Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs

Heritage Bill 2016: Discussion (Resumed)

11:00 am

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the ICSFA, the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland, BirdWatch Ireland and the Hedge Laying Association of Ireland. I want to talk about roadside hedge cutting. Many people in rural Ireland, including me, believe that roadside hedges should be cut all year round for the safety of road users. There is no problem with restrictions inside ditches. The countryside is available for birds. As Deputy Ó Cuív said, birds are not so foolish as to make their nests on the roadside where the winds and lorries would blow their feathers off.

At the current time, no local authority does anything until 1 September in respect of road hedges. It takes them two or three weeks, or the entire month of September, to send out letters to landowners and nothing happens. By the time farmers receive letters, growth has stopped. In other words, no hedge is cut as it grows in the summertime. It is unfair that people who are walking and cycling and those operating school buses and transporting lorry loads of hay and products to farmers are being prevented from travelling. The mirrors on lorries and buses are being broken at a cost of €1,200 for each one. School buses are refusing to do school runs because of what is happening. The roads are very narrow and there is room for only one vehicle. As Deputy Collins said, they are being scratched, torn and destroyed, which is not fair.

Will people be asked to stay in the middle of roads because of an insect or something else? All we are asking for is fair play for the people who are using our public roads. They are entitled to that, and I make no apologies for that to anyone here for asking that roadside hedges be cut all year around. It is only fair play. We will support the birds, bees and everything else. We must remind people that ground nesting birds are being affected by grey crows, magpies, mink, badgers, pine martens and rats. There is no discussion about doing anything about them. Who is taking pheasant eggs? They are being taken by other vermin. Nothing is being done about that. We have been told that time is scarce. How can landowners cut hedges when they are not allowed to do so between February and September? We are asking for another month, but people are not agreeing to that. I ask that roadside hedges be cut all year around because that is what we are entitled to.

Why does the burning season in Northern Ireland not expire until 15 April? We are in the same country. Later burning provides a better chance for ground recovery.

We cannot burn it any earlier because of weather conditions. If the green grass is allowed to grow up towards the end of March and early April, the fire will be ever so light. The grass will grow and it will be there when it is needed in May and early June. If one burns earlier, the fire goes too strong and the grass does not recover until much later, when the grass is not needed as much by the sheep and cattle because they will be down in the lowlands where there is plenty of grass at that time. Then it must be burnt again the following year because the growth will be too strong. When it goes too strong, the cattle or sheep will not eat it. There is only one way of getting rid of it. A lawnmower cannot be used because the ground is too rough and it cannot be cut with a forage harvester. A few years back the farmers were told they had to destock because the ground was being overgrazed. They were paid premiums to destock and, as a result, farmers in the uplands do not have as much stock now as they had. If the powers that be and the environmentalists left the farmers alone, they would be the best custodians of the land because they now how to mind and preserve it. They hand it from farmer to son as they have been doing for centuries.

Mr. Copeland said it might be all right to burn the uplands if it was for farming but not if it was only for payments. I regret that he said that because the payments farmers get in the post are not gifts. They are compensation for the payments they should be getting for their produce. No farmer anywhere wants anything for nothing. I know most of them on my side of the country and they work hard for what they get. However, if the price being paid for their produce is reduced because of European regulations, they are entitled to those payments. They are compensation, they are not gifts. I want to remind everyone present who is not a farmer of that.


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