Urgent message for Athlone folk

If you’re anywhere near Athlone, hie thee to the Lough Ree Yacht Club at 8.00pm on Wednesday 22 October 2014 for the Old Athlone Society meeting. It features Paul Clements, who has just written a biography of Richard Hayward, author (amongst many other roles) of (amongst many other books) Where the River Shannon Flows, a book that should be in every Irish waterways person’s library.

The evening includes a showing of the film of the same name, which (though short) is highly evocative. WW2 was declared as the filming team reached Portumna. There is some very good footage of the Foynes flying-boats.

h/t gjb

The Slaney cot: photos

I wrote here about a Slaney cot, built by Larry Duggan, which we had spotted on its way to Wales. The owner has very kindly sent some more photos of the cot’s construction, of Larry Duggan and of the cot on the Usk; I have put them on a separate page here.

Longford

Longford is a town about five miles from Clondra, the junction of the Royal Canal with the River Shannon near Tarmonbarry.

Some of the local cargo-cultists seem to believe that, if the Longford branch of the Royal Canal is restored, fleets of vessels (probably from Limerick) will bring untold prosperity to the town. And the unfortunates of Waterways Ireland have been told to produce a feasibility study on the matter. According to the minister for waterways, the study will be available on the Waterways Ireland at the end of October.

Irrespective of whether the restoration is feasible, the question is whether it would be sensible. I see two possibilities:

(a) some of the thousands of vessels already using the Royal Canal will be attracted to Longford, where the attractions of the night-life will entice them to spend more money than they would otherwise have spent in, say, Clondra. If they don’t spend more than they would otherwise have spent, the spending is simply displaced from one place (eg Clondra) to another (Longford). If that is so, it might be worth the while of the publicans of Longford to pay for the restoration, because they will benefit from it, but there is no benefit to the taxpayer in paying for it because the spending is simply moved from one place to another

(b) the attractions of Longford are so great that thousands of visitors who would not otherwise have visited the Royal Canal will now do so. Again, the displacement argument applies, so these thousands of visitors must come from overseas, attracted by the reputation of Longford for metropolitan sophistication. Or something. Now, if that reputation were enough to attract overseas tourists, they would already be visiting Longford in their droves. Are they?

I am sure that Longford has many attractions apart from the alternator repair shop.

 

The Scotch Quay crane

Here is a page about the crane on Scotch Quay, on St John’s Pill in Waterrford. I would welcome information on the age of the crane, on who made it and on how it works.

Heritage outside the box

I was not entirely complimentary about Waterways Ireland’s online survey on the contribution of boating to the economy. However, its latest online survey seemed to me to be better designed.

It’s part of a consultation seeking opinions about a Heritage & Biodiversity Plan. I was afraid that the survey might limit the scope of responses to a small number of prepackaged options, but in fact I found it easy to make suggestions that might be outside the range of those expected. The response boxes expand as required, although I didn’t test the upper limits.

I encourage readers to complete it.

St John’s Pill: an update

I have found a little more information about the involvement of George Lane Fox with the upper reaches of St John’s Pill; I have written about it here.

Heather Humphreys on waterways

From the Financial Resolutions speeches:

I am committed to developing North-South co-operation within the broader arts, heritage and commemorative activities of my Department as well as through the funding of North-South bodies. A provision of more than €38 million is made available to support the two North-South implementation bodies — An Foras Teanga and Waterways Ireland. These budgets will be subject to the approval of the North South Ministerial Council in due course. The provision will enable Waterways Ireland to keep the waterways open for navigation during the main boating season and promote increased use for recreational purposes while developing and promoting our waterways to attract increased numbers of overseas visitors.

Nothing new there, I think, but note the repetition of a point I highlighted last year:

The provision will enable Waterways Ireland to keep the waterways open for navigation during the main boating season [...].

 

Budget 2015

End of austerity?

Waterways Ireland’s southern money [85% of its current budget plus the full cost of capital work undertaken in the republic plus, according to this unicorn who has just dropped in, the full cost of the Clones Sheugh] comes from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht under the heading of North-South Co-operation. The figures are subject to the approval of the North-South Ministerial Council.

Waterways Ireland accounts for the largest portion of the North-South Co-operation funding but the budget documents [PDF] don’t show the breakdown between WI and the languages body.

The 2014 estimate for current expenditure on NSCoop was €35,271,000; the 2015 figure is €34,870,000.

The 2014 estimate for capital expenditure (all but €119,000 for Waterways Ireland according to page 213) was €3,977,000; the 2015 figure is €3,487,000. Rather neatly, that’s 10% of the current expenditure figure. In 2008 WI got €11,000,000.

The total is 2% down on 2014.

The aim of the NSCoop programme

The aim of this Programme is to maintain, develop and foster North-South co-operation in the context of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrews’ Agreement.

Under this Programme, the allocation for 2015 will:

  • Through Foras na Gaeilge and the Ulster-Scots Agency, promote the Irish and UlsterScots language and culture; and

  • Through Waterways Ireland, maintain the waterways for some 15,000 registered boat users.

I noted last year that the department’s high-level programme activities were to include:

Development of inland waterways within the context of the implementation of the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements.

I deduce, therefore, that development of inland waterways has been abandoned; the [more sensible] aim is now that of maintenance. Furthermore, I note that there is no mention of tourism or of non-boating waterways uses like those lauded by the minister the other day.

Capital “investment”

According to Table 1  Multi-Annual Capital Investment Framework 2015-2017 on page 211, Exchequer Capital Funding to the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is to fall from €62 million in 2015 to €36 million in each of 2016 and 2017. The 2015 capital estimates are:

A – ARTS, CULTURE AND FILM €42,460,000
B – HERITAGE 6,916,000
C – IRISH LANGUAGE, GAELTACHT AND ISLANDS 8,717,000
D – NORTH-SOUTH CO-OPERATION 3,487,000

The allocations to the last three groups are small, so it looks as if the luvvies will be suffering the cuts. But the level of cuts is rather large; I wonder how that’s going to work.

A win for the luvvies

The departmental overview begins on page 45. On page It shows that Total Gross Voted Current Expenditure is to stay constant at €212 million in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Below that we read:

The multi-annual expenditure ceilings are binding and it will fall to the Department of Arts,Heritage and the Gaeltacht to deliver services within these agreed allocations for the period 2015-17. This includes responding to emerging expenditure pressures over that period without recourse to additional Exchequer allocations. To do so will involve commitment to ongoing reform and efficiency measures and reprioritisation of expenditure as appropriate.

And on page 46:

This funding will enable a significant level of services to be delivered in 2015. The funding provided reflects the Government’s commitment to the conservation, preservation, protection, development and presentation of Ireland’s heritage and culture and the promotion of the Irish language, support of the Gaeltacht and development of island communities.

No mention of waterways, or even of northsouthery, in that lot.

On page 47 we learn:

The 2015 current expenditure ceiling of €212m represents an increase of €4m over the REV 2014 allocation and €7m over the previously published expenditure ceiling.

The additional current expenditure funding in 2015 will be utilised to support existing services and fund initiatives to commemorate the foundation of the State.

So the previous talk of continuing savings has vanished; the department’s total budget is up by 4%, just under €10 million. What we are seeing is a reallocation within the department:

A – ARTS, CULTURE AND FILM up 11%
B – HERITAGE down 12%
C – IRISH LANGUAGE, GAELTACHT AND ISLANDS  up 1%
D – NORTH-SOUTH CO-OPERATION down 2%,

Why are the luvvies getting the loot?

All of this is from a quick perusal; more later as information emerges, in particular when the minister addresses the Dáil.

Shannon traffic figures to September 2014

I am grateful to Waterways Ireland for letting me have the Shannon traffic figures for September 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

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

Not a lot to say: slightly down on last year, but the numbers for the last three years have been fairly even.

Private boats

Shannon traffic 1409 private

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

Note that the vertical scale is truncated, which exaggerates the scale of the changed. The good weather, especially in July and September, doesn’t seem to have resulted in a continuation of last year’s improvement.

Hire boats

Shannon traffic 1409 hired

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

Not much change from last year, but it’s the lowest nine-month figure in my records.

Percentages of 2003 levels

Shannon traffic 1409 -v- 2003

Percentages of 2003 levels

The nine-month figure for private boats is the second-lowest in my records (2012 was lowest) despite the good weather. The hire-boat figure is the lowest in my records, but the pace of decline seems to have levelled off.

Private -v- hired

Shannon traffic 1409 private -v- hired

Still roughly 50/50

Nothing very encouraging there, alas.

Waterways Ireland pensions

Here’s a piece of uninformative information.

I’ve written before about Waterways Ireland’s pension scheme and the burden it imposes on the organisation’s current expenditure. I also pointed out that WI’s current staff would be required to pay more into their pension scheme.

The Dáil exchange to which I linked above (a Labour TD asking a question of a Labour minister) seems to discuss one part of the problem but not the other. The minister says that he is happy with the increase in pension contributions. However, he is providing an escape route for [southern] employees of Waterways Ireland: they can elect to

revert to what is called ‘Reserved Rights’ status which is effectively the standard southern public service terms.

I do not know whether that is a contributory or a non-contributory scheme; there may be different provisions for officers and servants.

There is no information about those who were formerly employed by Northern Ireland public sector bodies or those who joined Waterways Ireland without previous public sector employment north or south.

Finally, the minister provided no information about the effect of a mass withdrawal on the North/South Pension Scheme or, more importantly, on Waterways Ireland’s budget. I am unable to work out what the consequences might be; I hope that WI is not left to pay out large pensions to retired staff out of a reduced pension fund and declining grant income from the governments.