Warring neighbours would have a new avenue to complain about overgrown trees under proposed law

Sinn Féin Bill which would give local authorities role in mediating and adjudicating on disputes progresses to next stage in Oireachtas

Local authorities would get a new role mediating and adjudicating on disputes between neighbours arguing about overgrown trees and hedges under proposals that are proceeding to the next stage in the Oireachtas.

Sinn Féin’s Neighbours Disputes (Vegetation Bill), which was first drafted in 2017, is proceeding to committee stage in the Dáil after the Government agreed not to oppose the legislation.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh, the Sinn Féin TD behind the legislation, said it is aimed at avoiding neighbours going to court in disputes about overgrown trees.

He said that there is currently no other recourse in such rows and while people are entitled to cut back parts of trees overhanging their gardens this can undermine the tree or make it dangerous.


He told the Dáil there are “a lot more important and pressing issues” but added: “if you’re somebody who has a tree that is growing from 20ft when you moved in first, and all of a sudden it’s 60ft high and the woman next door is a pensioner who doesn’t have the wherewithal to cut back that tree, what is your recourse?

“You can bring her to court and you can force it but that isn’t what neighbours are meant to be.”

He said the legislation is similar to the system in England and it would put the onus on local authorities to have a mediation role to help resolve such disputes.

Minister of State in Department of Health Mary Butler, representing the Government side in the Dáil, told Mr Ó Snodaigh: “I think what you’re proposing is a common-sense approach”.

The Waterford TD said there is “no doubt but that disputes can be incredibly difficult and stressful” for those involved. The Bill proposes a formal solution to such issues and is, therefore, well-intentioned. For that reason, the Government has agreed in principle not to oppose the Bill,” she said.

Ms Butler said a separate Mediation Act came into force in 2018 and there are a number of mediation options, some free and some fee-based, open to people seeking to resolve disputes with neighbours.

Ms Butler said there was “no adjudicative element envisaged in the Mediation Act so the assignment of such a function to local authorities would be entirely new”. She said this would require “careful consideration from a civil law viewpoint”.

She said consideration would also have to be given to civil and property rights implications of the Bill and the staff and financial resources implications for local authorities.

Mr Ó Snodaigh said he expects to find out this week which Oireachtas Committee the legislation will be referred to.

He expressed scepticism as to whether the Bill could be further debated and ultimately enacted before the next general election if it is assigned to either the Housing and Local Government or Justice committees, given their respective workloads.

“Even if it’s not passed in this Dáil I have the option then in the next Dáil to bring it back at the same stage,” he said. “I intend to pursue it.”

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times