INHFA: ‘Farmer liability for hill walkers must be addressed’

The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) has warned that the issue of farmers’ liability for hill walkers and tourists needs to be addressed.

Following a meeting with Michael Ring, the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Henry O’Donnell, the association’s vice-president, highlighted the “substantial increase” in the amount of people accessing hill farmers’ land for recreational purposes.

According to O’Donnell, this amount has increased from 168,000 people in 2003 to almost 2.4 million in 2018.

There is a strong feeling among farmers that they are left out once again, with some of the opinion that they are starting to feel run-over by the ever increasing number of  people walking their hills.

“While we all appreciate how a thriving tourism industry can benefit local communities and the country as a whole, there also needs to be the realisation that these hills are privately owned and seen by those landowners as businesses and farms,” he argued.

He said he recognised the “huge bonus” that hill access for walkers provides for the local and national economies, but that the primary purpose of these lands is the production and maintenance of livestock.

The main concerns for farmers were, according to O’Donnell: sheep worrying by dogs; increased pollution and litter; gorse fires; gates being left open; fences being broken; and claims against landowners if walkers are injured.

For too long farmers’ concerns have been ignored, and while we acknowledge attempts being made by the minister in addressing the issue of liability, this issue, and others, needs to be prioritised for all hill farmers.

“A tourism industry that ignores the property rights and concerns of our farmers is not sustainable, which is why we need full engagement in addressing these concerns and finding a way to include farmers and reward them for the public goodwill they are providing,” concluded O’Donnell.