Shannon traffic figures to August 2014

I am grateful to Waterways Ireland for letting me have the Shannon traffic figures for August 2014.

Regular readers may wish to skip this section

All the usual caveats apply:

  • the underlying figures do not record total waterways usage (even for the Shannon) as, for instance, sailing, fishing or waterskiing on lakes or river stretches, which did not involve a passage through a lock or Portumna Bridge, would not be recorded
  • the passage records would not show, for instance, a change in the balance of types of activities from those in larger cruising boats to those in smaller (sailing, fishing, waterskiing) boats
  • figures like these will not necessarily be representative of those for the year as a whole. The winter months, January to March, see little traffic in any year; for April, May and June, the weather can have a large influence on the amount of activity especially, I suspect, in private boats.

On the other hand, the figures do include the Shannon’s most significant tourism activity, the cruiser hire business. And they are our only consistent long-term indicator of usage of the inland waterways.

All boats

Shannon traffic all boats to August 2014

Total (private + hired) traffic for the first eight months of each year

I thought that the good weather in July might have brought more boaters out in August (when the weather was not so good), but it didn’t. This is the lowest eight-month figure in my series; traffic is just under 56% of what it was in 2003.

Private boats

Shannon traffic private boats to August 2014

Private-boat traffic for the first eight months of each year

Nothing much to cheer about there. Traffic was very slightly higher than in 2012.

Maybe lots of people have taken up sailing, and thus been confined to the lakes, instead of cruising. If, gentle reader, you can think of a way of measuring sailing usage, let me know.

Hire boats

Shannon traffic hire boats to August 2014

Hire-boat traffic for the first eight months of each year

As I said last month, the pace of decline seems to have slowed, but this is still the lowest figure in my series.

Percentages of 2003 levels

Shannon traffic private and hired as % of 2003 to August 2014

Changes since 2003: private and hired boats

The eight-month figures for private traffic are a bit worse than the seven-month, but perhaps September’s extraordinarily good weather will prompt an increase. There is no good news for the hire business, but perhaps the profitability of the remaining operators will be improved.

Private -v- hired

Shannon traffic private -v- hired to August 2014

Still roughly 50/50

What is the Shannon’s USP?

 

 

Jim Allister and WI’s business plans

I noted here that Jim Allister, Traditional Unionist Voice MLA, had been asking questions about the “regularity” and “legality” of certain amounts granted to Waterways Ireland and the cross-border Language Body by the NI Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. His two questions to the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure were answered last week.

AQW 35466/11-15: To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, in light of the Comptroller and Auditor General qualifying her Department’s Resource Accounts for 2013/14, whether she accepts that grant payments of over £8m made by her Department’s North/South Bodies were irregular; and if she will seek approval from the Department of Finance and Personnel for all such payments in accordance with the statutory requirements of the North/South Co-operation (Implementation Bodies) (Northern Ireland) Order 1999. [Priority Written]

Answer: The accounts for both agencies of the North South Language Body and Waterways Ireland for the 2013 and 2014 years have not yet been completed and audited.

My Department’s Accounting Officer reported that during the 2013/14 year, DCAL incurred irregular spend in respect of grants to the Language Body and Waterways Ireland as the business plans for these respective periods have not been approved. Draft business plans were in place against which the performance and budget of the bodies were monitored, and Corporate Plans for the period 2011- 13 for Waterways Ireland and both agencies of the Language Body, which were approved by Sponsor Department Ministers; both Finance Ministers and the NSMC Ministers were in place.

That’s a lesson in how to avoid answering the questions you were asked.

AQW 35541/11-15: To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure whether she will place into the Assembly Library, a copy of the documentation received from the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP), or otherwise recording DFP approval, which verifies the claim by her Department’s Accounting Officer in the Resource Accounts 2013/14 that DFP approval of grants to North/South Bodies was given for the amount of the grant at estimates or efficiency stage negotiations. [Priority Written]

Answer: The 2013/14 Main Estimate is published on the Department of Finance and Personnel’s website (http://www.dfpni.gov.uk/main-estimates-2013-14.pdf). My Department included within the 2013/14 Main Estimate on specific lines entitled “Language Body” and “Waterways Ireland” an estimate of the grants (before any efficiency savings were applied) my Department intended to allocate to the North South Bodies during 2013/14.

Estimates are prepared by departments and examined by DFP Supply to ensure that they meet Assembly propriety requirements and are consistent with the Executive’s expenditure plans.

After approval by DFP Supply the Estimates are presented and recommended (as required by Section 63 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998) to the Assembly by the DFP Minister who moves the Supply Resolution/s summing up the requests for Supply for each body.

On the basis of legal advice, the Department considers that the process and published Main Estimate document shows approval by DFP for the grants allocated to the North South bodies. DFP did not approve the final business plan which has resulted in the grants being deemed irregular.

It would be nice to see that legal advice.

Last week’s Phoenix magazine had an article headed “Flanagan falls flat on face” [not online] about severe constipation in the business of the Northern Ireland Executive. It includes this paragraph:

The DUP have plunged the [NI] institutions into a blast freezer since May when unionist ultra Jim Allister, staunch opponent of the GFA [Good Friday Agreement], got 75000 votes in the Euro elections. His party won thirteen council seats the same day. That sent a high voltage chock through the party. They stopped doing business with Sinn Féin, fearful of losing votes in next year’s British election.

But the WI/Language Body business plans problem surely began before May 2014.

NI21 and waterways charges

Basil McCrea is MLA for Lagan Valley and leader of NI21. He is a member of the NI Assembly’s Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure. He has asked two questions of the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure:

AQW 35965/11-15: To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to detail the Department’s total expenditure to Waterways Ireland in (i) 2012; (ii) 2013; and (iii) 2014 to date.

AQW 35966/11-15: To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure whether there is legislative provision for her Department to impose a charge on users of waterways.

 

Stealth seaplanes?

I have made several visits to Mountshannon this year, but unfortunately none of them coincided with an appearance by any of the “brand new fleet of aircraft, operating from destinations nationwide” that Harbour Flights promised would arrive “early in the new year” of 2014.

River Nore heritage

On its page headed Heritage Audit of the River Nore, Kilkenny County Council says

Phase 2 of the survey (from Kilkenny City to Inistioge) commenced in 2011 and will be completed in 2012.

It also says (on the same page)

Phase 2 of the survey (from Kilkenny City to just north of New Ross) is in the final stages of editing and will be completed in early 2014.

If anyone has seen any sign of it, I would be grateful for a link.

 

 

A puzzle in waterways history

According to the Lagan Canal Trust,

The Lagan Navigation also forms part of a wider all Ireland waterway network. This network of waterways once traversed through the towns and cities of Ireland delivering goods and produce, helping to shape the economic fortunes of the country.

I would be grateful for information about any goods or produce that were ever carried from the Shannon, or from the Royal or Grand Canals or the River Barrow via the Shannon, through the Junction Canal in the Ballinamore & Ballyconnell Drainage District [later called the Ballinamore & Ballyconnell Canal and later still the Shannon–Erne Waterway] and then the Ulster Canal to Lough Neagh or any of the waterways connected therewith. Or, of course, in the opposite direction.

As far as I can tell, outside the sales blurbs written by engineers seeking employment and waterway owners seeking subsidies, there was never a connected all-Ireland waterways network; nor was there ever any need or demand for such a thing.

Any more than there is now.

 

The delays in approving WI business plans

I wrote on 26 November 2013, and again on that date, on 22 January 2014 and on 7 April 2014 about the extraordinary delays in having Waterways Ireland’s business plans approved by The Powers That Be. I saw it as poor practice that would make management’s job harder, with plans not being approved until very late in the year or even until after the end of the year to which they applied.

But, thanks to a statement by Jim Allister of Traditional Unionist Voice, I have been alerted to the possibility that the problem might be even greater than that. He points out that the NI Comptroller and Auditor General qualified the Resource Accounts of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure [DCAL] for y/e 31 March 2014 because the business plans for Waterways Ireland and the North/South Language Body were not approved in time. Jim Allister’s interpretation is perhaps a little overheated — the C&AG’s “irregular” becomes “illegal” and “unlawful” — so it’s worth looking in detail about what the C&AG actually said.

Sources

It’s very hard to find the DCAL Resource Accounts on the departmental website (which has a dreadful search engine) so here is a link [PDF]. I quote from them under the [UK] Open Government Licence [the link in the accounts omits a backslash].

Summary

In his Certificate of the Comptroller and Auditor General to the Northern Ireland Assembly on page 83 of the accounts, the C&AG, K J Donnelly, says:

Basis for qualified opinion on regularity

The Department is responsible for providing Annual Business Plans to the Department of Finance and Personnel in sufficient time to allow approval by the Minister of Finance and Personnel and the North South Ministerial Council prior to the commencement of the financial year to which the plan relates. As business plan approvals were not in place the Department has incurred irregular spend in 2013-­‐14 in relation to grants amounting to £3,213,000 paid to Waterways Ireland and £5,258,000 paid to the North/South Language Body.

The detailed account

The C&AG writes about this in more detail on pages 120 and 121:

2. Irregular Spend

2.1 The Department, along with the Department for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht jointly sponsors Waterways Ireland and the North/South Language Body; both are North South Implementation Bodies set up under the North/South Co-operation (Implementation Bodies) (Northern Ireland) Order 1999 (the legislation).

2.2 The legislation requires each body to prepare an annual business plan that is subject to the approval of both Finance Ministers and the North South Ministerial Council. The legislation also states that the department may make grants to the body out of money appropriated by the Act of the Assembly and that such grants shall be of amounts and made on such terms and conditions as the department may, with the approval of the Department of Finance and Personnel, determine.

2.3 In order to comply with the legislation, sponsor departments are responsible for providing Business Plans to the Department of Finance and Personnel in sufficient time to allow approval by the Minister of Finance and Personnel and the North South Ministerial Council prior to the commencement of the financial year to which the plan relates.

2.4 Due to delays in the provision of Business Plans for some bodies, the Department of Finance and Personnel sought legal advice on the legitimacy of grants paid to the bodies prior to the approval of the plans. The Department of Finance and Personnel wrote to Accounting Officers on 23 May 2014 pointing out that failure to follow the outlined approval process in relation to grants made to North/South bodies has resulted in irregular spend.

2.5 The Department has advised me that given the timing of business plan approvals it has incurred irregular spend of £8,471,000 in 2013–14. This is made up of £3,213,000 in relation to Waterways Ireland and £5,258,000 in relation to the North/South Language Body.

Conclusion

2.6 As Business Plans have not received the required approval, there was no authority for this expenditure. I have therefore concluded that the expenditure was not in conformity with the authorities which govern it and qualified my audit opinion on regularity in this respect.

2.7 The Department of Finance and Personnel also indicated that if a department pays a cash grant to a North/South Body without the prior approval of the Department of Finance and Personnel then the department will have breached the provisions of the legislation and the expenditure is thus unlawful. However, there is conflicting legal advice on whether Department of Finance and Personnel approval has been provided in this regard. This is an issue which affects a number of departments and I would encourage this Department and others affected to further engage with the Department of Finance and Personnel to recolve this matter. I intend to keep this matter under review.

The Accounting Officer’s response

Peter May, the department’s Permanent Secretary, is its Accounting Officer. In his report he wrote about Governance Divergences arising in the Current Year on pages 79 and 80:

N/S Bodies

On 23 May 2014 DFP alerted departments which sponsored North South Bodies of concerns it had around the regularity and legality of grant payments made to these Bodies.

Regularity of payments — The Department accepts that N/S Bodies business plans  must be approved by the North South Ministerial Council in order for expenditure to be regarded as regular.

During 2013–14 DCAL incurred irregular spend in respect of grants to Waterways Ireland and the Language Body as business plans for these respective periods  have not been approved. It should be noted that draft business plans were in place against which the performance and budget of the bodies was monitored, and an approved Corporate Plan was in place for the period 2011–13.

Legality of payments — DFP has also raised concerns about these grants because they insist there is no record of formal DFP approval for the amounts of these grants or the terms and conditions under which they were made.

On the basis of legal advice, the Department considers the Estimates process and the negotiations between Finance Ministers on the efficiency savings show approval for the amount of the grant, while the Financial Memorandum provides the terms and conditions, which have not changed since 2005. This approach has been followed in good faith by DCAL on the basis of advice provided by DFP in 2009.

Full details of this spend is given Note SOAS 8.

SOAS8, on page 90, adds no useful information.

Jim Allister follows up

Jim Allister has two Priority Written Questions down on the matter:

AQW 35466/11-15 Mr Jim Allister (TUV – North Antrim): To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, in light of the Comptroller and Auditor General qualifying her Department’s Resource Accounts for 2013/14, whether she accepts that grant payments of over £8m made by her Department’s North/South Bodies were irregular; and if she will seek approval from the Department of Finance and Personnel for all such payments in accordance with the statutory requirements of the North/South Co-operation (Implementation Bodies) (Northern Ireland) Order 1999. [Priority Written] [04/09/2014 Awaiting Answer]

AQW 35541/11-15 Mr Jim Allister (TUV – North Antrim): To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure whether she will place into the Assembly Library, a copy of the documentation received from the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP), or otherwise recording DFP approval, which verifies the claim by her Department’s Accounting Officer in the Resource Accounts 2013/14 that DFP approval of grants to North/South Bodies was given for the amount of the grant at estimates or efficiency stage negotiations. [Priority Written]  [05/09/2014 Awaiting Answer]

WTF?

If I have understood him correctly, Jim Allister is most interested in whether DCAL was engaged in illegality; the department is, I think, rather defensive about the matter, but they can fight it out between themselves.

What interests me, though, is why DCAL could not approve the business plans in good time. Had it done so, and pushed them through the remaining regulatory hoops, it would have had no problem with either regularity or legality. Neither Corporate Plans, which cover three-year periods, nor draft business plans are acceptable substitutes for having the annual business plans approved in good time.

I don’t see, in either the C&AG’s or the Accounting Officer’s coverage, any explanation for the inordinate delays; they don’t say whether the problem is within DCAL, between DCAL and DFP or between DCAL and its southern counterpart, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Wherever it lies, it needs to be sorted out.

 

A1 @ A2SN

I wrote here about the workshop, being organised by A2SN, the Archives and Artefacts Study Network, and PRONI, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, entitled

By air, sea and land — Transport & Mobility through the archives.

I attended the workshop yesterday; it was absolutely excellent. I can’t remember the last time I attended an event where every speaker was both a good communicator and worth listening to. The programme covered waterways, roads, railways, aircraft, public transport and shipping, with two more theoretical, but no less interesting, sessions at the end — followed by a reception on and tour of the SS Nomadic.

The timetable had been designed to provide much opportunity for discussion between speakers and attenders: it was successful, thanks largely to its enforcement with a rod of iron, or rather with three sheets of card.

I imagine that the A2SN blog will have a full report when KH has had a chance to recover, so I won’t cover it here, but it was gratifying to note that Waterways Ireland is working on making access to its archive much easier.

If A2SN hold any more events on the island of Ireland, I’ll be there.

 

The Royal under the Railway

A new, short book, on aspects of the history of the Royal Canal, published by the Railway and Canal Historical Society, will be launched at the Clinker Lecture on 18 October 2014. The title is The Royal under the Railway: Ireland’s Royal Canal 1830–1899 and it covers a number of topics, mostly about the canal after it was bought by the Midland Great Western Railway. From the Introduction:

The accounts of the Midland Great Western Railway for the half year ending 31 December 1849, four years after it bought the Royal Canal, showed its gross income from the railway as £23,773 and its income from the canal as £7,677, roughly a quarter of the total. By 1899, though, income from the railway was £264,393 and that from the canal £2,220, less than one per cent of the total. The Royal Canal, never particularly successful, had declined into utter irrelevance.

It may seem perverse, therefore, to offer even a short book on the canal’s history in that period, especially as there exist two full histories, by Peter Clarke and by Ruth Delany (with Ian Bath in the most recent edition). This, though, is not a full history, even of the limited period, roughly 1830–1899, from just before the railway took over until the end of the nineteenth century. This is rather a complement to those histories, providing just enough background information to  enable the book to stand alone while covering some new topics and providing new or extra information on others. The topics include:

  • the 120-foot steam-powered narrowboat
  • the Midland Great Western Railway’s early attempts at running canal boats
  • the ingenious Mr Mallet’s moveable bridge
  • the whore who held the mortgage on the canal
  • the competition between the roads of Roscommon and the Royal Canal
  • the reconstruction of Dublin bridges over the canal
  • the horses who slept on board their boat.

[...] this book is not intended to be the last word on any of those topics. I hope that it might encourage others – those researching local, family, social, industrial, transport, economic or technological history – to record and transmit anything they might learn about the history of the Royal Canal. To take just three topics, we know very little about canal employees, the operations of canal traders or the management of the horse-drawn canal boats. On any one of those, useful information could just as easily be found by a local or family historian as by a canal specialist.

 

Steam, the Shannon and the Great British Breakfast

That is the title of the Railway and Canal Historical Society‘s 2014 Clinker Memorial Lecture, to be held at the Birmingham and Midland Institute, Margaret Street, Birmingham B3 3BS, at 1415 on Saturday 18 October 2014.

The lecture will concentrate on the period before 1850 with such interesting topics as

  • Shannon steamers
  • the Grand and Royal Canals
  • the first Irish turf (peat) to reach the USA (possibly)
  • port developments in Dublin, Limerick and Kingstonw
  • the Dublin and Kingstown Ship Canal
  • the Midland Great Western Railway
  • what “cattle class” really means
  • bacon and eggs.

Admission is free and booking is not required. However, if you plan to attend, it would be helpful if you could e-mail [...] to this effect.

The Clinker Memorial Lecture is named for Charles R Clinker, an eminent railway authoe and one-time historian of the Great Western Railway, who died in 1983.

If you would like the contact email address, leave a Comment below and I’ll get in touch with you direct.