Nation & World

Will Irish farmers have to diaper their cows after Effin dung case?

A dairy farmer in County Limerick, Ireland, has been fined by a judge for cow dung left on a road that the court says caused a motorcycle accident. Irish farmers worry what the case will mean for them.
A dairy farmer in County Limerick, Ireland, has been fined by a judge for cow dung left on a road that the court says caused a motorcycle accident. Irish farmers worry what the case will mean for them. Sacramento Bee file photo

The Irish farming community is in a lather after a dairy farmer in County Limerick was fined $350 last week for the dung a judge says his cows left on a road, causing a motorcycle accident.

Farmers say they can't stop their cows' bowels from moo-ving while they are crossing roads.

“There could be huge ramifications to this," Tom Blackburn, chairman of the Limerick Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, told The Limerick Leader. "I have to cross cows across the road as well. I am very, very worried about it."

He said he can't see any solution to the problem if cows have to get from A to B and a road stands in the way. It's not like the cows can fly from pasture to pasture, he told the Leader.

The newspaper said the case — described by one Irish news outlet as the farmer "fined for his herd's indiscretions on public roads" — has become a "major talking point" not only in the county but across the national farming community.

Two sides are reflected in comments left on the Limerick Leader's story.

"Where cattle cross the roads I think the farmers should clean up. It is not like they have to go out with a brush and brush it," one reader wrote. "There are road sweepers available to buy and be attached to the tractor. It would take a few minutes to do.”

Wrote another: “Unless you can put incontinence pads on cows you can hardly be held responsible for their movements!”

Dairy farmer Patrick Fitzgibbon, 46, of Kilmallock, pleaded not guilty to the charge of leaving dung on Effin Road, according to the Irish Independent.

In the case, first heard in local court in January, police officer Grace O'Sullivan described responding to the report of a traffic accident on the county's Effin Road in November 2016.

"I saw a man standing beside a motorbike. There was damage to the right side of the bike. He said his name was Donal Sheedy and he was traveling from Effin to Charleville. He said he was familiar with the road and that there was an animal crossing on a section of the roadway," O'Sullivan said, according to the Independent's report.

“He said he had been driving slower due to the rain and slowed again in anticipation of the crossing. He said when the front tire went over the crossing, the motorbike went from underneath him. He said he was sore but didn’t require an ambulance."

Sheedy later said he fractured two ribs and had ligament damage to his shoulder, a statement Fitzgibbon's lawyer challenged because Sheedy didn't provide the court a medical report.

O'Sullivan checked the road and said she found a "considerable amount of earth on the roadway” and that it had “thickened."

“It was very slippy on that section," she told the judge.

Fitzgibbon's lawyer later argued that the officer said there was "earth," not "dung," on the road.

But Judge Marian O'Leary, who fined the farmer, said “it was material on the road created by the cattle," according to the Independent.

O'Sullivan said she contacted Fitzgibbon, who farms in the area, after the accident.

“He said he was unaware the roadway was dirty and was surprised somebody had an accident. I asked him to make a statement and he declined to do so,” O'Sullivan said, adding that Fitzgibbon said the animal crossing was his.

Blackburn, who farms in the same area, called Fitzgibbon an "excellent farmer" who is "trying his best, like all the rest of us."

“You’re crossing cows twice a day and it is virtually impossible to keep the road clean," Blackburn told the Leader. "You can’t tell them not do it on the road and you can’t tell them to clean their feet before they go out on the road.

“Cows do bring out muck on their hooves. It is really out of our control. There is huge ramifications to this court decision."

In future cases like this, Blackburn said, "common sense will have to prevail."

Fitzgibbon has appealed the judge's decision.