Sunday 22 September 2019

'Too big a price to pay' - Protesters threaten to chain themselves to trees in north Dublin over controversial plans

Billy O’Dea and Frank Kavanagh protecting one of the trees on Church Street in Skerries, North County Dublin.
Pic: Mark Condren
Billy O’Dea and Frank Kavanagh protecting one of the trees on Church Street in Skerries, North County Dublin. Pic: Mark Condren
Billy O’Dea at one of the chopped down trees on Church Street in Skerries, North County Dublin. Pic: Mark Condren
Aisling O'Connell protecting one of the trees on Church Street in Skerries, North County Dublin. Pic: Mark Condren

Aine Kenny

A MAN has threatened to chain himself to a tree while another has planted 20,000 as they protest against plans to remove trees.

Environmental activists are furious over plans by Fingal county council to remove 19 trees in north county Dublin.

Fingal County council says they have no choice but to take the action in a bid to prevent spiralling injury compensation claims from the public.

According to Fingal County Council, some tree roots in Skerries have lifted the footpaths, creating uneven walking surfaces and causing people to trip and fall, many of them claiming compensation.

Aisling O'Connell protecting one of the trees on Church Street in Skerries, North County Dublin.
Pic: Mark Condren
Aisling O'Connell protecting one of the trees on Church Street in Skerries, North County Dublin. Pic: Mark Condren

Some €1.8m was paid out by the council for trip hazard related falls between 2010-2015. 

They have already removed 10 trees and some locals are furious.

Skerries man Shane Holland has already chained his car to a tree that is outside of his Skerries home and he said he will tie himself to one if necessary to save it.

“Things are picking up here, it is day three of the protest” Mr Holland told Independent.ie.

Billy O’Dea at one of the chopped down trees on Church Street in Skerries, North County Dublin.
Pic: Mark Condren
Billy O’Dea at one of the chopped down trees on Church Street in Skerries, North County Dublin. Pic: Mark Condren

He received a seven-day notice from Fingal County Council, informing him that the tree outside his house was going to be cut down. “I’ve been holding a sort of vigil to prevent that from happening," he said.

“On Tuesday the chainsaw crew arrived. They cut down some other trees, the one outside the Coast pub was 100 years old.”

The Skerries man says he has been speaking with the Department of Agriculture, the Irish Tree Council and has been referred back to Fingal County Council planning.

“I have stood my ground; I’ve chained my van to the tree. The Gardaí have been called, and officials from the council have come down too.”

Mr Holland believes there are ways of fixing the paths that don’t result in the trees being destroyed.

“They are not engaging with the design problem. There are better solutions than chopping down trees and pouring down a load of concrete.

“I appreciate the difficulty the council have with claims, but you can’t just railroad the community into it.”

Mr Holland said the majority of people passing by have supported him: “People are saying they don’t want to see the trees taken down, but they want the paths to be fixed.

“The council say they will replant the trees, but it’s a woolly promise. Any contentious or narrow area, the trees won’t be planted. They’ll end up on a ring road.”

“Trees are positive, they are good for ourselves and our children, they produce oxygen.”

Even if the council does replant the trees, HE claims it will take 40 or 50 years to get the same air quality there was.

Billy O'Dea, who is also from Skerries, said that he is worried that removing the trees will change the image of the area.

“I am protesting because I am fond of the trees, I've planted 20,000 around my house.

“It's a shame the streetscape will change in Skerries, it's been like this for years.”

Mr O'Dea added: “I don't like how the Council have given themselves a license under 'health and safety'. They need to consult.”

He recognised that people had taken claims against the council but said he didn't see why the paths could be fixed and the trees could remain.

Mr O'Dea said: “It's too big of a price to pay.

“The ability to have both is there. The footpaths are disgraceful even where there are no trees.

“The roots have impacted the paths but there are many things you can do.

“You can redirect the routes, slope the paths, put protective rubbery material around the tree area.”

Fingal County Council said in a statement to Independent.ie that in the interests of public safety, the trees had to be removed and that “all other options have been explored.”

“The trees have caused irreversible damage to adjacent public footpaths, resulting in serious trip hazards and in some cases legal actions against the local authority.”

Between 2006-2010, a total of €600,000 was paid out by Fingal County Council for trip hazard related falls. Between 2010-2015, this figure rose to €1.8 million.

“Most of the claims were taken as a result of elderly citizens falling as a result of a path trip hazard within a close distance to their home.”

The council also said they had explored other options but the removal of the trees was the only solution.

“The roads maintenance crews have used a concrete planer regularly over the last five years to remove the obvious trip hazards, however it has now come to the stage where... a more permanent repair is required.

“The street trees are almost all Norway Maple and London Plane. The growth habit of these trees are extremely vigorous and concrete paths are very susceptible to lifting within a very short space of time.

“The decision to remove these trees was not taken lightly. The Tidy towns group, Chamber of Commerce and Skerries Liaison committee were informed of the works prior to commencement.”

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