Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) is standing in solidarity with Pat Dunne and his family following a terrible ordeal on his own farmland in Co Wicklow. Pat was attacked by a walker who was bringing dogs onto the well-known ZigZag walk despite signage being present that dogs were not allowed on the walk. This was on farmland where sheep were present and heavy in lamb.
Speaking on this INHFA Vice President Pheilim Molloy outlined how the association had previously compiled a policy paper that calls for new legislation around dog control and public indemnity, along with a public education programme to be established. The paper, he stated “was based on a survey conducted with INHFA’s membership, and the responses showed a real concern relating to the threat posed to farmers and their livestock, from walkers bringing dogs onto hills and farmlands.”
INHFA are, he added “asking Oireachtas members to legislate and ensure that all non-working dogs are banned from our hills and farmlands.” Legislation in this area needs to involve considerable fines for those caught with non-working dogs on farmland, and this should also be considered as a criminal offence maintained Molloy. While this may seem drastic to some, the INHFA leader stressed how “it will remove any ambiguity about access with dogs and challenge the minority who either do not understand or are unwilling to respect the landowners’ property and livelihood rights.”
In addition to dog control legislation, INHFA is also calling for legislation that would require anyone involved in accessing property for recreational purposes to have private and public liability insurance. This, Molloy believes, would help reduce farmer’s exposure to potential claims.Alternatively, the Oireachtas could enact legislation to ensure that anyone accessing farmland does so at their own risk and automatically waives the right to claim against the property owner.
The unregulated encouragement of public access is, he stated “adding to the risk of farms as workplaces in a manner that would not be tolerated under health and safety requirements in other industries”.We are, continued Molloy seeing “regular reports of damage being done by recreational users, such as fences being broken and stock being injured, and in some cases, wildfires caused by recreational users ‘wild camping’ that has undermined CAP payments to farmers.”
The INHFA are, he added “also looking for public support to increase awareness around land ownership as our policy paper highlights widespread ignorance of farming practices and ownership of all kinds of farmland that many recreational users do not seem to appreciate.” Here Molloy pointed to the need for recreational users to understand “that when they walk on farmland, they are entering owned land and entering a farmer’s place of work and livelihood.”
Concluding, the INHFA Vice President outlined how access to our hills should not be seen as a public right and where farmers are willing to facilitate access due respect, including the absence of dogs, is vital. We must, he stated “also recognise that there are landowners that don’t want people on their property and this right must also be respected.”