Category Archives: Ulster Canal

Crossborderality and euroloot

I wrote here about last week’s NSMC meeting. I noted that the inland waterways meeting seemed to have transformed itself into an SEUPB [Euroloot] meeting: it is unusual for spending ministers to represent the government and executive on such occasions and it is also odd that the SEUPB did not have a meeting to itself, given that it is a separate body. I have asked the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform why spending ministers were allowed into the sweetshop unsupervised.

I now learn that this week there will be celebrations of the twentieth anniversary of the reopening of the Junction Canal in the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell Drainage District, now known as the Shannon–Erne Waterway. So watch for messages to the effect that cross-border waterways bring peace and prosperity … improved relationships in these islands … historic visit … peace in our time … as it happens, we have another sheugh up the road … how about it, Angela, another few quid for the other sheugh?

 

 

NSMC

The joint communiqué from last week’s North/South Ministerial Council Inland Waterways meeting is now available here. There was an exciting bit:

SECTORAL PRIORITIES

2. Ministers had a discussion on various priorities within their remit and noted that these will be contained in a report to be considered at a future NSMC Institutional meeting as part of the ongoing review into sectoral priorities.

Hmm … what’s cooking there? I do wonder why the NSMC bothers publishing content-free stuff like this. We may have to ask the US NSA to bug the meetings. Oh, hang on ….

Here’s a good bit, though:

PRESENTATION BY WATERWAYS IRELAND

3. Waterways Ireland delivered a presentation to Ministers entitled “Ireland’s Inland Waterways – Building a Tourism Destination”. The presentation provided an overview of the progress being made by Waterways Ireland in placing the waterways and the waterway experience at the centre of the tourism offering both in Ireland and internationally.

Now that is useful and important work. But, as I have pointed out elsewhere [including to Waterways Ireland], the WI draft Corporate Plan 2014–2016 said nothing about tourism. Some years ago, I thought that it was a mistake to have a Marketing & Communications Strategy and a Lakelands tourism initiative that seemed to exist outside the corporate planning process; I am still of the same mind.

I have asked Waterways Ireland for a copy of the presentation, and for a copy of the Strategic Development Plan for the Grand Canal Dock, Spencer Dock and Plot 8 that was mentioned in WI’s progress report. That report also covered:

  • continuing maintenance
  • public consultation on canal bye-laws
  • a Built Heritage Study and a GIS-based navigation guide for the Lower Bann
  • an environmental award for  work in restoring, protecting and promoting the heritage assets that are Spencer Dock and Grand Canal Dock
  • towpath development and work on the cycleway from Ashtown to Castleknock on the Royal
  • donating two barges for “recreational and community use”
  • “partnerships to utilise three unused navigation property for community and recreational use”, which I don’t know anything about.

The important part was this:

BUSINESS PLAN AND BUDGETS 2013 AND 2014 AND CORPORATE PLAN 2014-2016

5. Ministers noted the position with the 2013 Business Plan and budget. They also noted that Waterways Ireland has undertaken a public consultation on the draft Corporate Plan 2014-2016, the preparation of a draft 2014 Business Plan by Waterways Ireland and that the plans will be reviewed after the public consultation is analysed. They also noted that Sponsor Departments will continue to work together with Waterways Ireland to finalise the Business Plans and Budgets for 2014 and the Corporate Plans for 2014-2016 that will be brought forward for approval at a future NSMC meeting.

I read that as showing that the north-south deadlock continues. The 2012 accounts have still not been published and the plans for 2014 won’t be approved until (at the earliest) three quarters of the way through the year.

The NSMC heard something about the Clones Sheugh but has decided not to tell the citizenry anything about it. It agreed to some property disposals and decided to meet again in October. But there was one odd item:

SPECIAL EU PROGRAMMES BODY BUSINESS PLAN AND BUDGET 2014 AND CORPORATE PLAN 2014-16

8. Ministers approved the Special EU Programmes Body Business Plan and Budget 2014 and Corporate Plan 2014-16.

The oddity is that the SEUPB is a separate body and usually gets its own meeting and communiqué. The last six meetings (before this one) have been attended by NI folk from Finance & Personnel and RoI folk from Public Expenditure & Reform (or, before that, Finance).

So who let spending ministers into the sweetshop? And why? Suspicious-minded folk might think that there is a plan to  nick a lot of Euroloot for the Clones Sheugh to get the Irish government off the hook persuade the Europeans of the benefits of investing in the reconstruction of a small portion of the Ulster Canal. We note that, on the previous day, Jimmy Deenihan gave a longer than usual reply to the standard question about the Sheugh, including this:

The Inter-Agency Group has met four times, last meeting on 9 December 2013. The Group continues to examine leveraged funding opportunities for the project. This includes the exploration of EU funding which may be potentially available in the next round of structural funds covering the period 2014–2020.

I have a better idea. Vladimir? There are oppressed Russians in Clones ….

 

 

 

A sheugh would solve it …

… not.

If you’re feeling the need of something to depress you, troll on over to the website of the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council and download the six PDF sections of the third Peace Monitoring Report. Written by Dr Paul Nolan, it is an extremely impressive piece of work — and a welcome counter to the witterings of the peaceprocess feelgoodistas who are so prominent on 2RN these days.

If you would prefer a summary, here is Liam Clarke’s account in the Belfast Telegraph, and here is his commentary; Tomboktu and others pointed to some problems with the headline on the first piece, but I’m more concerned that the focus on education in the headline on Clarke’s account may distort perceptions of what the report and, indeed, the rest of Clarke’s article are really about.

The report uses indicators grouped into four domains:

  • the sense of safety
  • equality
  • cohesion and sharing
  • political progress.

I didn’t find much that was cheering in any of them. Nolan lists ten key points:

  1. The moral basis of the 1998 peace accord has evaporated
  2. The absence of trust has resulted in an absence of progress
  3. There has been some increase in polarisation
  4. A culture war is being talked into existence
  5. The City of Culture year presented a different understanding of culture
  6. Failure lies in wait for young working-class Protestant males
  7. Front line police have been the human shock absorbers for failures elsewhere
  8. The rebalancing of inequalities unbalances unionism
  9. At grassroots level the reconciliation impulse remains strong
  10. No one picks up the tab.

Only the fifth and ninth offer any good news. But, from a waterways perspective, I was struck by the complete irrelevance of the proposed reconstruction of the Ulster Canal, the Clones Sheugh, to solving any of these problems. Yet Waterways Ireland, around whose neck this dead albatross has been hung, is the largest of the cross-border bodies and the sheugh is the largest capital project proposed to be undertaken by any of them. If the Irish government wants to do something to solve the real and continuing problems of Northern Ireland, as outlined in the Peace Monitoring Report, couldn’t it find something more useful to do?

Incidentally, I have not been able to find coverage of the report on the websites of the Irish Times, Irish Independent or Irish Examiner, although that may reflect poor searching on my part rather than any lack of interest on theirs.

Shannon traffic 2013

Some weeks ago Waterways Ireland kindly supplied me with the Shannon traffic figures for the final three months of 2013 and I have just now had a chance to add them to my spreadsheets and produce some graphs.

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

It is good to note, incidentally, that, in its draft Corporate Plan 2014–2016, Waterways Ireland says that it intends to

Develop and implement a research programme to measure waterway usage and inform planning and development.

It won’t be easy to do, but we need much better measures of all types of activities on all seven of the waterways managed by WI.

The final outcome for 2013 won’t greatly surprise anyone who has read earlier bulletins on this subject, like this covering the figures to end-September 2013. All the illustrations are based on information supplied by Waterways Ireland, with some minor adjustments by me to eliminate anomalies, but the interpretation and comments are mine own.

All boats full year

Total Shannon traffic 2003–2013, private and hired

The decline in traffic since 2003 seems to have been halted …

All boats full year %

Total Shannon traffic as a percentage of 2003 traffic

… but it is 40% below what it was in 2003.

Private boats full year %

Private-boat traffic 2003–2013 as a percentage of 2003 traffic

Traffic in private boats seems to be recovering, but what is perhaps more significant is that it never went more than 10% above or below the 2003 figure. It has been remarkably stable over the period, despite the economic crash and despite the anecdotal evidence of boats being sold to overseas owners and trucked out of the country. Perhaps larger boats were replaced by smaller? Perhaps only boats bought in the boom were sold in the bust? Unfortunately the deficiencies of the registration system make it very difficult to determine what has been happening.

Hire boats full year %

Hire-boat traffic 2003–2013 as a percentage of 2003 traffic

But if private-boat traffic has been remarkably stable since 2003, the same cannot be said of hire-boat traffic. The best that can be said of 2013 is that the figures didn’t get [much] worse, but a 60% decline since 2003 is really, really dreadful.

WI’s draft Corporate Plan, which does not explicitly mention the hire industry, talks of

… unlocking opportunities to achieve recreational growth, and economic and social development.

I don’t know whether that omission means that WI sees little prospect of a rejuvenated hire-boat industry. And I note that, other than in the titles of organisations, the draft plan rarely mentions tourism or tourists. Are the waterways only for natives? If so, is that a deliberate policy decision? Or is there something that could be done, cheaply, to help to revive waterways tourism?

Emma Kennedy, writing in the Sunday Business Post on 23 February 2014, wrote about Fáilte Ireland’s latest brainwave, which is to “target” three groups:

  • social energisers, which are gangs of young people interested in “new and vibrant destinations”, which I take to mean Temple Bar
  • culturally curious folk aged 50 or over, with money, who are interested in “exploring new landscapes, history and culture”
  • great escapers, who like energetic rural holidays with their partners.

No families with kids, I see, although “Families & Loved Ones” (the latter term, by the way, nowadays seems to mean either dead people or their relicts) were one of the two “primary target customer segments” identified in Fáilte Ireland’s Inland Cruising Market Development Strategy. (Fat lot of good that strategy did, but we mustn’t be bitter.)

Anyway, without having done any market studies (though WI has funded lots of them), it seems to me that there is scope for more tourism on the waterways, but it might not be on traditional cruisers. It might involve outdoor activities like cycling and walking along the canals and Barrow: WI’s plan discusses them, but without adverting to an overseas market. And it might involve small-boat activities — canoeing, touring rowing, small-boat sailing, camping — on Shannon, Erne and SEW: WI says it will support micro-enterprises, and those providing outdoor activity holidays may need expertise and assistance rather than hard cash.

I admit to having little evidence on this, but it seems to me to be too early to give up on the tourism potential of the waterways. And the decline of the cruiser hire business does not necessarily mean that all waterway tourism is doomed.

Private -v- hire full year

Private boats overtake hire boats

That said, 2013 was the year when, for the first time since Noah was an Able Seaman, the number of passages by private boats exceeded that by hire boats.

Checkpoints 2013

The points at which numbers were recorded

Finally, this chart suggests that any structures that were not built by the Shannon Commissioners in the 1840s will not attract many visitors. The extensions off the main stem of the Shannon — south to Limerick, west to Ballinasloe, east through Clondra, north to Lough Allen — are much less used than the main line from Lough Derg to Lough Key. It seems unlikely that any further extensions, especially to small towns that it would take three hours (at canal speed) to get to, are likely to be any more successful in attracting traffic.

The Dublin to Lough Neagh Canal

Here’s another lunatic canal proposal: one I hadn’t come across before.

Proposal for making a line of navigation from Dublin to Lough Neagh

It is proposed by several noblemen and gentlemen of the county of Meath, and of the manufacturing counties of the north of Ireland, the river Boyne company, with several merchants of the city of Dublin and of the commercial towns of the north, to complete, by private subscription, together with such aid as parliament may be pleased to grant, a navigable canal, from the royal canal at Blanchardstown, near Castleknock, in the county of Dublin, to Navan, Kells, Balieborough, Monaghan, Armagh, and Lough Neagh.

The object of this undertaking is to open a direct intercourse between the metropolis and the manufacturing towns of the north; and it is conceived, by the proposers for this undertaking, that a canal, large enough to navigate twenty-five ton boats on, would answer the trade; and in consequence of many locks being already made, rising from the city of Dublin to Castleknock, they think such a canal could be carried on very cheaply from thence to Navan, where another ascent takes place, through the locks of the Boyne navigation to the level of the town of Kells, and the river Blackwater, at Glevin’s bridge, three miles north of that town.

Claven's Bridge over the Blackwater near Kells

Claven’s Bridge over the Blackwater near Kells

My OSI logo and permit number for website

The country northward appears so fit for inland navigation, that no doubt can be entertained of being able to cut cheap canals through it. It is therefore most humbly hoped, if a line for a canal in this direction should be found to answer the expectation, that parliament will be pleased to allow the undertaking to become a part of the intended system of inland navigation of Ireland, and to a share of whatever bounty parliament may grant to accomplish the same.

The advantages that would arise to the nation from this undertaking, are too obvious to take up the time of this honourable house with any comment upon them.

A Atkinson Esq (late of Dublin) Ireland exhibited to England, in a political and moral survey of her population, and in a statistical and scenographic tour of certain districts; comprehending specimens of her colonisation, natural history and antiquities, arts, sciences, and commerce, customs, character, and manners, seats, scenes and sea views. Violent inequalities in her political and social system, the true source of her disorders. Plan for softening down those inequalities, and for uniting all classes of the people in one civil association for the improvement of their country. With a letter to the members of His Majesty’s Government on the state of Ireland Vol II Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, London 1823

Snails

Snails may save us from restoring the Longford Branch of the Royal. Industrialheritageireland has the story.

Might be an idea to start breeding these snails for judicious use elsewhere.

Shinners losing patience over sheugh

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin [SF, Cavan-Monaghan] in the Dáil on 5 February 2014:

There is no excuse for either the British or the Irish Governments to stand over any delay in advancing with key cross-Border infrastructural projects such as the Carlingford Narrow Water bridge and the Ulster Canal. With regard to the Ulster Canal, I have been in touch with the office of the Northern Ireland Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, Carál Ní Chuilín MLA, my party colleague. She assures me that both she and her counterpart here, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, are fully committed to this project, and I welcome that affirmation. As I pointed out in the debate on the Six Counties last year, the North-South Ministerial Council agreed to proceed with the Ulster Canal project in 2007. In the intervening period, we have seen the economic collapse in this State and a parallel contraction in the North. Despite this, the Ulster Canal project was kept alive.

Permission was granted last year for the Northern section by Environment Minister, Alex Atwood, and by Clones Town Council and Monaghan County Council for the section in this jurisdiction.

The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, has advised that the earliest the contract could be awarded would be late 2014 with a completion date in spring 2017. I urge the Minister to do all in his power to expedite this process and to encourage his colleagues to do so. I also urge him to maximise the possible EU funding for the project from the Peace IV programme.

The Ulster Canal project is about greatly enhancing one of the finest landscapes in Ireland for locals and tourists alike, regenerating rural areas that have long been neglected and delivering a tangible peace dividend to Border communities that were neglected for far too long. It is time to get the work on the ground under way.

Yes …. Sinn Féin’s faith in the economic potential of canals is touching, if slightly worrying for anyone who believes that the world economy has changed since the late eighteenth century.

But wait: as far as I can see, SF is one of the few groups that has not asked Jimmy Deenihan about Waterways Ireland’s proposed new byelaws, which might force boaters to pay slightly more of the cost of their hobby. Perhaps SF is secretly hoping that user charges on the Clones Sheugh will be high enough to pay at least the interest on the construction cost? That would be nice.

 

Matters of minor importance

Some recent(ish) discussions amongst the People’s Representatives. I haven’t time to analyse them all. All links courtesy of the estimable KildareStreeet.com.

Brendan Smith [FF, Cavan-Monaghan] wants a sheugh in Clones; he got the usual answer. And he allowed Jimmy Deenihan [FG, Kerry North/West Limerick] to announce, on 19 December 2013, the death of the suggested extension of the Erne navigation to Lough Oughter [loud cheers]:

Brendan Smith: To ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if he has received the feasibility study on the proposed extension of the Erne navigation from Belturbet to Killeshandra and Killykeen; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Jimmy Deenihan: I am informed by Waterways Ireland that it commissioned a Strategic Environment Assessment for the possible extension of the Erne Navigation from Belturbet to Killeshandra and Killykeen.

On reviewing the environmental information from this process, Waterways Ireland considers that the environmental designations of this lake complex make the feasibility of the proposed navigation extension highly unviable. For that reason, I am advised that Waterways Ireland does not propose to pursue this project any further at this time.

Well, that’s one minor victory for sanity. Here’s how a dredger got to Lough Oughter in 1857.

Maureen O’Sullivan is anxious to recreate the economy of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by using canals for carrying cargoes. Especially on the Shannon–Erne Waterway, where commercial carrying was so successful before. [What is it about the Irish left?] Thank goodness that the sainted Leo Varadkar gave not an inch: someone should make that man Taoiseach, President and Minister for Finance. And Supreme Ruler of The Universe and Space.

The web-footed inhabitants of the midlands, who have discovered that they live in a flat area with rivers, keep wittering on about Shannon flooding, failing to realise that it is a message from The Lord, telling them to either (a) move to higher ground, eg Dublin, or build arks. On 15 January 2014 Brian Hayes told Denis Naughten, inter alia, that info from the recent OPW/CFRAM monitoring of water levels on Lough Ree (which I think was when the levels were lowered) would be placed on the OPW website “in the coming days”; I haven’t been able to find it yet so I’ve emailed the OPW to ask about it. And on 21 January one James Bannon said that he intends to introduce a bill setting up a Shannon authority, which will have magical powers. Well, if it doesn’t have magical powers it won’t be able to stop the Shannon flooding, but perhaps it’s designed to allow the unemployed landowners of Ireland another forum in which to demand taxpayers’ money to prop up their uneconomic activities.

Finally, a senator called John Whelan wants a longer consultation period on the proposed amendments to the canals bye-laws. I suppose I’d better read them  myself.

Saving the nation part 97

Clip_resizeThat’s from the government’s Medium Term Economic Strategy 2010 [PDF]. Not a word about the Clones Sheugh, which would undoubtedly save the economies of both jurisdictions on this island, but perhaps it will qualify for one of the new models of infrastructure funding mentioned hither and yon in the document.

Maybe the Sunbeds Bill would be more interesting – or more important.

PS Folk who write “between both” should be flogged naked through the streets before being hanged in the marketplace.

Our Glorious Leader …

is to address, on Sunday night, anyone who watches television but doesn’t have a choice of television channels. There will be a medium term economic strategy too, promising a new and better future for all our people. But as Finfacts says:

… past experience coupled with signals so far, suggest that [the strategy] will be a promotional brochure for an international audience with some questionable claims and omissions. The expected plunge in services exports by as much as €50bn during the time horizon is not likely to be acknowledged.

There is an urgent need for a credible growth strategy that has an unvarnished assessment of the challenges with an honest analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, using data that is free of the outsize impact of the foreign-owned exporting sector.

I wonder whether the strategy will include any sheughs.