Danny Healy-Rae, an outspoken independent TD for Co Kerry, has said that uncut hedges are resulting in the deaths of a number of pedestrians and cyclists every year.
There has been no reports from trials or Coroner’s Courts to substantiate such a claim, and most cycling deaths in rural areas are on main roads where overgrown hedges are not viewed as much of an issue.
The TD also claimed that birds are not foolish, so, don’t nest on the side of any road.
The comments were made on a debate on the Heritage Bill 2016, which is a government plan to relax the restrictions on hedge-cutting.
Healy-Rae said: “I must make it known that there are narrow roads along which hedges are not being cut. People cannot walk or cycle safely. Lives are being put at risk. Roadside hedges should be kept cut all year round for the safety of people using those roads. Look at what the prohibition is doing. It is moving people out past the yellow line on roads that are only 3 m wide. A number of pedestrians and cyclists are being killed each year. This is why. That is the truth.”
In the same debate he said: “I do not believe that birds are so foolish as to make their nests on the side of a busy road or any road. They have the entire countryside.”
In the context of hedges and road safety, he said that while local authorities have the power to cut hedges for safety reasons at times of the year when restrictions are in place, but he doesn’t see it happening in Kerry or in west and north west Cork and parts of Limerick.
Healy-Rae added: “People’s lives are important and if someone is killed, there is no return. Many people are killed while walking and cycling along our roads. Considerable pressure is being applied by cyclists to have their safety improved. To be honest, they are being pushed out among cars travelling behind them. If two cars meet, cyclists are shoved into a ditch because the drivers are coming around a turn or the like and cannot see in time that another vehicle is coming. That is how accidents and fatalities happen.”
Josepha Madigan, Minister for Culture, Heritage & the Gaeltacht, said: “In response to Deputy Danny Healy-Rae, this Bill ultimately is about safety on the road, security for users and the husbandry of roadside hedgerows. I will engage with my colleague, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government on the matter. I disagree with Deputy Danny Healy-Rae about the drink driving limits but agree with his comments about cyclists and pedestrians.”
Meanwhile, Éamon Ó Cuív (Fianna Fail) told his fellow parliamentarians a story of traveling in an unnamed area with very high walls where drivers can not give even 1 metre passing distance to cyclists.
The Galway West TD said: “I happened to be travelling on very narrow roads on Friday in a certain part of the world that does not have a lot of hedgerows but with very high walls along the narrow roads. I said to the driver to keep 1 m out from the cyclists, but if he had done so we would have been in the ditch on the other side of the road or would have knocked against the walls. It must be recognised that a lot of the boreens of rural Ireland – not the regional roads – are exceptionally narrow.”
Phil Skelton, who runs the Stayin’ Alive at 1.5 campaign, said: “As a mainly rural cyclist who does many thousands of kilometres per year on these types of roads, there is certainly some merit in what is being said regarding hedge cutting. Of course ecological matters such as nesting birds must be taken in to consideration.”
He added: “Where such conditions exist though, it is important that other road users drive to road conditions and not just barge through and hope for the best. This will lessen the possibility of non-cut hedgerows becoming life and death situations for people who ride bicycles.”
Regarding narrow roads, Skelton said: “Countries that have introduced cyclist specific minimum passing distance law have done so without caveats and there are many such roads in rural France (pictured above) and Belgium for example.”
“I am curious though as to what his driver would have done if meeting an oncoming car? Would he have reversed the vehicle to the beginning of the road or would he have passed with the due care and attention. If the latter is the case, then there is adequate space for a 1 metre overtaking manoeuvre.”