Mayo's renowned Greenway cycle route could be closed if farmers in the west restrict access to hill and commonage lands in the latest escalation of their dispute over the proposed Rural Development Programme (RDP).
Hill and commonage farmers were this week understood to be considering their options - including restrictions on access to hills and mountains in Connemara and Mayo - as relations with the Department of Agriculture hit a new low.
While farmers in the area would not be drawn on the possibility of closing their lands, it is understood that is a live option among landowners angered by the continuing failure to deal with their concerns regarding elements of the RDP.
However, closure of the Greenway would mark a major escalation in the dispute.
The 42km Great Western Greenway cycle and walking path from Westport to Achill is among the west's most popular activity tourism attractions.
It has attracted hundreds of thousands of cycling and walking enthusiasts to the area and its closure would be a major embarrassment to Government given that it is located in Taoiseach Enda Kenny's constituency.
However, public access to sections of the Greenway is dependent on farmer 'goodwill' and this leaves it susceptible to farmer action.
Relations between the Department and commonage owners hit a new low last week when the leader of the Hill Farmers for Action, Brendan Joyce, led a walkout of over 300 farmers from an information meeting in Maam Cross, Co Galway.
Mr Joyce claimed that the detail of an agreement between the hill farmer group and the Department had not been honoured and that commonage farmers would not accept the RDP proposals as they stood.
The problems centre on the requirement that to be eligible for GLAS, hill farmers would have to be join a commonage management plan for commonage lands and that these plans would have to include at least 50pc of the active commonage shareholders.
Mr Joyce claimed a deal with the Department meant farmers could apply as individuals for GLAS and appeal their case to the Commonage Implementation Committee where 50pc of active shareholders were not participating in the common management plan.
"No proper discussions have taken place and the Department officials have rolled back on certain areas where progress was made about the 50pc buy-in to the scheme," Mr Joyce said.
However, at information meetings the Department insisted that share- holders in commonages had to come together and 'activate' management plans for the land before shareholder farmers were eligible to apply for GLAS.
Mr Joyce also questioned the legality of putting in place a management plan for a commonage which did not have the agreement of all the commonage shareholders.
"No legal advice was sought in relation to the collective agreement and the implication on other shareholder's in the commonage," Mr Joyce said.
He added that planners in the west would not touch commonage management plans because of fears that such plans would be legally challenged.
However, the Department dismissed these concerns. In a statement to the Farming Independent, the Department said: "Some questions to do with legal aspects of the application of the proposed GLAS measure for commonages were raised in the course of information evenings held last week for hill-farmers.
While appreciating the concerns that were raised, the Department does not consider these to have any particular legal implications. The GLAS measure does no more than facilitate groups of commonage shareholders to work together in the best interests of their own commonage, to improve the grazing regime and to improve both the environmental and agricultural value of their land. As is the practice with all new schemes, the Department seeks legal advice when the schemes are being up."