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Calls for State aid to be diverted to tackle ash dieback

Funds to cut roadside hedges should be handed over to farmers to cut down trees with ash dieback disease in the interest of public safety, it was claimed this week.

Councillor Geraldine Donohue (Ind) said in response to a motion she tabled to the Agricultural Minister, the State confirmed that it would not fund councils to deal with the problem trees and it was instead the responsibility of the landowner.

But farmers and other landowners did not have the necessary skills to cut those huge diseased trees down and they could not afford to hire contractors, with fees of around €1,000 per tree being levied.

“It’s a mammoth task. You need to start at the top and work down. Clare and Cork Councils have allocated some of their hedge cutting funds to landowners to do it. The next storm there will be loss of life. I don’t accept it’s back on the landowners. This is not of our making. The trees were cleared in quarantine and came in diseased.

“Some of these people are pensioners and cannot afford thousands to deal with the trees. A good cut can save a life.”

Cllr PJ Murphy (FG) asked if the hedge cutters employed by the Council to keep roads clear of growth could top off the hedges it would prevent trees growing on the road verge.

“Ash dieback is a massive expense. I had trees taken myself and I’ve still more to do. It costs €1,000 to remove a tree. The farmers are taking it upon themselves to do it and it’s dangerous.”

Cllr Jimmy McClearn (FG) said a tree fell and killed seven people in Portumna during a storm many years ago. The local authority had organised a tree inspection and had earmarked all the risky trees across the county.

“People then knew what trees on their land were in danger of falling. Undoubtedly lives will be lost.”

Area senior engineer Rachel Lowe said it was the policy not to cut the top of hedges for environmental reasons.

“It’s not seen as environmentally friendly and it’s not something we can do as a local authority. We don’t have the resources to deal with ash dieback – responsibility doesn’t rest with the local authority.”

Cllr Gerry Finnerty (FF) said Gort had been overgrown with weeds this summer and the Council needed to use weedkiller to keep them under control.

“We’re not talking about blanket spraying. Everybody sprays around their own house, the GAA and sports clubs do it. A bit of spray in May and July and the place will be spick and span.”

Ms Lowe said spraying pesticides prompted many complaints from the public when it took place.

The Council were looking into purchasing a new machine that mechanically pulled and collected weeds at the edge of paths and on pavements following a demonstration in Ballinasloe recently.

“It impressed a lot of us. We’ve to move away from pesticides due to climate change and concerns about where those pesticides end up in terms of water courses. One local authority adjacent to us has stopped spraying entirely.”

Cllr Murphy said it was “a balance of logic” to use a small amount of spray when tens of millions of gallons of pesticides were being used on agricultural land.

“Two gallons of Roundup would keep the town tidy. More would be used on one field of barley production than would keep the whole town free of weeds for a year – it’s completely disproportionate.”

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