My Department is the Lead Government Department for coordinating the response to severe weather events, including those involving high winds.
One of the most widespread and potentially dangerous consequence of high wind is the risk of trees breaking and/or blowing over, which can disrupt transport networks, as well as posing a danger to motorists and pedestrians in the vicinity. This was the case with ex-Hurricane Ophelia on 16 October 2017, where trees down were reported in many areas across the country, with especially high numbers of roads blocked in the south and south-east regions, as well as resultant damage to electricity supply and communications networks.
Tragically, the three fatalities which occurred during ex-Hurricane Ophelia, were associated with falling trees and breaking branches. The fatalities underlined the public safety risk of this event which informed the decision of the National Emergency Co-ordination Group to advise the public against undertaking non-essential activities or travel on 16 October 2017.
In its role as Lead Government Department, my Department has prepared a review report on the severe weather events which affected Ireland between August 2017 and September 2018. The review report includes recommendations for a risk management approach to address the issue of trees and public safety. It is not seen as feasible or appropriate that trees be individually assessed at all locations. By definition, a risk management approach will involve consideration of a range of factors which could point to an elevated risk to public safety. This subject is relevant for a number of Departments and public bodies, as well as for landowners. Under the Roads Act 1993, local authorities have responsibility for trees in public areas while trees on private lands, including lands adjoining public roads, are the legal responsibility of the land owner.
The Report makes recommendations on the issue of a risk management approach to trees which can impact on public safety. Implementation of recommendations in the Report that fall within the remit of my Department are in hand, and work on those within the remit of the Principal Response Agencies (An Garda Síochána, the Health Service Executive and local authorities) will continue under the aegis of the National Steering Group on Major Emergency Management.
Recommendations in the Report which involve other Government Departments and those which relate to national co-ordination arrangements will be considered and taken forward through the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning.