Woof justice - Landowners hold all the aces in cases of illegal hunting and trespass by dog walkers

Trespass cases can be taken even if there is no damage to the land

'If you are too afraid to enter the land alone as a result of the dogs you should certainly speak to the Gardai about it and discuss making a complaint'
'If you are too afraid to enter the land alone as a result of the dogs you should certainly speak to the Gardai about it and discuss making a complaint'

Theresa Murphy

The winter months and the Christmas period often brings the issues relating to dog walkers, shooting and hunting to the forefront of landowners' minds.

While there are many who take part in these activities there are also many who are opposed to a lesser or greater extent to the use of their lands for these purposes.

Understanding what is permitted and what you can do to restrict access etc to your lands is important for all landowners.

Hill walkers and dog walkers

Hill walkers generally don't cause too much of an issue with the exception of concern over the liability of landowners for their injuries.

Liability for hill walkers has long been a concern for landowners as they may not be aware of the times of entry of walkers onto their land.

The Occupiers' Liability Act 1995, which includes recreational user as a category of users of privately-owned lands, was introduced to address the exposure of landowners to claims arising from injuries to recreational users and others.

Under the Act, a recreational user is a person present on the premises or land of a private citizen, without charge (other than a reasonable charge for parking facilities) for the purposes of engaging in a recreational activity. Under these circumstances, the owner of the land is obliged only to not intentionally injure or harm the recreational user or act with reckless disregard for the recreational user's welfare.

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If there is a hidden hazard present on your land it is prudent to signpost this clearly in order to prevent an assertion of reckless disregard.

People walking dogs are different to a walker who does not have a dog in tow as they are bound by the Control of Dogs legislation.

The Control of Dogs Act states that the owner or any other person in charge of a dog shall not permit the dog to be in any place other than the premises of the owner unless the owner or other person in charge of the dog accompanies it and keeps it under effective control.

If you notice that dogs are off leases and not under proper control of their owner you can make a complaint to the Gardai and the owners can be prosecuted.

Under the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 as amended, it is a criminal offence for anyone to enter, occupy or bring anything onto privately owned land or land owned by local authorities if that act is likely to:

  • substantially damage the land
  • substantially damage any amenity on the land
  • prevent any person from making reasonable use of that amenity
  • render the land or any amenity on it unsanitary or unsafe
  • substantially interfere with the land or an amenity on it.

If a landowner believes that someone is illegally occupying their land to the extent of committing one of the above offences, they should inform the Garda Síochána.

The Garda Síochána are then empowered to visit the land, and if they find any person on the land, they can demand that the person gives them their name and address and that they leave the land and remove any objects under their control from the land.

If you are too afraid to enter the land alone as a result of the dogs you should certainly speak to the Gardai about it and discuss making a complaint.

This article is intended as a general guide only and you should seek professional advice in relation to individual circumstances.

Trespass cases can be taken even if there is no damage to the land

The law is clear in that it is an offence for  any person to use land for the purpose of  hunting wild birds or animals where they do not have the permission of the owner or occupier.

Landowners are under no obligation to erect a sign to this effect as holders of gun licenses should be aware of this law.

However, precautionary notices to gun clubs may serve the purpose of reinforcing your view that hunters/shooters are not welcome on your lands

It is possible to take an action for trespass even where no damage is caused to the lands if the shooter does not have permission to enter the lands and knowingly does so.

However, where there has been no damage whatsoever, the likelihood of securing any significant compensation is small.

Gun clubs

It is essential that persons authorised to enter farm lands for the purpose of shooting and/hunting can show that they do have this permission as it falls to the hunter to show that they hold this permission.

Some gun clubs obtain verbal or written permissions from landowners in advance of the season to ensure that they have the necessary permission for members.

There are areas of the country which have registered easements, which are similar to rights of way, specifically for the purpose of hunting.

This is normally clearly identified on the title deeds of the lands or on the folio.

It is important to clarify if such rights exist before taking any legal steps in the case of buying land.

In this case, the first port of call would be to examine the deeds or folio as the lands are located near to traditional hunting grounds.

The use of another person's land is always something that should be approached with sensitivity and if in doubt consult the landowner before entering.

Theresa Murphy is a barrister based in Ardrahan, Co. Galway email: theresa@lawlibrary.ie

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