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.