Backing Basil

Can it be that there are two sane politicians on the island of Ireland? If so, that would be the highest number since Morpeth and Mulgrave.

Down here in the Free State we have the Sainted Leo Varadkar [KH, I see]; Oop North, where it’s grim, they have Basil McCrea [BRA] of NI21. Basil has another Written Question for Carál Ní Chuilín, NI Minister for Waterways Ireland [and Lambeg drumming, according to some of her fellow-MLAs]. Basil’s question is:

To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure whether her Department is considering the introduction of an annual fee for boat users to fund and improve boating infrastructure.

The only problem with that is that — at least for the Waterways Ireland navigations — the fee is needed not to improve the infrastructure but to keep the lights on, get the equipment repaired and buy basic consumables. It seems to me that boat-owners either don’t know or don’t care how bad the financial situation is. I presume that the owners who are helping themselves to free moorings around Lough Derg are in the don’t-care category.

Barbara Lewis Solow, in The Land Question and the Irish Economy 1870–1903 [Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts 1971], shows that the problem with Irish agriculture in the late nineteenth century was that rents were too low and there were not enough evictions. Much the same could be said of Irish waterways: charges are pretty well non-existent and even such few rules as there are are widely ignored.

In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

What Waterways Ireland and the Irish waterways need, fast, is a new set of strict byelaws, with significant user charges and strict enforcement mechanisms, preferably empowering the tax authorities to seize income and property.

The ministers should stop faffing around and get on with it.



Our favourite TUV MLA …

Jim Allister wants to know

[...]  the amount in overpayments to staff of Waterways Ireland for subsistence rates from 2002 to 2011; and whether the overpayments have been independently validated by Internal Audit and recovered.


Murder on a Grand Canal Company boat

At the inquest on the body of Myles Crofton, who was, as alleged, murdered on board one of the Grand Canal Company’s boats on the Limerick Canal, the jury returned the following verdict:— “That the deceased, Myles Crofton, aged 45 years, dies at Killaloe on Sunday, the 29th November, 1891, from certain wounds inflicted on him in boat No 17, plying on the canal, but we find there is not sufficient evidence before us to enable us to say who the guilty person or persons are that inflicted said wounds. We unanimously wish to put before the Grand Canal Company the unhappy position of the wife and large family of the deceased, and to pray the merciful consideration of the company on their behalf.”

Freeman’s Journal 5 December 1891

From the issue of 1 December 1891 we learnt hat, on 30 November 1891, two Grand Canal Company boatmen, and a third man, were charged with the murder. The boat had left Limerick for Killaloe on Saturday 28 November with Crofton, two other crewmen and a fourth person, not a boatman, on board. When it reached Killaloe, Crofton was found to be unconscious “with seven wounds about the head and over both eyes”. The police were called and the dispensary doctor attended but Crofton died next morning “in great agony”. The other three were remanded to Limerick Jail for a week. Crofton left eight children.

On Tuesday 29 December [FJ 30 December 1891] the three men were brought before the magistrates. They were defended by P S Connolly, solicitor. District Inspector M’Donald said that one of the accused had made an important statement but, as he had not yet received instructions from Dublin Castle, he requested an adjournment which, despite Mr Connolly’s opposition, was granted. On the following day [reported in FJ 31 December 1891] the DI said that one of the men, George Farrell, had been released from prison and was prepared to give evidence against Frank Egan.

On being sworn, Farrell deposed he had heard a row in the cabin of the boat between Frank Egan and the deceased, Myles Crofton, and afterwards saw them fighting with their fists. Subsequently he saw Egan strike the deceased with his boot.

Dr John Keogh, who had attended Crofton before he died [was he the dispensary doctor?], said that the wounds were caused by violence, not by accident.

The Belfast News-Letter [1 January 1892] had a slightly different account:

[...] one of the men turned Queen’s Evidence, and confessed that while going down [sic] the Shannon a comrade named Miles [sic] Crofton was repeatedly assaulted while all the party were drinking.

Egan was committed for trial; Farrell had already been released and now the third, Nutterfield [Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer 1 January 1892] or Netherfield [Hampshire Telegraph and Oxford Journal, both 2 January 1892], was also released.

I have not been able to find anything about Egan’s trial, if there was one, or subsequent fate.


The value of art …

… is the evidence it provides about boats and inland waterways.

Here is an unreliable link to a painting called Grand Canal Harbour [click on the image to enlarge it] by Flora Mitchell. If the link doesn’t work, use this, which seems to be less flaky, and enter the two words canal and mitchell in the Quick Search box; you should get two thumbnails of canal paintings by Flora Mitchell.

[updated 20140922]

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 ( 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.