Hedge-cutting: ‘People’s lives cannot be put at risk for the sake of birds’

People’s lives cannot be put at risk for the sake of birds, Independent TD Danny Healy-Rae said in the Dail recently while discussing hedge-cutting amendments to the Heritage Bill.

Under current rules hedge-cutting is permitted between September 1 and the last day of February. But under new proposals, people would be allowed to cut roadside hedges during the month of August on a pilot basis for two years.

However, this proposal has been the case of much discussion in recent months. Many wildlife organisations and their supporters oppose the proposal as they believe it will be detrimental for birds, bees and nature in general.

“With regard to all the talk about birds, I do not object to birds, bees or any other wildlife. However, there is a place for them.

The people who support the wildlife cannot put other people’s lives at risk for the sake of birds. The country is wide enough for the birds to nest.

“I am all in favour of them nesting but not on the roadside. We must keep the roadsides safe for the people who are travelling on the roads,” he said.

The farmer knows best how to mind and care for his land, without any interference or any advice from do-gooders around the country who do not even own a patch of land – but who try to exert control, the elected representative for the Kerry constituency added.

“It is as though farmers do not own their lands at all now because they are told what to do and what they cannot do.

“It is very sad because whether it was handed down to them or whether they had to buy it at exorbitant cost, and many of them had to do that, farmers are the best custodians of the land and they should be left at it.

“They never wronged the countryside, and those who are there now value their properties as much as those who came before them. All they want to do is hand it down in the same way they got it from their parents or forefathers,” he continued.

‘Common sense has gone out the window’

Meanwhile, Independent TD Mattie McGrath argued that common sense must prevail and that farmers must be allowed to cut hedges nearly all year round – with the exception of the very high season – in the interest of road safety.

We cannot do any bit of work on the N24 or any of the major roads without getting permission. One would get an audience with the Pope faster than an audience with the Road Safety Authority (RSA).

“We are going to have bushes growing out into the middle of the road where one could hardly fit a bike, never mind a machine or a car. If a person is driving a tractor out of a field, he or she needs a view of 12ft before it moves to the road.

“Every roadside hedge should be cut. It is as simple as that. Farmers are allowed to cut the tops of hedges, but the sides should also be cut.

“This is nonsense. It is simply creating more regulation and keeping people in good jobs, with their briefcases and their travelling expenses and everything else. It has gone mad,” Deputy McGrath said.

‘Lives have been lost’

While addressing the chamber, Roscommon-Galway TD Michael Fitzmaurice said that – in his opinion – lives have been lost as a result of people not being allowed to cut roadside hedges.

“Let everyone be very clear; everyone tells people in rural Ireland how to live their lives, how to protect their land and how to do this, that and the other – but the reality is that for the past 100 or 200 years, people in rural areas have managed the landscape and have brought it to where it is today.

“They did not need all the so-called experts telling them how to do it or coming out on Saturday and Sunday telling them how to keep it. A person born in rural Ireland knows to make sure that birds are not hurt,” he said.

Opposition to the hedge-cutting amendment

The idea that the amendment to allow hedge-cutting during the month of August was on account of road safety has been described as “complete and utter fraud” by Fianna Fail TD Thomas Byrne.

“If it were to do with road safety, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport would be putting it before the House, advised by the National Transport Authority and Road Safety Authority. That has not happened in this case.

“However, this bill was brought in under the guise of road safety. We all put road safety first but there is no road safety issue in this case. We already have a Roads Act which allows for the cutting of hedges for the sake of road safety. There is no reason to change the law on the grounds of road safety.

It simply allows certain vested interests – these vested interests were very few because no farmer I asked was looking for this provision – to take over legislation and use road safety in a fraudulent way to essentially give free rein to hedge-cutting in August.

“I meet the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) regularly. Never once did this issue come up in all of my meetings with the IFA over many years.

“It was never brought to my attention that there was an issue with regard to hedges in August or any other time of the year or that there was a particular road safety concern that had to be addressed at any other time of the year,” Byrne, who is a TD for the Meath East constituency, said.

Farmer concerns

However, Peter Farrelly of the Association of Farm & Forestry Contractors in Ireland (FCI) has claimed that farmers have raised their road safety concerns surrounding the hedge-cutting amendment in the Heritage Bill with Deputy Byrne in the past.

“About three years ago Tom was at a meeting in Kells (Co. Meath) where we did discuss hedge-cutting and I have met him on a number of occasions and put it across to him about the dangers on the roads.

“I met him about six months ago and I raised the farmer issues with the roadside hedges – he is well aware. It shows how far removed he is from rural Ireland and from farmers on the ground. It’s time for him to wake up and reach reality.

“Any trees near power lines or near roads must be made safe for people along country roads. It is a very small amount of hedges that should be exempt from the wildlife act due to safety grounds,” Farrelly said.

Equally, the IFA’s Environment and Rural Affairs Committee chairman, Thomas Cooney, was hopeful that the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Heather Humphreys, would deliver on a number of promises made to the association.

These earlier commitments include the roadside cutting of hedges during the month of August, as well as the cutting of hedges in the eight month of the year in fields where winter crops are sowed and in fields which are being reseeded, Cooney added.

He also welcomed the fact that controlled burning would be permitted during March under the amendments to the Heritage Bill.