The promotion of mountain climbing as an activity is primarily the responsibility of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and other bodies such as Fáilte Ireland. However, my Department is very involved in the promotion of access to the countryside for recreational purposes. In that regard Comhairle Na Tuaithe (The Countryside Council) was established in February 2004 as a non-statutory body with a primary focus on the priority areas of access to the countryside, developing a countryside code, and developing a countryside recreation strategy.
Under a Comhairle na Tuaithe initiative, in 2011, a Mountain Access Scheme to facilitate access to the uplands for hill walking and similar activities was developed in two pilot areas; one at Mount Gable in Connemara and the other in the MacGillycuddy Reeks in Co Kerry.
In order to help progress the Mountain Access Scheme, SLR Consultants with the support of the former Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, South Kerry Development Partnership and Fáilte Ireland, were tasked with assessing the potential for structured permissive access to the MacGillycuddy Reeks uplands and to identify the most appropriate management structure to ensure the sustainable management of the integral environmental and cultural heritage of the Reeks, while providing long term clarity on permissive recreational access to the mountains. I understand that the SLR report also suggested a set of Key Performance Indicators covering issues such as management, revenue, training & education, enterprise and communication.
On foot of the recommendations in the SLR report, a Management Forum, whose job it was to oversee the implementation of the recommendations of the report, was established in the Kerry pilot area in 2014.
Comhairle na Tuaithe also established a Mountain Access Project Steering Group in 2014, which was tasked with reviewing progress in respect of the Mountain Access Pilots, developing signage for Mountain Access Pilot areas, and issues around a National Indemnity Scheme. During this time, tendering took place for the design of a mountain access logo, and mountain access signage and information panels for the two pilot areas, which are now in place.
On 6th June last, at its first meeting of 2019, I presented a new mandate to Comhairle na Tuaithe which will reinforce and strengthen its advisory role in relation to the sustainable development of the outdoor recreation sector in Ireland. At this meeting, I also announced the appointment of Dr. Liam Twomey as the new Chair of Comhairle.
I have also asked Comhairle to identify opportunities to develop rural enterprises based on outdoor recreation activity, and to consider the scope for the development of a new National Strategy for Outdoor Recreation, taking account of recent developments and investments across the sector.
Also, as the Deputy will be aware, my Department has been working to develop a National Indemnity Scheme to indemnify private land owners, particularly in Mountain Access Scheme areas, with regard to the use of their lands for recreational purposes which when in place will further facilitate access to the countryside for recreational purposes, including mountain climbing.