Wednesday, 4 July 2018
Heritage Bill 2016: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage
I wish to put the following statement into the record of the Dáil. It is 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.
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.