They kept our roads open during Storm Emma but farmers left in the dark on insurance

Farmers in Laois clearing roads that were impassable with snow.
Farmers in Laois clearing roads that were impassable with snow.
Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

Farmers could liable for any damage they might do when clearing roads during severe snow storms, can reveal.

During Storm Emma, access to many parts of the country would not have been possible without the efforts of farmers and others in local communities with plant equipment.

However, farmers have claimed they continue to have no reassurance in relation to the liability while carrying out such work.

This feeling is compounded by the fact that in the Winter Service plans of a number of Co Councils they advise that the treatment of rural roads by third parties should be carried out in accordance with a national policy. But this national policy has yet to be published.

A spokesperson for the National Emergency Coordination Group (NECG) advised that if a farmer has an accident while clearing local roads "that [it] would be a matter for the farmer and his insurance company."

Some local authorities state that they "endeavour to work with rural communities and the Irish Farmers Association where possible during snow emergencies".

Pictured at Kilbraney, Co. Wexford with tractors even finding the going tough. Picture: Patrick Browne
Pictured at Kilbraney, Co. Wexford with tractors even finding the going tough. Picture: Patrick Browne
Farmer Pat Barron out helping stranded motorists in the snow.

But, given the scale of the resources involved in delivering the winter service, most county councils have highlighted that it is not possible to provide the service to all parts of the roads network.

Wexford County Council have said they will hire in agricultural contractors to assist with gritting operations on local roads during snow emergencies.

However, many local authorities treat less than 20pc of their road network.

A spokesperson for the NECG also said that the Office of the Attorney General has advised that liability does not arise when snow is cleared from footpaths in a safe manner.

In relation to people gritting roads with grit supplied by the local authorities, she said the legal advice is that the issue of liability does not arise where the material is delivered, stored and used in a safe manner and does not cause a hazard.

She also said when you are clearing snow it is important that you don’t create an obstacle for pedestrians or traffic and ensure that the snow is removed to a location that won’t create a hazard.

Meanwhile, the President of ICMSA, Pat McCormack said  last year’s heavy snowfalls was the graphic illustration provided in how different sectors of Irish society were viewed and how their work was evaluated.

Mr McCormack said many will remember the demands of some organisations that the work carried out by their members during, for instance, Storm Emma must be rewarded ‘over and above’ even normal overtime rates and their insistence that tasks like ensuring that public roads were kept clear and as safe as possible was worthy of ‘extra, extra’ payment outside all the normal overtime arrangements.

Mr McCormack said the contrast this made with the farming community was both instructive and stark:

“The state’s payment to hundreds and hundreds of farmers all over the country, who used their own machinery and their own time and fuel, to keep clear public roads during the snowstorm was a pat on the head and an assurance that they won’t be held liable for any accidents on the public roads that they had cleared through their own efforts and at their own expense.

"The reward for all the extra work involved in milking their cows and trying to get the milk collected so it could be processed was a cut of up to three cents per litre on their next milk cheque after the storms and snowfalls.

"It tells you a great deal about the way our work as farmers is just taken for granted and I’m determined that that attitude is going to be challenged”,  said Mr McCormack.

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