A heated debate between farmers and hill walkers in Sligo at the launch of a branch of Keep Ireland Open.

Sligo farmer Andy McSharry made headlines last year when he was convicted of assaulting hill walkers on his land. He has continued to campaign to deny the public access to his property. 

Keep Ireland Open (KIO), an umbrella group representing hill walkers and others who access the countryside for recreation say that this is by no means an isolated case. At the launch of a Sligo branch today, the body claimed that there is,  

Increasing unreasonable denial of access to hill areas in the north west and interference with walkers.

President of Keep Ireland Open Jackie Rumley tells RTÉ News that while he is aware of issues in the north west, he wants to assure farmers that hill walkers are on their side, 

There is no threat to their livelihoods, in fact we would support them."

At the KIO meeting farmers claimed their right to continue to restrict access to their property, as Dan Gilmartin from the County Sligo branch of the Irish Farmers' Association explained,  

There have been severe losses because of people trampling over fences and breaking down fences and disturbing and stalking and that type of thing. 

The farmers have called for a code of conduct, while the KIO said that everyone will benefit if they work together. 

An RTÉ News report broadcast on 20 January 2001. The reporter is Eileen Magnier.