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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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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae] It seems that a particular traffic agenda is being put forward by some Members. Anything that can be done to protect road users and assist our councillors, local authorities and landowners to cut back roadside hedgerows when necessary, whether that be in January, June, February, April or at any other time, should be done in the interest of the safety of road users.

Deputy Peadar Tóibín: Information on Peadar Tóibín Zoom on Peadar Tóibín Hear, hear.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae How many accidents the cause of which is unattributed occurred as a direct result of overgrown hedges? Neither the RSA, local authorities, the Garda Síochána nor any other organisation has an accurate figure for the number of deaths, serious injuries and other injuries caused by the lack of maintenance of hedges on our roads. The Members who continually talk about birds and bees should start thinking about humans as well because the human species is fairly important and keeping them alive is quite high on my agenda.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett The story told by Deputy Michael Healy-Rae is horrific and was tragic for the lady involved. There is no doubt that hedgerows should be maintained such that they are not a danger to people such as that lady or any other road user. That is beyond question. The Members who are concerned about the Bill do not suggest that we should disregard road safety but, rather, the contrary, as we have repeatedly stated. Most of those on my side of this debate have vociferously advocated for road safety in many other debates in the House. Although the story told by the Deputy is a terrible one and there is no doubt that we must find measures to ensure that hedgerows and roadways are maintained such that they are not a danger to road users, whether walkers, cyclists or motorists, it does not follow that the measures in the Bill are the way to go about doing that.

  It is equally important to maintain the biodiversity of the country and the planet because humans, birds, bees, plants and trees are interconnected and interdependent. We need each other. If we disregard one species in the misguided belief that we are prioritising another, we will be cutting off our nose to spite our face. That is what is happening on the macro global level: we have damaged our environment to the extent that it is questionable whether we will be able to sustain human life in the longer term and whether some parts of the world will remain habitable. Parts of the planet are turning into deserts because of a lack of biodiversity and the impact of climate change.

  Great civilisations have collapsed because of degradation of the environment. As I have previously stated in the House, the great civilisations of ancient Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt collapsed because they did not pay enough attention to the maintenance of the canal network which fertilised the river plains and maintained the biodiversity and fertility of those areas. That is where the biblical myths of plagues of locusts and so on come from. The civilisations collapsed because they failed to protect the things that sustained them. That is exactly what is now happening on a global level. When a third of bee species are threatened with extinction, it is not just about the bees, it is about us and the pollination of the crops we need to produce the food we eat to survive. That is what we are talking about. Nature is about interconnection. It is an ecosystem in which all species are interconnected and interdependent but we are destroying huge parts of that ecosystem.

  I often raise the issue of forestry but hedgerows and scrub are of similar importance. Scrub is a baby forest. A hedgerow is a linear forest. The desperately low level of forest cover in this country is a serious problem. Farmers may point out that they have to make a living from the land and they are absolutely right. I agree with them. We must help, support and incentivise farmers to protect biodiversity and increase afforestation and the natural wild growth which will sustain biodiversity. It should not be an us-against-them debate. I have no doubt that the vast majority of farmers know far more about land and wildlife than do I. However, the economic pressure on farmers can sometimes lead them into conflict with the best guardianship of the land as a whole. That is not through a lack of care and it is not the fault of farmers but that pressure exists. It is evident in debates on the national herd and its expansion, which is tied in with global markets and profit. It is not the fault of small farmers and this debate is not about being against farmers. We want to support farmers, who should get handsomely paid for maintaining the diversity of the land, increasing afforestation and allowing the regeneration of natural scrub and forestry. We should not allow the current tension on this issue to lead to the further depletion of biodiversity on the land because that would damage us all.

  On amendment No. 26, which seeks to delete section 8, I agree with Deputy Michael Healy-Rae that at the root of this problem is that local authorities no longer have enough employees to maintain the roads and cut back dangerous trees or hedgerows. We now leave it to individuals to do so and give them the legal power to make decisions about whether a hedgerow is a danger to road users. That is not the way we should do things. People should be employed by the local authorities to maintain the hedgerows rather than carte blanche being given to landowners to cut down hedgerows in a manner which is damaging to biodiversity and which, consequently, affects animal and human life.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan All Members are concerned about road safety.

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne Hear, hear.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan A woman I knew was knocked down and killed on a road and it was never ascertained whether the driver who struck her, who did not come from a pub but who left the scene, had been drinking. He did not come forward. That incident inspired me to fixate on every aspect of the issue of road safety. Amendment No. 27 would contribute to road safety. Rather than giving carte blanche to landowners as the Minister and Fianna Fáil suggest, the amendment proposes being very forensic and specific by making reference to section 70(2)(b) and (9) of the Roads Act 1993 such that a person authorised or instructed by the council to cut back a hedge in a situation where there is a safety hazard would be compelled to so, which may take place at any time of year and that the local authority, should it consider that the person may not do so, retains its traditional ability to cut back the hedge to ensure road safety.

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