FARMING INDEPENDENT – 23 April 2016
The decision to award €40,000 damages to a woman who fell on the Wicklow Way will be challenged in the High Court.
Teresa Wall, a 59-year-old from Rathingle Cottages, Swords, Co Dublin, was awarded €40,000 in Dublin Circuit Civil Court last Friday after suing the Irish National Parks and Wildlife Service following a fall in August of 2013 on a boardwalk of railway sleepers located along the Wicklow Way. She said her foot snagged in a hole in one of a number of old railway sleepers that made up an EU ground conservation boardwalk just below the JB Malone memorial on the Sally Gap to Djouce trail.
ICSA Rural Development Chairman Seamus Sherlock has also expressed grave concern at the recent award.
‘This sends out a clear message to farmers and landowners that hill walkers can claim successfully for injuries sustained when walking. ‘While the claim related to a structure put in place by the NPWS, there will now be a growing fear that this will embolden others to try their luck in the courts.’
Up to now, the state and hill walking lobbyists had been adamant that farmers had nothing to fear because no case had ever succeeded in the courts against landowners or state agencies.
However, Mr Sherlock fears that the court ruling in favour of Ms Wall could impact on the recent progress made with regard to relations between farmers and hill-walkers.
‘The ICSA has continuously lobbied for a Government national indemnity for farmers who permit hill walkers and mountaineers to walk across their lands, but so far we have not been successful in our pursuit.
‘Hill walking by its nature involves a small degree of risk and those who participate in this activity should be prepared to accept that risk themselves. It is totally unacceptable that a farmer or landowner should find themselves facing a lawsuit through no fault of their own.
‘We had made significant progress over the years in fostering good relations with hill walkers. Comhairle na Tuaithe have assisted greatly in encouraging this interaction, but if this judgement is upheld then all that progress will have been reversed.
‘This ruling has set back all of the progress made in recent years and it makes it difficult for ICSA to encourage farmers to allow access. It also has potential ramifications for the development of cycling routes.’
Mountaineering Ireland President Paul Kellagher stated that members of the public must accept ‘personal responsibility’ when out and about enjoying the great outdoors.
‘The Mountaineering Community has a long held and proud tradition of personal responsibility.
‘Mountaineering Ireland feels that this judgment runs contrary to this long established principle.
‘We cannot continue to live our lives without the acceptance of personal responsibility, in the belief that every misfortune is someone else’s responsibility.’
Mr Kellagher also welcomed the fact the judgement will be appealed in the High Court.
Deputy Andrew Doyle has also raised worries over the possible implications the court ruling has for walking routes in Wicklow.
‘Here in Wicklow we have worked very hard to develop an open trails policy. Walking as a freely available recreational activity is one of the bedrocks of our tourism industry in the county and crucially important to the local economy.
‘County Wicklow Partnership has a Trails Officer who has worked with landowners, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and Coillte to develop a range of great walking routes throughout the upland area.
‘Just Saturday morning I attended the launch of the Avonmore walk. It’s a strikingly beautiful route that links Laragh village to Rathdrum, along the sides of the Avonmore river.
‘I have no doubt that this walking route will prove extremely popular and it’s planned to extend this trail, eventually linking from Kilmacanogue to Arklow and Shillelagh, utilising old railway lines on some parts of the route.
‘A walk such as this has huge potential for the local economy. Part of the trails however pass over private lands and I would be very concerned if the court award to a hillwalker this week had any negative implications for the future of walks such as this in Wicklow.
‘The Mountaineering Council of Ireland share my concern and have said they’re very disappointed by the award, which they’ve described as not helpful,’ said Deputy Doyle.
‘They’ve also pointed out that it does not recognise that risk is inherent in hillwalking or the simple fact that accidents do happen.
‘In this beautiful county our countryside is one of our greatest assets and it’s vital for both walkers and locals that the open trails policy continues and everyone is free to enjoy all that Wicklow has to offer,’ added Deputy Doyle.