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.
Comhairle na Tuaithe went on to establish 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. Since then, tendering has taken 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, I announced the appointment of Dr. Liam Twomey as the new Chair of Comhairle na Tuaithe and presented a new mandate to the Council which will reinforce and strengthen its advisory role in relation to the sustainable development of the outdoor recreation sector in Ireland, which includes hill walking.
Comhairle will act as a forum for consultation and collaboration between stakeholders and advise on matters relating the use of the countryside for recreational purposes. 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.
In light of the enhanced role and work programme of Comhairle, I do not have any plans at present to commission a separate economic appraisal of the nature referred to by the Deputy. However, available data indicates that in 2014, 1.5 million overseas visitors engaged in hiking, cycling and angling during their visit, and spent €900 million while in Ireland. It is clear from these, and other statistics available from State Agencies, that countryside outdoor recreation infrastructure and services make an important contribution to the national, regional and local economies.