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Heritage Bill 2016: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage (Continued)

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 971 No. 2

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  9 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Catherine Martin: Information on Catherine Martin Zoom on Catherine Martin] The Minister made the point that in the context of hedge cutting under section 7(1), as a result of any ministerial regulations put forward, there would only be the cutting of a single year's growth and that flails would be prohibited but there are no such regulations under section 8. The Minister cannot hide behind the regulations she claims she will make because this is a complete and unregulated exemption entered into primary legislation. Under section 8, anything goes. More than one season's growth goes. Flails are fair game. Amendment No. 27 restricts the disapplication of section 40 of the Wildlife Act and section 8 solely to work carried out by a local authority or pursuant to a notice from a local authority. This amendment would stop section 8 from opening this exemption up to work carried out under any subsection of section 70 of the Roads Act, but would allow people to engage with local authorities to either have obstructions or hazardous material removed or to remove it themselves on foot of notice from a local authority.

Does the Minister intend to introduce a ban on the use of the flail during the nesting season where cutting for road safety is necessary? Its basic design is such that it fires hedge debris back into the heart of the hedge at high speed. Anything in the hedge that could not fly away would not stand a chance. The dangers of this type of machinery are writ large in operators' safety manuals. It is incredible to think that it can be operated on a public road by operators who have not had to pass a competency test in its safe operation. There have been fatalities with this type of machinery. A reciprocating, finger-bar type cutter would be less disruptive but such cutters are not as widespread or readily available as flail machines in many parts of the country.

When a local authority cuts hedges for safety purposes during the nesting season, there is invariably a flag man or two operating to ensure traffic safety while the work is under way. Does the Minister intend to create an equivalent obligation on landowners for hedge cutting to be carried out by individuals? That would make it costly for landowners and no doubt there would be those who would seek to cut corners. Will we be increasing the risk of accidents by permitting landowners to carry out unsupervised hedge cutting on the roads during the busiest month of the year? Has that been considered?

I also wish to clarify statements made by the Minister yesterday. She referred to the work of Birdwatch Ireland, in the context of sections 7 and 8, as being both a flagrant distortion of the facts and unscientific. She repeatedly said yesterday that Birdwatch Ireland had said the decline in numbers of the curlew was due to burnings. Birdwatch Ireland never claimed that. It agreed with the Minister's experts that habitat loss and degradation are the primary reasons that there are only 120 breeding pairs of curlews left in the country. However, Birdwatch Ireland has advised that a relaxation of burning regulations could put the curlew over the edge as a result of habitat loss and degradation. The curlew is not necessarily in the position it is in because of the burning and Birdwatch Ireland never made that claim. However, the Minister's new regulations will sound its death knell. It is important that the Minister understands that she is misinformed and is misattributing to Birdwatch Ireland statements that it simply has not made. With respect, when one is making accusations of misinformation, it is important that one is properly informed.

The changes in this section and the previous one are the most significant roll back of the legal protections for wildlife in the history of the State. Now is the time when we should be increasing our protection for vulnerable wildlife rather than reducing it. There are no positive changes for wildlife as a result of the Bill. Tá an Comhaontas Glas go mór i gcoinne an Bhille seo mar is léir don dall go mbeidh tubaistí gan aon mhaith ag eiceolaíocht na hÉireann agus cothóidh an Bille seo slad mór millteanach ar oidhreacht nádúrtha na tíre.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae I wish to speak about the protection of a very important species, namely, the human species. I am going to relay a true story about a lady. I will not give her name because she is now deceased but it is no harm to recount her story and how she was affected by this issue we are debating. Despite her advanced years, this lady travelled on a certain road every morning on her bicycle. She visited cattle she kept in a certain location outside of the village in which she lived in south Kerry. She was used to travelling the road, year in and year out. The road used to be maintained by Kerry County Council by means of councillors' allocations until such time as councillors not just in Kerry but throughout the country were stopped from using their councillors' allocation to cut hedges. From then on, it was the responsibility of the landowners. As the Minister is aware, in many cases the approach taken was haphazard. One landowner might cut his hedges but in another case the landowner might not even be living in this country. Certain sections of the road were being maintained and others were not.

On a particular morning, the lady to whom I refer was cycling on her bicycle on the road and, unfortunately, she was caught by a briar that was hanging out over the road. While we are talking about the protection of birds and bees, will anyone spare a thought for this woman and what happened to her? A very strong briar caught her face and the briar pulled the eye out of its socket and out of her head. That is what happened to her as a result of an overgrown hedge. I would like to hear people talk in this House about the protection of human life when it comes to cutting hedges on the roadside. I would also like people to think about stories like that in this context. It is not as if I do not have a fondness for wildlife and an urge to protect it as much and possibly more than some of the people who profess to be the God-given saviours of wildlife and fauna. I have always said the best people to protect the countryside and all the animals that are in it are the people who own certain sections of it because they were brought up with land and they adore every inch of it whether it is their own, their neighbour's or their friend's.

I want that woman to be remembered tonight while we are discussing hedges. In a time when some people might go running to a solicitor or head for the High Court, does the Minister think she ever mentioned it to Kerry County Council, the landowner or anybody else? She said not a thing in the world. There was never a solicitor's letter written to anybody and there was never a word about it. Her sight was gone from her eye as a result of the horrific injury she suffered that morning but there was never a word about it. She never did or said anything; she went quietly along for the rest of her remaining years with one eye. That was what happened to her as a result of overgrown briars on roadside hedges.

When we are talking about wildlife - birds and bees - I would like us to remember humans. Road safety is of paramount importance and it is discussed in the House a great deal but we must bring it into focus when we are talking about the cutting and maintenance of hedges. Whatever month it is, hedges should be cut for reasons of road safety but only roadside hedges, not those in fields or anywhere else. Hedges should be cut on minor and major roads in the interest of the motorists, cyclists and walkers who use them. That is our first duty in the interest of road safety for the users of the roads. County councils should be allowed to restore the practice that obtained in the past whereby hardworking councillors throughout the country could use their councillors' allocation. Local authorities did a great job of maintaining hedges at that time but, unfortunately, many of our roads are getting narrower, which means cars stay out too far from the hedges and go around bends in the middle of the road when another car is coming. There is nothing being said about that. Whatever one does, one should not kill or endanger a bird or bee, but do not mind people.

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