Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Council opts not to ban public grave digs

A bylaw to prohibit grieving families, neighbours or friends from digging burial plots has been axed by Cork County Council.

In areas such as West Cork, it is an age-old tradition for those close to the deceased to open up a grave for the burial.

However, draft bylaws last year from Cork County Council threatened to prohibit the goodwill act.

Now, following a public uproar backed by local politicians and undertakers, the council has performed a U-turn.

Following consultations, it emerged the council had rowed back but will insist relatives, neighbours or friends of the deceased carry out the practice at their own risk.

The move was welcomed by Charles O’Sullivan, chairman of the 25-member West Cork Funeral Directors’ Association. "We were horrified, indeed disgusted, when the proposal was made," he said.

"The general public have won their case. Letting people dig graves at their own risk will at least keep the tradition alive and we’re very happy with that."

He said in West Cork in particular, it was a tradition which "went back generations and generations".

A statement issued by the council yesterday said "procedures have been refined to allow volunteers dig graves at their own risk".

The local authority said it made the decision following extensive consultation with members of the public, undertakers and some county councillors who had voiced concern at the imposition of the bylaw.

Council officials then approached the Health and Safety Authority to seek clarification on issues under health and safety legislation.

A council spokesman said when a grave was being dug by employees — regardless of who the employer is — the full remit of the Occupational Health and Safety Legislation applies and the roles and function of the HSA apply.

"When a grave is dug by someone other than an employee, that is, in a voluntary capacity such as a family member or neighbour of a bereaved family, the Occupational Health and Safety legislation does not apply."

However, the spokesman reiterated, in such cases, volunteers operate at their own risk.

Cork County Council will begin implementation of its amended procedures in relation to grave digging from the week beginning June 18.

The council spokesman said "grave digging is a dangerous activity and should not be undertaken by unapproved persons".

Details of approved grave diggers and digging procedures are on www.corkcoco.ie

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