BY BRIAN MOORE
THERE are concerns over the future development of some of West Cork’s famous walking and hiking trails, following a recent High Court case.
Dublin woman Teresa Wall injured her knee after a fall while hiking a trail on the Wicklow Way and was last week awarded €40,000 after taking a case against the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
The case has now been appealed to the High Court, but the incident and court judgment have both alarmed many landowners in West Cork over whose lands many of the county’s best known and much-loved walking trails pass.
‘Firstly, it is acknowledged that the Sheep’s Head Way is one of the best maintained and managed walking trails in the country,’ said James O’Mahony, a spokesperson for the Sheep’s Head Way management committee which maintains walks along the scenic Sheep’s Head Peninsula.
On the Beara peninsula, where hikers and walkers have enjoyed the scenic Beara Way for many years, Jim O’Sullivan echoed the views of his counterpart on Sheep’s Head.
‘The Beara Way has seen great success over the years and we make sure that all the furniture and the pathways are maintained to the highest standard. We rely on the support of all local landowners, without which the Beara Way would not be what it is today. While the recent case concerns a walker on National Parks land, we would not like to see a precedent set for the future,’ Mr O’Sullivan said.
Regarding established walks which traverse farmers’ lands, the Irish Sports Council’s national trails officer, Cormac MacDonnell, said that landowners are covered by an indemnified Public Liability policy administered by the Sports Council.
‘From a landowner’s point of view, the Irish Sports Council has over 150 walks and trails across the country that are indemnified under a Public Liability policy,’ he said.
He added that the landowners are not responsible for the maintenance or upkeep of trails which cross their lands. This is the responsibility of local management groups and, as such, landowners will not be drawn into claims, such as the Wicklow Way one. ‘The ruling in this case is, however, a worry should it set a precedent,’ he said.
Both Cork and Wicklow County Councils said that as the matter is now being appealed, they cannot comment.
Meanwhile, Ireland South MEP Deirdre Clune (FG) said this week the case should not be allowed to undermine Ireland’s hill walking industry.
She has called on the National Parks Service to work with government to find a solution to the issues that have arisen from this case.
ICSA rural development chairman Seamus Sherlock has expressed grave concern at the case. ‘This sends out a clear message to farmers and landowners that hillwalkers can claim successfully for injuries sustained when walking. There will now be a growing fear that this will embolden others to try their luck in the courts.’