Category Archives: Ulster Canal

Waterside Belturbet

Here is a small amount of information about Belturbet and some of its industrial heritage. The photos were taken on a brief visit in July 2011.

The importance of Saunderson’s Sheugh

Back in the days when nitwitted Irish governments believed the state had found the secret to permanent wealth, Sinn Féin was promised the Clones Sheugh, a rebuilding of part of the line of the Ulster Canal. For reasons that are not clear to me, the reason for the project was concealed by a lot of nonsense about economic regeneration.

Sinn Féin still want their sheugh, and have continually asked questions about it. They own the Northern Ireland department currently responsible for waterways. And they have, I believe, forced its southern counterpart to pretend it will deliver the sheugh. Admittedly it’s really just going to dredge the River Finn — Saunderson’s Sheugh — and call it the Ulster Canal, which is better and cheaper than doing anything about the real Ulster Canal, but we might wonder why the current southern minister, Heather Humphreys, a TD for the Cavan-Monaghan constituency wherein Clones lies, is quite so keen on sheughery.

Perhaps Wikipedia can help.

Cavan-Monaghan constituency, general election 2011

Cavan-Monaghan constituency, general election 2011

Unmodified text released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC BY-SA); no endorsement by the licensor is expressed or implied.

How true these words are …

… even today.

Connected system

Are the Sheughers …

seeing sense?

A cynic (not that there are any of them around here) might say that DAHG feels that it has done as much as it’s going to do (admittedly at Waterways Ireland’s expense) by dredging the River Finn and that it has told Monaghan Council that, if it wants any more Sheughery for Clones, it will have to pay for it itself. The Council might like a canal, but only if someone else pays for it, so it will have to be content with a greenway.

And rightly so.

 

Buy a pub; fund a sheugh

Waterways Ireland is being forced to pay €2 million to dredge the River Finn to Castle Saunderson. This new sheugh is to be called the Ulster Canal.

Waterways Ireland’s wicked stepmother, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, has failed to convince the government to come up with any money to fund this insane project. It has therefore decided to force Waterways Ireland to pay for it, at a time when WI’s budget has been cut by 31% over the past six years. That suggests to me that the parent departments, DAHG and the Northern Ireland Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, are prepared to let the other waterways go hang in favour of a pointless extension of the Erne navigation.

DAHG said:

As the project will be funded from Waterways Ireland’s own resources, additional Exchequer funding will not be required.

Not that Waterways Ireland has any spare money, and it has very few surplus assets. Some years ago DAHG’s predecessor proposed to sell Plot 8, in the Grand Canal Docks at Ringsend, to fund the Clones Sheugh, but the property collapse put a stop to that. It’s still the most valuable saleable asset and it was never clear to me how the property of Waterways Ireland could be seized by its wicked stepmother.

Waterways Ireland has to come up with €1.4 million of the €2 million cost of Saunderson’s Sheugh this year. It hopes to get €900,000 of that from the sale of property. Apart from Plot 8, it has only three surplus assets:

  • Percy Place, valued at €650,000 in WI’s 2012 accounts
  • 47 Lennox Street, valued at €195,000
  • the Hatch Bar, which I presume to be the one at Hazelhatch [is there another?], valued at €45,000.

And that lot adds to €890,000. Add a few quid from the recent sale of old barges and you’ve got €900,000.

Given the details of the Hatch Bar in this Lisney PDF, I presume that what Waterways Ireland is selling is the freehold [but I’m not sure about this: if, Gentle Reader, you know more about it, please leave a Comment below]. Whoever buys it will have the satisfaction of knowing that they are helping to dig a ditch in Co Cavan.

 

 

Good news for Sheughers

I noted recently that, according to the Department of Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Waterways Ireland’s budget for the Clones Sheugh assumed a cost of land [including legal costs] of just over €52,500 per acre, when “the majority of [the land] is poor quality agricultural land”. I have asked Waterways Ireland for more information about this.

But today [as I am sure all regular readers will be aware] the Irish Farmers Journal Agricultural Land Price report 2014 has been published. It says that the average price of Co Monaghan land (based on 25 completed transactions) was only €9384 per acre, with a range from €1049 (for a 43-acre lot of which 12 acres were bog) to €40000 for land with development potential near Carrickmacross. A 25-acre “holding of prime agricultural land overlooking the lake at Emyvale” went for €14800 per acre and the county’s weighted average was €8103 per acre.

In Fermanagh, in Northern Ireland, the average price was £7493 (€10126) per acre, but “Lots of poor, rocky and heather land sold for around £1700/acre”.

 

Saunderson’s Sheugh and northsouthery

Northern Ireland Assembly written question AQW 42836/11-15 tabled 25 February 2015

Mr Cathal Ó hOisín [SF, East Londonderry]: To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to outline the North South co-operation and coordination involved in the recently announced Ulster Canal restoration project.

Ms Carál Ní Chuilín [SF, North Belfast; Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure]: Arising from the Agreement establishing the North South Implementation Bodies Waterways Ireland was tasked with progressing the possible restoration and development of the Ulster Canal. Waterways Ireland, in conjunction with my Department and The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht as sponsor Departments north and south, identified the progression of the project in a phased approach as the preferred option. The recent announcement refers to phase 1 of the restoration, which will be capital works along the River Erne from Quivvy Lough to Castlesaunderson. Waterways Ireland intends to commence the works in April 2015.

Sort it yourself, Heather

No, that’s not me saying it: that’s the message from Enda Kenny to Heather Humphreys about Saunderson’s Sheugh. Recall that Ms Humphreys’s Northern Ireland counterpart has been pressing her to do something about the Ulster Canal:

Moving to implementation would have a positive impact on wider North/South relations. It would provide delivery on a commitment given by the North South Ministerial Council in 2007 in the context of the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive following a five year hiatus. It had not been possible to make visible progress up to now in the absence of planning permission. However, now that the necessary preparatory work has been completed and the required planning permissions are in place, failure to proceed to implementation could be viewed as tantamount to retracting the commitment given in 2007 and reported on regularly at North South Ministerial Council meetings since then.

Strange words to find in a business case, but that’s where they are: in the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht’s Restoring the Ulster Canal from Lough Erne to Clones: Updated Business Case February 2015. They read to me as if they might have been written by Carál Ní Chuilín’s Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in the draft they sent to DAHG; it might have been tactful to remove them, as they smack of the message I envisaged here:

[…] I suspect that Sinn Féin put a gun to someone’s head: “We’re fed up waiting for our sheugh. Start digging or the baby gets it.”

Presumably, then, Ms Humphreys went to her government colleagues and asked for money to buy a few shovels. It is clear that the government took a decision on the matter:

The Government also remains committed to the Narrow Water bridge project and to developing the Ulster Canal. The Government made a decision in regard to an element of that project today.

That was Enda Kenny in the Dáil on 24 February 2015. Later in the same discussion, he said:

This morning, on a recommendation from the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the Government approved a recommendation from Waterways Ireland to allocate €2 million from its resources to address a 2.5 km section of the Ulster Canal. It is a stand-alone project which will demonstrate further evidence of great co-operation. I understand a further 11 km are due for assessment after that.

Now, I am quite ready to believe Mr Kenny’s assertion that Waterways Ireland volunteered to have its already tattered budget cut by another €2 million to pay for dredging the River Finn; I also believe Mr Kenny’s assertions about economic recovery and about the existence of unicorns. I’m less certain that having the southern state pay the entire cost can be called “evidence of great co-operation”. But I am happy to note that no decision has been taken to dig a further 11 km of sheugh to Clones.

It seems, though, that — despite its commitment to sheughery — Mr Kenny’s government does not intend (at least until that economic recovery is further advanced and the unicorn mating season is over) to pay an extra penny or cent to cover the costs. That is very wise, but I suspect that it left Ms Humphreys swinging in the wind: forced to do something to satisfy DCAL and Sinn Féin but unable to extract any extra money from the government. Waterways Ireland then — without, I am sure, any prompting — nobly volunteered to reduce the spending levels agreed in its business plan just two months before, and to sell some unidentified property, to come up with €2 million to save its southern minister.

I have asked DAHG for a list of those government departments to which the business case was sent; I’ll then ask them what they said about it. As it stands, it seems that DAHG’s work of imaginative literature failed to convince the Irish government.

 

Shannon–Erne Waterway traffic

I have reported regularly on Shannon traffic figures [most recently here] but I have paid relatively little attention to the Shannon–Erne Waterway [SEW]. I am therefore grateful to Waterways Ireland for supplying me with the last five years’ monthly traffic figures for Locks 1 and 16 on the SEW. I had some queries about the figures for certain months and I have put them to Waterways Ireland, but I presume that the annual figures are OK.

Shannon–Erne Waterway traffic 2010–2014

Shannon–Erne Waterway traffic 2010–2014

Clearly, not all boats go all the way through: if they did, the figures for Locks 1 and 16 might be the same. The hire bases for Locaboat, Riversdale and Corraquill were all on the Erne side of the summit level; does Lock 1’s excess of traffic over Lock 16 suggest that hirers, perhaps wishing to minimise the number of locks they passed through, headed for the Erne rather than the Shannon? The figures, which I presume are gathered automatically, do not distinguish between private and hired boats.

The other point that strikes me is that the level of traffic is actually quite low. I put in the figures for Pollboy and Athlone locks to allow comparison. SEW traffic is greater than that on the Lough Allen Canal, but it is not much greater than that on the River Suck to Ballinasloe. In that case, WI is [according to its Business Plan 2015] considering automating Pollboy Lock to reduce costs.

Pollboy lock passages 2005–2014

Pollboy lock passages 2005–2014

The SEW locks are already automated, but the costs and benefits may have to be re-examined, especially now that Locaboat has moved from Ballinamore to Quigleys Marina at Killinure on Lough Ree: I presume that that will result in less traffic on the SEW.

Pollboy and the CLones Sheugh

In 2006 Pollboy traffic was used as the basis for estimating likely traffic to Clones on the Ulster Canal’s “SW section”:

The total number of boat parties/groups for the SW section is assumed to be 600. This is based on a comparison with another “offshoot” like the Suck Navigation which had around 1,250 boat parties/groups in 2005 (obtained by dividing the passages through Pollboy Lock by 2) in a much busier section of the whole system. So, for the SW section, a level of around 50% (ie. 600) is regarded as a reasonable assumption.

Waterways Ireland Socio economic Summary Report for the NE and SW Sections of the Ulster Canal Final Report February 2006

Now that Pollboy’s traffic is half what it was in 2005, no doubt the estimate for the number of boats that would visit Clones, if a canal ever reached it, has likewise been halved, which would give an average of about ten boats a week over a seven-month season: four boats every Saturday and one a day for the rest of the week. Folk intending to build restaurants to cater for the cruiser traffic might be wise to reassess their investment plans:

In overall terms, the benefits of waterway restoration derive from the fact that these can facilitate a variety of leisure and recreational activity, that the users will benefit from this activity, and that there will also be wider spin-off benefits in the areas, e.g. facilities such as restaurants etc built to service canal traffic.

Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Restoring the Ulster Canal from Lough Erne to Clones Updated Business Case February 2015

There’s not enough business there for a burger van, never mind a restaurant.

The magic of the Shannon–Erne Waterway

But if Pollboy, the River Suck and Ballinasloe are no longer cited as support for the construction of a Clones Sheugh, the Shannon–Erne Waterway is still used as an example, in that and in other contexts. Take, for example, this:

Shannon–Erne Waterway magic

Shannon–Erne Waterway magic

I’ve nicked that from a slide show called Economic, Recreational and Social Benefits of Rural Waterways in Ireland, which was to be delivered [PDF] by Garret McGrath of Waterways Ireland at the World Canals Conference [PDF] in Milan in 2014.

Now, if the Shannon–Erne Waterway had caused all that construction activity, we’d have to drag Waterways Ireland before the Irish banking enquiry. Skipping lightly over the question of the ghost estates, and the departure of Locaboat from Ballinamore, we come to the real problem with this sort of stuff: the post hoc fallacy. We are invited to believe that

  • a waterway was built
  • prosperity followed
  • so the waterway must have caused the prosperity.

Well, maybe it did and maybe it didn’t, but the argument presented in the slide show isn’t sufficient to prove it. You would have to check to see whether there were any other possible explanations: any other changes that might have resulted in all that construction.

Along the Shannon–Erne Waterway, I can think of two other possible factors: Sean Quinn’s business empire and the Upper Shannon Rural Renewal Scheme, a tax dodge that applied in Leitrim, Longford, Roscommon, Cavan and Sligo, five of the six counties that had the highest rates of vacant housing (excluding holiday houses). So there are two problems here:

  • much of that construction activity may have been driven by tax breaks rather than by the existence of a nearby waterway
  • the construction itself may not have had beneficial effects.

You can read more about that here, noting in particular, on the map, the areas around the upper Shannon and the SEW with vacancy rates of over 25%; you might wonder whether Waterways Ireland is wise to claim credit for housing over-development.

But my main concern here is a different one: that, if you want to claim credit for economic benefits that followed waterways development, you have to measure the benefits and subtract those attributable to other factors, such as Sean Quinn and the Rural Renewal Scheme. Then it would be useful if you compared the remaining benefits with the cost of constructing your waterway: it might then be possible to say that waterways development is a good investment.

It may be that such a study has been done on the SEW, but if it has I don’t know where it is; I would like to see it if it exists. Until then, I regard this sort of thing, from DAHG’s Business Case, as drivel:

The broad existence and nature of the potential socio-economic benefits of canals and restored waterways are therefore well established and not really at issue.

Sorry, minister: that’s rubbish. As far as I know no proper evaluation has ever been carried out on the costs and benefits of any restored or new-built Irish waterway. So you’re not getting away with that one.

 

Why DCAL shoved the Sheugh?

It is possible that the NI Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure has been putting pressure on the republic’s Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, to get it to start shovelling Saunderson’s Sheugh, because DCAL was aware of its own impending demise. According to Peter Robinson, speaking to the Northern Ireland Assembly on 2 March 2015:

The Stormont House Agreement of 23 December 2014 included a commitment that the number of Departments should be reduced from 12 to nine in time for the 2016 Assembly election, with the new allocation of departmental functions to be agreed by the parties. […]

The Department for Communities will combine the existing functions of DSD with most DCAL functions, with the exceptions being inland fisheries and waterways. […]

The Department for Infrastructure will exercise the existing responsibilities of DRD, but will also take on a range of functions from other existing Departments: vehicle regulation, road safety and Driver and Vehicle Agency functions from DOE; the Rivers Agency from DARD; inland waterways from DCAL; and, from OFMDFM, the strategic investment unit and several regeneration sites, including the Crumlin Road Gaol.

I’m sure that, for some waterways folk, it would be a relief to be back in with engineers. And, if the Department for Infrastructure goes to a Unionist in 2016, all sorts of things might change. But by then there might be enough Sheughery to get Carál and Heather reelected, and it might not matter if there were no more money after the River Finn had been dredged to Castle Saunderson.