Mountaineering Ireland welcomes the news that reforms to Ireland’s duty of care legislation were passed by both houses of the Oireachtas at the end of June, and referred to the President of Ireland to be signed into law.
The amendments to the Occupiers’ Liability Act (1995) change the duty of care that landowners and occupiers owe to people who enter onto hills, farmland or other premises.
The main changes to the Act include:
- The higher duty of care owed to visitors, which includes people who pay an entry fee, or are invited onto property, has been reduced.
- There are new limits to the circumstances in which a court can impose liability on a landowner where a person has entered onto property for the purpose of committing a crime.
- In relation to the landowners’ duty to take reasonable care to maintain a structure for use by recreational users in a safe condition, regard shall now be had to all of the circumstances of the case. This reduces what was a high duty of care on landowners.
- A new section 5A in the Act allows for a broader range of scenarios where it can be shown that a person has voluntarily assumed a risk that could result in harm. This embeds in legislation a long-established principle that participants in outdoor recreation activities should take responsibility for their own actions and their own safety.
The last two points insert into legislation key factors in the High Court judgment in the Wall v NPWS (Wicklow Way) case. Since the Wall v NPWS case, Mountaineering Ireland has engaged with government, seeking amendment to the Occupiers’ Liability Act, and last year we made a detailed submission in response to the changes that were proposed.
We welcome the passing of the amended legislation and extend our thanks to Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee TD and Minister of State, James Browne TD.
Overall, these reforms rebalance the duty of care in favour of landowners and occupiers, giving greater protection to both private and public landowners. This should provide assurance to landowners, and encourage those with recreational activity on their land to continue to facilitate access. Less worry for landowners should help improve access for hillwalkers and climbers.
These amendments are an important part of the government’s Action Plan on Insurance Reform. The changes were incorporated in the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2022.
Please note this is an initial, non-legal summary of the changes, Mountaineering Ireland will have further information over the coming weeks.