The government’s new plan to acquire lands from farmers for greenways is a “cheap stunt that is disrespectful to rural Ireland and rural communities”.
That is the view of the chairperson of the Rural Ireland Organisation (RIO) and Mayo farmer, Mr Gerry Loftus.
Mr Loftus stated that “the proposal offers a once-off payment to farmers to hand over a right of way through their land that will remain a burden on their land forever more”.
He said the proposal forms part of the Government’s Strategy for the Future Development Of National And Regional Greenways.
Loftus described the proposed one-off payments in the new Code Of Best Practice for National And Regional Greenways as a “blatant insult to landowners”.
He advised any farmers, who want to know about the proposed payment bands, to contact him directly.
He highlighted that greenways could also be a “big” problem for farmers in terms of people not keeping dogs on leads and livestock worrying.
“When people are coming off greenways, they very often walk onto private property. This puts the landowner at risk of an insurance claim in the event of an accident.”
The organisation believes that greenways in remote areas without serious provisions can be “a recipe for disaster”.
Therefore, the group calls for “proper” consultation with people living in rural Ireland about any proposed greenways.
Thefts and CPOs
Loftus said that poorly designed greenways could provide the “ideal scenario” for robberies as thieves can identify targets in daylight hours.
“They can then travel the greenway at night by motorcycle or pushbike. Then, they could disappear into the back of an awaiting van on the main road.”
“We already know criminals in many parts of the country commit robberies close to motorways or main roads so that they can then use the motorway or main road to make their getaway.”
RIO also believes if landowners adopt this proposal, then it is only a matter of time until Compulsory Purchase Orders will apply to build walkways across farmland to access mountains, lakes, beauty spots etc.
“A farmer fighting CPO alone is easy prey,” Loftus remained.
Outlining several necessary measures, Mr Loftus said his organisation will only support greenways by permissive access.
On those grounds, he stated they must be in the right place under the right management.
He said greenways must run close to main roads. Furthermore, every effort must be made to inconvenience the landowner as little as possible.
“The landowner must have the right to determine exactly where the greenway runs through the property. They must be compensated for allowing permissive access through their land in the form of an index-linked annual payment.”
“Greenways must have a patrol officer on the greenway at all times. This is to ensure that people using the greenway comply with the rules at all times.”
Loftus also questioned the wisdom of constructing greenways to replace railway lines at a time when Ireland should be trying to transform its transport system to electric rail to reduce emissions.
“Greenways come at a huge cost to the general public. However, this money never seems to be available to develop our rail infrastructure.”
“Why are we not building high-speed rail links connecting rural Ireland to our cities and towns?”
“We have people forced to commute for hours each day because of this failed and stupid government policy,” he argued.
RIO would prefer to see a network of greenways alongside the existing and future network of railway lines as part of an all-Ireland green transport plan.
Loftus called on any members of the public who were opposed to a greenway being built on a disused railway line going through their property to contact the organisation.
RIO is requesting documentary evidence to establish what consultation process has taken place with landowners on this issue.
“We are particularly interested in what consultation process took place in scenic areas in rural Ireland. These inhabitants are the most vulnerable to this proposal.”
RIO confirmed that it would seek clarity with Minister Ryan and Peter Walsh, CEO of Transport Infrastructure Ireland.
Loftus concluded by saying while any amount of money is “tempting”, even the “paltry” amounts proposed, the reality is that this proposal would contribute to a “serious” devaluation of people’s property.