Walking wars – farmers will lose too

I WAS bred and raised on a farm in County Cavan. From shortly after I could walk, I walked my neighbour’s lands. From then on through years of fishing, shooting and miles and miles of general wandering I asked no-one if I could enter their land.

Things might have changed a little, but generally, at least in my area, rural people went where they wanted.

Now, because of some disputes between farmers and urban-based walkers, farmer organisations are demanding that people should ask for permission before they enter private property.

I wonder if they have thought through the consequences of their demands because if they get their way, ages-old rural practices and customs will come to an end. 

No amount of rural post office shutting and rural school shutting will damage the rural way of life as much as if every plot of land comes down with its own iron curtain.

Farmers gathered at Loughin House prison to protest at the imprisonment of the ‘Bull” McSharry from Sligo. The man was simply defending his land, they said. People should ask permission to enter, they said.

Does that include themselves, I wonder? What if their cattle wander onto their neighbour’s farm? Will they need permission to retrieve them?

When they bush a hole in a hedge, will they seek permission if they need to work from the other side of the ditch?

What if they want to shoot vermin? What if their kids take a shortcut?

How we laughed at the urban people and their disputes over garden fences, and whether the tree branches would block out the light, and if they had a south facing garden, and all the silliness of arguing over a few square inches.

Now farmers’ organisations are advocating legal technicalities. Do they mean written permission? Will it have to be witnessed? Will it apply to their neighbours or have they an idea that some people will be let in and others excluded. If you look like a culchie – you’re in, sort of arrangement.

Yet farmers do have a genuine case for keeping people off their land.The most important thing for farmers, the vast majority of farmers who don’t mind people crossing their land, is that they should not be held liable for accidents which are not their fault and which could cost them their livelihoods.

Bar cases where farmers actually set a trap for ramblers, liability should rest with the walker. 

This is such a serious issue for farmers that the land will be closed to visitors (with justification, in my view) unless it is sorted out.

As I have said in this column many times: let people take their own risks and let them take the consequences.

Meanwhile, the permission idea is not a good one, for walkers or the rural community. Waymarked walks in scenic areas would satisfy most walkers and farmers could also be compensated for whatever contribution they make.

Local customs will suit most people, rural and urban, and people should be very slow to run to the law. We’ll all lose.