We need to tread a careful path in greenways debate
Published 15/07/2015 | 02:30
It can be tricky to strike the right balance of events when you're going on a family holiday with a farmer.
Those of us with sedentary lifestyles want to be doing all sorts of active stuff, whereas, to my cowboy, a holiday predominantly means a rest.
When we were heading to Westport I had visions of whizzing along the Great Western Greenway with the wind blowing in my hair and the wild Atlantic surf splashing me in the face.
Himself would be happy if the closest he got to a bike was watching the Tour de France on television.
He would say he's worried about his gammy ankle. And, no, apparently, it wasn't picked up in either of the World Wars but rather in his rugby playing days.
Though it's curious how he never complains about his ankle when he is heading on an overseas jaunt with the buddies.
Having heard glowing reports about the Achill to Westport greenway, we duly struck out west from Newport. I have to admit that there was more wheezing than whizzing involved on my part but, otherwise, it was everything I could have hoped for.
Like many other greenways it follows the path of an old railway so was fairly flat which gave us the chance to enjoy the stunning and varied scenery.
We breezed over the quirky bendy bridges and stock grids while the kissing gates gave us a chance for a breather.
The first section of this greenway was only opened in 2010 and it is worth more than €7m per annum to the local economy.
It's hard to believe that the word greenway - shared-use, motor-free, routes - was virtually unheard of in this country a decade ago yet it is now commonplace.
Communities up, down and across the country are trying to copy the Mayo success by developing similar amenities, on behalf of locals who want safer places to exercise and get about on foot or bike and to attract today's tourists who want active experiential holidays.
Greenways are not a cure-all for every rural problem but they can give an area a welcome boost.
Like many of the other sections of Irish greenways that have been established thus far, which have facilitated quick and relatively cheap developments, the Great Western is based on landowners agreeing to 'permissive access' arrangements.
While those who pulled it together have been widely lauded for their efforts, none deserve it more than the 150 local landowners who have given permission for the 42km route to pass through their lands. It is a triumph of community collaboration.
However, the increasing mention of Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs)in the context of acquiring land for our burgeoning list of greenways fills me with dread. If county councils go down this route, I fear the greenway movement could come to a standstill.
Two projects where there are issues surrounding land access and the dreaded CPO has made its way into the conversation are the 280km Galway to Dublin cycleway and the proposed 26km Glenbeigh-Caherciveen routes.
A number of stages of the coast-coast route are complete, mainly those on state-owned lands.
However, amid claims from some farmers that they have been threatened with CPOs, the Government recently told local authorities to carry out an intensive consultation with up to 1,000 landowners.
The root of the problem in Kerry is that the cycleway was announced before there was adequate dialogue with landowners, who bought the land when the railway closed in 1960.
Of the 116 concerned, fewer than ten are opposed to the plans.
Farmers are willing to be helpful and they almost always are. Except if they feel if they are being taken for granted or being told what is good for them.
Kerry County Council voted in February to proceed with CPOs along the route.
However, talks between the farmers concerned, the IFA and the Kerry county manager are still continuing, to try to negotiate some flexibility on routes and agree a small annual maintenance payment.
"It's not about the money, what's needed is a demonstration of goodwill," according to IFA Kerry county chairman Sean Brosnan, who says farmers in the area fully recognise that they need tourism more than anything.
He quotes one of those affected: "It's about buying the landowner in, rather than buying the landowner out."
On our Mayo cycle, we never felt anything other than welcome but I, for one, would feel differently if I thought we were there against the landowners' will.
Moreover, CPOs are not without a price. They would almost certainly be challenged, meaning the whole process would become protracted and, ultimately, more expensive.
The IFA accepts CPOs where necessary infrastructure such as roads are concerned but take the view that such trails are not in the same category.
It's a time for calm heads on all sides.
Making their voices heard
One of the most popular Twitter accounts in the agricultural social media sphere is the @IrelandsFarmers.
Tomorrow will mark a year since it was restarted by Lorna Sixsmith under the umbrella of the Agchatirl group, which also includes Thomas Duffy, Marita Kelly, Fionnuala Malone, Paudie O'Brien and Sarah Vanden Broeck.
Each week, a different farmer takes on the task of curating the account which now has over 6,000 followers.
Among the aims for the account is showcasing Irish farming and food production, providing consumer information, a forum for twitter followers to ask questions and discuss relevant issues as well as the chance to grow a social media presence.
A #agchatirl tweetchat is held on Wednesday evenings from 9to 10pm.
Of the 52 farmers tweeting for the first year, 30 were male, 21 were female and there was one tweeting cat - the cat is male but the owner is female!