00:00 Saturday 02 April 2011  Written by Leo McMAHON

Outrage over grave digging regulations

Councillor argues strongly against 'any intrusion on the

cultural rights, tradition and beliefs of rural communities'

IMPLEMENTATION of controversial new regulations concerning the carrying of coffins and grave digging are being deferred by up to six months by Cork County Council to enable engagement and hopefully satisfactory resolution of the issue with the Health and Safety Authority (HSA).

The issue was raised, on the suspension of standing orders, by Cllr Dermot Sheehan at a meeting of the local authority, who argued strongly against 'any intrusion on the cultural rights, tradition and beliefs of rural communities' and the implementation of regulations on grave diggers requiring nine certificates and having to meet 41 conditions.

Earlier this year, council officials prepared a register of qualified gravediggers which, it decided, satisfied health and safety requirements for inclusion on and ruled that from March 1st last, undertakers who engage gravediggers for the opening of graves in any town or county council cemetery have to do so from the pre-approved list available from the divisional office. The full list is on the website www.corkcoco .ie. Furthermore, there is a requirement for a trained person to attend all burials, which has raised concerns about added costs.

From a quango

'By bringing up this issue, I am voicing the concerns especially of the people of West Cork. I contend that these regulations emanate from a quango which wakes up every day trying to find ways of justifying its existence by wasting taxpayers' money.

'Faith, hope and charity have always been synonymous with rural Ireland and have been the cornerstone of the social fabric of such communities,' continued Cllr Sheehan, who argued that the latest proposals regarding grave digging were a further attempt to erode such values - and a step too far.

One of the ways Irish communities coped with bereavement when people were at their most vulnerable, was having family and neighbours available to carry the deceased to the place of interment and, in some instances, dig the graves. In every community there was a trust and bond between people which was unique and there was no record of any fatality or injury occurring from this, said Cllr Sheehan, who voiced anger over the conditions placing restrictions on family members or relatives carrying a coffin in a cemetery or digging a grave.

The Goleen-based councillor said clergy friends from different denominations he had spoken to were aghast at the regulations, which he described as 'red tape gone mad and an overhand attitude'

He called on the county manager to immediately rescind the regulations and remove signs at the gates of graveyards and also requested public consultation which, he argued, hadn't taken place.

Seconding, Cllr Christopher O'Sullivan said all Western Committee members were of the same view and he warned against over regulation and stressed the need to protect rural culture.

'Bureacracy gone crazy' was how Cllr Frank O'Flynn described regulations, which had never upset so many people. He added that he would be happy, after his funeral, to be carried on someone's shoulder over the wall of a graveyard.

Cllr Timmy Collins concurred, saying it was 'health and safety gone mad,' as did Cllr Danny Crowley, who said he had dug graves in the past for relatives and friends and would do so in future. He contended that no consideration was given to grave diggers and called for full consultation in order to avoid unnecessary hardship.

Over-regulation

Cllr Rory Sheehan said it was unnecessary over-regulation

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and argued there were far more pressing health and safety issues with poor footpaths and roads. Mayor Kevin Murphy said the issue had to be addressed forthwith because it was very sensitive to the bereaved.

The manager, Mr Martin Riordan, pointed out that the subject was under consideration for the past four years and there had been some measure of agreement reached with undertakers, so it wasn't foisted on the people. Cllr Veronica Neville, however, said the Southern Committee was told the regulations were a fait accompli and there was no discussion. In agreement, the mayor argued that a graveyard wasn't a workplace, but rather a place of rest and Cllr Sheehan concurred.

While he agreed with some of the views expressed by councillors, the law was the law, said Mr Riordan, and because the HSA designated graveyards as a workplace, this gave him formal responsibility.

After further debate, it was agreed, on a proposal by Cllr Gerard Murphy, seconded by Cllr Neville, that the manager would request the HSA to engage with the council and debate the application of the regulations. On that basis, Mr Riordan said implementation of the regulations introduced on March 1st would be deferred for up to six months.

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