At last week’s Swinford Local Area Electoral Meeting, councillors agreed that overgrown trees and bushes are posing a danger to school children, forcing them ‘onto the middle’ of busy roads.
Speaking about the issue, Foxford-based Fianna Fáil councillor Jimmy Maloney said: “Kids are not able to walk home now because there’s cars coming towards them. It’s the most dangerous thing, and kids are being forced out onto the middle of the road.”
The Meelick area was highlighted as being problematic. Cllr Maloney also described the old Pontoon road in the direction of Foxford as a ‘particularly dangerous’ stretch, and said it is literally ‘impossible’ for motorists to drive on their own side of the road without an abundance of overhanging trees and bushes hitting into their vehicles.
The Mayo County Council budget for hedge cutting has been significantly reduced in recent years. Three years ago, the allocation was €26,000; it now stands at just €20,000. “There may have been additional funding a few years ago, but now it’s being spent filling potholes,” said Paul Dolan, senior executive engineer with Mayo County Council. “It won’t stretch anymore,” he added.
The issue of who bears responsibility for the overgrown trees and bushes caused some disagreement, with the Council, farmers and Coillte all being tabled.
Mr Dolan said: “We’re not getting at farmers, but the law says it’s their responsibility.” However, Cllr Maloney said that farmers would not take on that responsibility: “Safety is important to everyone, but farmers are unlikely to agree to look after the hedge cutting because if any kind of accident were to happen they would be liable. There’s no farmer who’ll be willing to take that chance.”
The councillor continued: “It’s only a matter of time before an accident happens. They’re Coillte’s trees which are overhanging and they should be doing something about them. It’s time we got after Coillte.”
Swinford-based Fine Gael councillor Joe Mellett said that he believed that more onus should be put on property owners. “Hedge cutting, in particular on school routes, has to be a priority. We need to talk to farmers and the community.” He went on to suggest that Mayo County Council could do a ‘once-off sweep’ and ‘cut hedges and bushes to the bone’, then leave it to farmers to maintain. “We would then have a clean and tidy countryside,” he said.
Cllr Mellett added that the costs of such a tidy up could be high, but if farmers agreed to maintain the countryside it would represent good value in the long-term. From a health and safety point point of view, he concluded that “We owe it to the children.”