The other right to walk: the impact of conflict on outdoor recreation in Northern Ireland

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


One ‘right to walk’ has made headlines on an annual basis since the paramilitary ceasefires in Northern Ireland (NI), the summer marching season bringing regular and sometimes violent disputes between the loyal orders and nationalist groups. Away from the media spotlight, Ireland’s troubled history continues to have an impact on the ‘other right to walk’. Here, growing interest in countryside recreation and a desire to promote NI as an activity tourism destination clash with possessiveness on the part of landowners, governance issues, security concerns and sectarian tensions, linked to recent and historic conflicts, which result in limited legal rights of access to the countryside. Following the liberalisation of countryside access legislation at the start of the 21st century, recreational users of rural land in Great Britain enjoy extensive linear and open access rights. This includes a right of pedestrian access to open country in England and Wales and to all undeveloped and uncultivated land in Scotland. In Northern Ireland, where the key legislation remains based on the model in place in England and Wales from 1949 to 2000, access to privately owned land is not normally available as of right, but depends on the exercise of little-used discretionary powers by local government. Consequently, other than the recently-introduced right of pedestrian access to public forests, open access rights apply to only 2.9 hectares of land, with just 313km of public rights of way. This paper reports the findings of an investigation of the reasons for the relative lack of statutory provision for countryside recreation in Northern Ireland, including qualitative interviews with 15 informants representing key interest groups. Not all of the reasons for Northern Irish exceptionalism are grounded in its status as a post-conflict society – the importance of agriculture to the regional economy and culture was identified as a key factor. However, other issues raised are inextricably linked to the history of conflict, not only in Northern Ireland since the 1960s, but in Ireland over a period of centuries. These include a strong attachment to and desire for absolute control over land on the part of an agricultural community conscious that their recent ancestors fought (sometimes literally) for ownership. Failure to update environmental legislation in an environment of political instability in which secur … View full abstract
Period15 Nov 2013
Event titleCentre for Post-Conflict Justice Postgraduate Research Day
Event typeConference
LocationDublin, IrelandShow on map


  • countryside access
  • right to roam
  • outdoor recreation
  • northern ireland