Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Dangerous Trees.

13.

asked the Minister for the Environment if he is aware of the serious damage being done by falling trees along the roadsides throughout the country both to human life and private and public properties and communications and power systems, if he is further aware that local authorities are exerting severe pressure on landholders to remove dangerous trees from the sides of roads, if he will ensure that this is done by the local authorities themselves, if he will outline the existing legislation pertaining to this situation, if in view of the present high unemployment rate he will initiate a scheme to ensure that all fences and trees along roadsides are made secure and proper and if he will make a statement on the entire matter.

14.

asked the Minister for the Environment the present position regarding action being taken by county councils in relation to a circular letter issued by him directing county councils to cut down potentially dangerous trees on roadside ditches throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 27 and 28 together. I am aware of the potential hazard to life and property posed by dangerous trees along roadsides. However, local authorities already have powers to deal with this problem. The responsibility of local authorities for the maintenance of public roads includes the duty both to prevent danger to road users and to clear roads of obstructions. Accordingly, local authorities are obliged to remove any fallen tree that is an obstruction to traffic using a public road and also to ensure that trees growing on road margins or other land under their control are not a danger to road users.

Local authorities also have specific powers under section 34 of the Local Government Act, 1925, to request a landowner or occupier to cut or trim trees which may cause obstruction to a road or cause danger by obstructing the view of persons using the road. There is a right of appeal to the District Court for an order annulling such a request. The section also includes a provision enabling a local authority to seek an order of the District Court empowering it to carry out such trimming or cutting of trees and to recover the cost where the landowner or occupier had refused to do such works despite a District Court order requiring him to do so.

In a circular letter dated 20 February 1984, local authorities were urged to continue to avail of their powers to deal with dangerous trees and in particular to bring to the notice of landowners or occupiers trees which were, in the opinion of the authority, in danger of falling on public roads and to seek the co-operation of landowners and occupiers in dealing with such trees. The exercise of these functions is entirely a matter for local authorities themselves and, accordingly, they were not asked to report on their activities. In this context I should point out that it is in landowners' own interests to remove dangerous trees since they may be held liable for damage for injury caused by such trees. In addition, a seminar was organised by An Foras Forbartha in March 1984 for local authority engineers on the assessment of safety in relation to roadside trees. As a general rule, fences are not part of a public road and, therefore, local authorities are not responsible for their maintenance.

Statistics indicate that the number of accidents involving trees, whether standing or fallen, has remained fairly static over a long period. In the four-year period 1980-1983 there was one fatal accident involving falling or fallen trees. Notwithstanding the tragic events in January of this year when there were three such accidents resulting in seven deaths and three persons seriously injured, I am not satisfied that local authority operations in this area are seriously constrained by any inadequacies in the legal position and I do not consider that there is any immediate need for additional measures, though I will of course keep the matter under review.

If a landowner on the instructions of the local authority removes trees and if in the removal of those trees he damages the road or the telecommunications lines, who is responsible? What is the legal position?

I am afraid I am not going to answer that.

The Minister is not responsible for stating the law.

What is the position if damage is done? Who is responsible?

I am sorry, I do not know the answer. However, I can make inquiries for the Deputy through our law officer.

This is a very delicate area. I am sure the Minister will agree it is unfair to expect landowners to do this as they would not have at their disposal the machinery required to remove trees. This is particularly the case nowadays in view of the communications and power lines that run along the roadways and also in view of the fact that there are many more vehicles on the road. The Minister referred to the Local Government Act, 1925. Surely it is time to update that Act and remove the responsibility from the landowner to the local authority. Will the Minister have a look at this situation?

I would be very slow to ask a local authority to take over the responsibilities of a landowner. The trees are on his land and he has a legal responsibility in the matter. That responsibility should remain with him and to impose it on the local authority would not be desirable.

Is it an offence?

I cannot answer that question because I did not get notice of it.

As the Acts stands at the moment, is a landowner precluded from planting trees within a certain distance of the roadway?

I shall have to disallow that question. The Minister is not responsible for stating the law.

It is regrettable that you are not allowing the question. Is the Minister aware that there is a delicate area so far as trees are concerned? If a local authority discourage the planting of trees, they must have some powers in that respect.

Is the Minister aware that some county councils are refusing permission for the felling of dangerous or dead trees because of a preservation order on them and despite the Department of Fisheries and Forestry declaring that the trees should be felled? Would the Minister investigate that matter?

If the Deputy lets me have details of the cases he has in mind, I shall have them looked into.