As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I am responsible for policy, legislation and overall funding for public transport. The maintenance of hedgerows along the rail network is an operational matter for Iarnród Éireann, and is carried out by the company in accordance with its statutory remit.
As the Deputy may be aware, Iarnród Éireann has certain specific statutory exemptions from the general legislative ban on tree and hedge trimming during the March to October bird-nesting season. I understand from the company that, notwithstanding these exemptions, its normal practice is to plan such works outside that period, except in exceptional circumstances. With regard to the recent work on the Portarlington to Athlone section of the railway, I am informed that the availability of contractor resources to undertake the works resulted in hedges and trees being cut a number of weeks into the nesting season. The company determined that the safety of the line necessitated the continuation of the works, even though this meant that they were undertaken later than originally intended.
Whilst the decision to complete the recent work was taken in the best interest of railway safety and in compliance with the law, the company has updated its approach to vegetation management. From now on, Iarnród Éireann will require a specific site risk assessment to be carried out if such works are being considered during the nesting season; this will enable the company to assess whether the works can be delayed until after the nesting season, and to consider whether less intrusive mitigation works might be carried out in the short term to keep the railway safe until after the bird-nesting season.