want to enjoy the benefits of the countryside were to come together, the problem could be ironed out.

Rightly or wrongly, landowners' greatest fear is that they will be liable if somebody has an accident on their land or property. If this issue were finally clarified beyond doubt, a solution to the problem would soon follow. Some people do not appreciate farmers' attachment to their property and it is difficult to explain it. Its historical basis can be traced back to the landlord era when tenants and their families were evicted from their land and homesteads. Stories of such events have been handed down. For this reason, some farmers and landowners resent people entering their property for walking purposes without first engaging in the necessary consultation process. Consultation would solve many of the problems.

The Bill's proposal to make the listing of public rights of way a mandatory function of the process of drawing up a county development plan would only cover official and legal rights of way. There are several types of rights of way, including private rights of way which may appear on Land Registry maps, public rights of way, access routes and walkways in use for 20 and 30 years or more. These walkways are not official rights of way but are routes to which no one objects. There are many such routes in counties such as Galway, which are subject to an established agreement between landowners, tourism interests, hill walkers and others who wish to enjoy the countryside. The legislation, if passed, could make matters worse in certain circumstances because county development plans would include only official rights of way and exclude routes which have been used for ten, 20 or 50 years.

If the Bill were allowed to proceed to Committee Stage, we could iron out problems of this nature. It should at least be allowed to proceed beyond Second Stage. The Fine Gael Party, therefore, opposes the amendment which would prevent the Bill from proceeding beyond Second Stage and thereby prevent an open debate. Deputies hold different opinions on this issue. We have heard, for example, diverging opinions from Deputies in the Technical Group. This is healthy as creating opportunities for open debate is the purpose of the House. A Second Stage debate would also allow me more than four minutes to express my views and practical knowledge on the issue. It would also allow us to develop our views, apply our practical knowledge of living in urban and rural areas, debate the merits of the Bill and identify what can be done to improve matters, which may not include the introduction of a mandatory requirement in the county development plans. This will be settled around the table by farming organisations, hill walkers and others interested in walking in rural areas. Hill walkers are not out to damage land and farmers are not out to stop hill walkers enjoying a hobby they have enjoyed for generations.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill and I compliment Deputy Gogarty on bringing it forward. We should have a more extensive debate on the subject in this House.

Walking is very important to tourism in Ireland. In 2003, it was worth €113 million, with 297,000 visitors and holiday makers coming to Ireland for walking purposes. That is well down from the 1999 figure of 608,000. The numbers have almost halved and there must be some reason for that. One of the reasons is that Ireland has become an expensive place to visit. However, the word is out among the walking fraternity, which is a tightly knit group, that there are problems in Ireland with rights of way. In my county, there were problems with the Dingle way, which is one of the finest walkways in the world. During the past summer, there were problems in Ballyferriter with the Three Sisters. They occasionally arose along the Kerry way. Kerry is the mecca for walking in Ireland, and in Europe it is next to the Tyrolean region in Austria. However, we experience difficulties there.

Two incidents happened this summer which created major problems. A farmer held up approximately 300 hill walkers for about 40 minutes near Enniskerry in County Wicklow. There was a famous incident in Sligo where a certain gentleman spent time in jail for preventing people from accessing his land. These incidents have been well publicised and they are creating a problem. In 1993, I introduced a Private Members' Bill called the Protection of Occupiers of Land Bill. This was very stark legislation, but it was welcomed by the farming community that time because it was very clear. It was more or less included in the Occupiers Liability Act 1995. That legislation created a new type of visitor or land user called the recreational user. That category was put in place to allay the fears of farmers. It reduced the duty of care that a farmer had towards a trespasser on his property. There was, however, a recent court decision over an incident near Bundoran in County Donegal and the 1995 Act is being interpreted by the Supreme Court. This decision will be very important and if it goes against the landowner, we will have a major problem because it will close off rural Ireland to a great extent.

It is interesting that we do not have many agreed rights of way in this country. There is access to well visited places like Staigue Fort, Gallarus Oratory, but there is no right of way. There is an agreement with the owner and it is only because of the owner's goodwill that people are allowed to use that area. The owner can close that at any time. If this case goes against the landowner, many people will be very concerned about it and many of those places could be closed.

Roaming is not mentioned in this Bill, but it is a far more emotive issue with hill walkers than rights of way. In the past, people liked to roam around commonages, across mountains, reeks, Slieve Mish and the Paps, across the country. Recently, because of the division of commonage and for other reasons, roamers have been challenged, and that has given cause for concern. This issue is ready to explode. There are warning signs and the issue should not be trivialised the way it has been. I have walked hills all over the world——

Is the Deputy passing over to his colleague?

I am just about to finish.

There are three Members——

No, there is just one. This Bill should not be trivialised to the extent that it has been in this House.

There is a need to provide walkways in the countryside and in towns. While the emphasis here is on the rural aspect, the issue of towns has been raised by several people and it is equally as important. I believe that with a little lateral thinking, we could address some of the difficulties. When we give out sports grants to GAA clubs and soccer clubs, we should stipulate that the clubs provide a track around the pitch. In Ballymore Eustace, County Kildare, there is a floodlit track which is used extensively at night time.

Many groups are to blame for the problems that exist. In many cases, local authorities have listed public rights of way that do not exist. Some advertise routes on which there is no agreement. Lanes are put into local authority housing areas which cause difficulties later. Such problems can be avoided. There are also difficulties with landowners who block routes. I am alienating every group at the moment, which is something a politician should not do, but walkers are sometimes not without fault. I know of a case where a number of walkers are allowed to go walking in State owned land in Wicklow. This has been overrun on occasion. The Enniskerry case is well publicised. I am not familiar with the exact details, but it would not be advisable for 300 people to walk in the mountains.

It is a roadway.

Is it a full roadway walk?

It is an ancient road, a famine road.

That is fair enough. In my days in the Army, we always made sure to break up if we were going on a route march over the Wicklow hills. I disagree with Deputy Deenihan in that Wicklow is the mecca of walking.

This Bill is not simple. Deputy McCormack covered the issues of public and private rights of way. Deputy Ryan said that he walked from Dundrum to the Dublin mountains for 30 years. That does not necessarily mean that it is a public right of way. I am happy to support this Bill, but substantial amendments will be required on Committee Stage. The first amendment should be to put the onus on the local authority to establish the location of the right of way. Be it a 500 acre farm in Tipperary, Wicklow or Kerry or a garden in Ballsbridge, people generally do not like people to trample on their grass. That is a fact that is not exclusive to the country as it is also applicable to towns. Local authorities should be responsible for this matter. They have been negligent to date in designating routes that do not exist. The concerns of farmers and landowners must also be addressed in the Bill. I have been approached by people who never knew that a route through their property was marked in a development plan until someone pointed it out to them. That is not good enough.

It is important to realise that, in the final analysis, the vast majority of walkers and landowners are reasonable. Where there is a will, there is a way. The Wicklow Way, which stretches for 83 miles through lands owned by over 120 people in County Wicklow, has been successful because no legal claims have been made since it was established. I will conclude by stating the success of the Wicklow Way demonstrates that such routes can work. I welcome the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2004 because it focuses attention on an problem which has the potential to grow. I ask the Government to re-examine its refusal to support it.

The Deputy should conclude.

I am reluctant to finish my contribution.

I can tell the Deputy is in full flight.

The Deputy was just getting a second wind.

He was enjoying sitting on the fence.

I will ask my colleagues why I was given just three and a half minutes to speak.

The Deputy can speak again tomorrow.

He held the ball for too long.

Debate adjourned.