Category Archives: Ulster Canal

Shagging the Shannon to shovel the sheugh

On 24 February 2015, the Irish Times published an article headed

First stage of Ulster Canal restoration due to begin in April
Some €2m will be spent on a section of the Shannon-Erne waterway

It ended with these sentences:

The €2 million will be drawn from the funds of Waterways Ireland, a north-south implementation body. It will carry out the dredging of a 2km section of the Erne river and the construction of a new navigation arch at Derrykerrib Bridge to accommodate boat traffic, with a target completion date of April 2016.

It may be that the Irish Times doesn’t know very much about waterways. If it did, it might have been aware that, on 18 December 2014, the North South Ministerial Council approved Waterways Ireland’s Business Plan 2015, which included this Action:

3.6 Progress the restoration of the Ulster Canal on an incremental basis. €1,000

So on 18 December 2014 the North South Ministerial Council — which for all practical waterways purposes consists of Heather Humphreys, the southern minister for waterways and other stuff, and Carál Ní Chuilín, her northern counterpart — approved the allocation of €1,000 to the Ulster Canal in Waterways Ireland’s 2015 plan. Yet, just over two months later, they expect Waterways Ireland to spend about €2 million on the blasted thing, about €1.5 million of it in 2015.

The southern government’s party of treasure-seekers seems to have disappeared entirely: at any rate it doesn’t seem to have found any money. And the two ministers’ departments have presided over successive years of cuts in Waterways Ireland’s current and capital budgets, cuts whose effect has been worsened by the woefully inadequate provision for an ever-increasing pensions bill. Waterways Ireland’s Corporate Plan 2014–2016 shows a cumulative increase of €984,000 in pension costs over the period of the plan, which wipes out a lot of savings in other areas.

I suppose that curiosity is a weakness in journalism. Were it not so, two questions might have struck the Irish Times:

  • how is Waterways Ireland to come up with €2 million out of an ever-decreasing budget?
  • why has Waterways Ireland’s Business Plan been so violently disrupted only two months after it was approved? The €2 million is half WI’s total capital budget spending in for the republic in 2015; it will be recalled that the republic, in a fit of more than usually nitwitted arrogance, undertook to pay for a canal to Clones, which is what the powers-that-be are pretending Saunderson’s Sheugh is.

I can answer the first question, at least for 2015, during which WI expects to spend €1,416,000:

  • €166,000 will come from Heather Humphreys’s department
  • €900,000 will (WI hopes) come from the sale of property assets
  • €150,000 will come from the postponement of an IT programme
  • €220,000 will come from the postponement of non-navigation works on the Shannon
  • €90,000 will come from postponing development of the Barrow Blueway.

I don’t know what property assets WI can sell to bring in the requsite amount. It seems that damage to everyday navigation has been avoided, but the Shannon and the Barrow are to suffer to pay for dredging a river that merely provides a small extension of the Erne navigation.

As for the second question, 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.” The baby might have been Heather Humphreys’s Dáil seat or it might have been something more important. And the gun was, I suspect, a message accompanying the “business case” prepared by the northern department and sent to the southern. [I have asked both departments for copies and other information.]

Arthur Aughey, then lecturer in politics at the University of Ulster, wrote in Magill magazine in February 2001:

Puritanical republicans grieve at the thought that the hunger strikers [of 1981] died to achieve the Waterways Ireland Implementation Board.

I suspect that the less puritanical republicans, those who operate in the devolved institutions of Northern Ireland, are now demanding that the southern government deliver, through the “Waterways Ireland Implementation Board”, what nitwitted previous governments promised. It’s a pity that Sinn Féin and those previous governments couldn’t have come up with a more sensible list of waterways and other infrastructural projects.

 

Minister talks through her hat

I originally had a rather more rude heading …. The Minister for Waterways and Other Stuff has decided to have the River Finn dredged to aid her reelection campaign shut up the Shinners promote peace and prosperity. The “shutting up the Shinners” bit means pretending that this is a restoration of the Ulster Canal, whereas it avoids the canal altogether in favour of dredging the river as far as Castle Saunderson, in Co Cavan, instead of going to Clones, in Co Monaghan. According to NorthernSound

Minister Heather Humphreys says the project will provide a wonderful recreational facility for local communities and will act as a significant draw for tourists.

That, minister, is a load of old bollocks: the locals have plenty of waterway already and the tourists are not going to be drawn by another bit of river. Still, Saunderson’s Sheugh is better than the Clones Sheugh, but it is worrying that

The project is expected to cost in the region of €2 million euro and will be funded by Waterways Ireland.

According to its Business Plan 2015, approved by the North South Ministerial Council on 18 December 2014, Waterways Ireland’s budget for sheughery in 2015 is €1000. So, if it is to spend €2 million on Saunderson’s Sheugh, and if the Treasure-Seekers have failed to find any money, will this mean that WI’s budget for maintaining and repairing the existing navigations will be cut?

I see that

The Minister says construction should begin in the final quarter of 2015.

I wonder when the next election is.

Saunderson’s Sheugh and the border problem

Castle Saunderson and the border

Castle Saunderson and the border

Saunderson’s Sheugh, the latest manifestation of the proposed reconstruction of the Ulster Canal, would run along a border for much of its length. That’s the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, but there is one important border it does not seem to cross [as far as I can see]: that between counties Cavan and Monaghan.

Has Cavan stolen the sheugh from its northern neighbour? I’m sure that folk in the Monaghan part of the Dáil constituency of Cavan-Monaghan won’t mind, but I wonder whether the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, who is a TD from the Monaghan end and is in charge of Sheughery, is concerned that her Monaghan colleague Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin [Sinn Féin] might turn the situation to his party’s advantage. On the other hand, from Sinn Féin’s viewpoint, the question might be whether any sheugh is better than none.

Of course, as soon as a coalition of Sinn Féin and the Éamon Ó Cuív wing of Fianna Fáil takes power, we’ll have the entire Ulster Canal built immediately. And there will be grants for growing flax, carrying corn to Dublin and draining the Shannon [which might mean that there are no southern boats to visit the Ulster Canal].

I should say, though, that Davy, in two reports out today, is not very worried about what Sinn Féin might do: Finfacts story here; Davy here; the two reports here and here [each of which should open as a PDF; if that doesn’t work, use the links on the Davy or the Finfacts page].

Map: OpenStreetMap; copyright explained here.

Ulster Canal restoration: a history

Ulster Canal 01 whole_resize

Studies 1994–2000

Ulster Canal 02 whole_resize

Socio-economic summary report and feasibility study 2006

Ulster Canal 03 whole_resize

North/South Ministerial Council agreement 2007, with the Irish government to pay the full cost

Ulster Canal 04 whole_resize

DCAL business case to DAHG 2015

Exhaustive coverage begins here but use the search facility for updates. More to come.

Saunderson’s Shack

Some links to info about the Castle Saunderson estate, to which DCAL is trying to persuade DAHG to construct a sheugh.

Cavan County Council owns it, I think.

There is an International Scout Centre, although I’m not clear whether the scouts occupy the entire site or just part of it. For instance, do they control the church where services take place, at least occasionally?

There was an Orange parade to the site last year.

It is close to Belturbet, where the County Council has a River Project. Was that completed?

A quick bit of sheughery

Here, read this. I haven’t time to take it all in at the moment, but the minister’s “An updated business case was recently completed for my Department” is, as far as I know, misleading: that business case was completed by DCAL in Northern Ireland and sent to Dublin. Thus, as the SF TD Mr Ó Snodaigh probably knows, the “business case” (which is not a cost-benefit analysis) came from a Sinn Féin minister’s department.

It seems our designation of “Saunderson’s Sheugh” was spot on.

Canals conference 7 March 2015

Information posted at the request of the organisers


Inland Navigations of Ireland Historical Society
in partnership with
The Heritage Boat Association

The Canals of Ireland

Saturday 7 March 2015

Hugh Lynch’s Function Room, Tullamore, Co Offaly

Programme

Memorial Slides Conor Nolan 09.30
Welcome Gerard Bayly 09.55
Session 1 Chairperson Judie Lambert
The Canals of Europe Mike & Rosaleen Miller 10.00
The Canals of Ireland Colin Becker 10.20
Coffee break 10.40
Saving the Royal Niall Galway 11.00
Fighting for the Grand Mick Kinahan 11.20
Living on a Canal Eric Kemp 11.40
Morning Question Time 12.00
Lunch break 12.30
Session 2 Chairperson Kristina Baker Kenny
Newry Canal Geraldine Foley 13.30
Limerick Navigation Raymie O’Halloran 13.50
John’s River Brian Simpson 14.10
Grand Canal Kilbeggan Branch James Scully 14.30
Boyne Navigation Seamus Costello 14.50
Coffee break 15.10
The Future Joe Treacy 15.25
The Future Brian J Goggin 15.45
The Future Nigel Russell 16.05
Evening Question Time 16.25

 

Details

Admission:                          €12
Breaks:                                Tea/coffee included
Lunch in room:                   Soup and sandwiches included
Music:                                 Live music session during lunch
HBA:                                   Merchandise for sale
IWAI:                                  Merchandise for sale
Authors:                              Books for sale

Directions

Hugh Lynch’s Pub, Kilbride Street, Tullamore, Co. Offaly

087 250 5422

 

The contagious cargo cult

Readers will be saddened to learn that Ireland’s cargo cult, the delusion that canals bring prosperity, is spreading. It may even be that an increasing frequency of political references to Saunderson’s [né the Clones] Sheugh means that the devotees are about to engage in sympathetic magic by attempting to dig a sheugh.

The sheugh was mentioned in both legislative assemblies on the island on 20 January 2015. In Dublin, Gerry Adams [SF, Louth] said:

I remind the House that the peace process is the most important political project on this island at this time and it needs to be nurtured, protected and enhanced. It must be at the top of the Government’s agenda alongside other priorities.

I wonder how many priorities can dance on the head of an agenda ….

I welcome the financial commitments that have been made, including €25 million in annual funding for the A5 road project, which will assist people in Tír Chonaill, Derry, Fermanagh and Tyrone. I welcome additional funding for reconciliation under the European Union’s PEACE and INTERREG programmes and the Government’s renewed commitment to the Narrow Water bridge and Ulster Canal projects. These are important developments which need to be delivered.

If the Shinners are going to prioritise such nitwitted public spending projects, Goldman Sachs will never allow them into government [assuming that Goldman Sachs cares what happens in Ireland, which they might not, pace Peter Sutherland]. Nobody else mentioned the sheugh in that debate, but several Norn Iron politicos seem to have succumbed to the delusion. They had a debate on “Ulster Canal: Tourism Benefits“, which is like having a debate about the nature of unicorn excrement without first checking to see whether unicorns exist.

Note, in what follows, the complete absence of any quantification of benefits, with only a single mention of costs and with an unwavering belief that canals bring prosperity, even if they lack any interesting features (apart from the engine shed in Clones). There is no attempt at identifying why tourists would be attracted to the sheugh, no discussion of the mechanism by which public spending is translated into tourism revenue and then into local or national benefit.

Not that southern politicians are any better, of course.

Anyway, back to the NI Assembly. Sean Lynch [SF] “asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment for her assessment of the potential tourism benefits of re-opening the Ulster canal”. Note that he didn’t say how much of the canal he wanted.

Arlene Foster [DUP] [for it was she] said

The waterways of Northern Ireland have the potential to become an integral part of the tourism experience in Northern Ireland. The proposed Ulster canal development could provide opportunities for canal boating as well as supporting infrastructure to support walking and cycling, all of which would benefit our visitors and the local area.

All of which is waffle. She provided no assessment.

Although the project is being led by DCAL, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) continues to work with the Ulster canal inter-agency group through the Destination Fermanagh steering group and with the Clones Erne East Blackwater project to try to maximise the tourism benefit that this project could bring.

Nice to hear that the treasure-seekers, the “inter-agency group”, still exist. I wonder what they do.

So far, Arlene seems to be sticking to her script and hasn’t given much away: the sheugh could do this, that or the other, but there’s nothing concrete. But Mr Lynch asks a follow-up question:

I thank the Minister for her somewhat encouraging answer. Does she agree that, because the canal goes through Monaghan, Fermanagh, Cavan and Tyrone, both tourism boards on the island of Ireland should work closely together to ensure that it is a success?

If it were worth doing, why would the tourism boards have to “work closely together”? Would not hundreds of thousands of foreigners, from lands without canals, come flocking to the sheugh and to the irresistible attractions of Clones? What more could the tourism boards do to sell the thing? “Visit a short canal in the middle of nowhere leading to Clones”?

Mr Lynch may just have been trying to trap Ms Foster into agreeing to some tourism crossborderality. But she seems to have been doing a bit of crossborderality of her own:

The TD for Cavan-Monaghan, Heather Humphreys, has taken a particular interest in the matter, as you would imagine. It is in part of her constituency, as it is in part of ours; therefore, she is keen to move the project forward. When I last spoke to her, she again mentioned the need to push ahead on the Ulster canal.

Oh dear.

So, I think, generally, there is support for the project. I suppose that the big challenge for us all is funding. The Northern Ireland Tourist Board — or Tourism Northern Ireland, as we should now call it — will work with its counterparts to assist and make sure that all the tourism benefits are put into any business case that is put forward.

When ministers are asked questions by members of their own parties, I wonder whether the questions were arranged beforehand in order to allow the ministers to make certain points.

William Humphrey [DUP] said “The Minister is quite right that the primary responsibility lies with the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.” The minister knew that already. But then he asked two questions. The first was:

Is Fermanagh District Council taking a collaborative approach to the cross-border element?

That might be intended to sell the prospect of further local government crossborderality to DUP supporters. The minister answered:

As I understand it, Fermanagh District Council is part of the Clones Erne East partnership, which seems to be driving this initiative. Of course, the Erne East councillors will be part of that partnership.

Humphrey’s second question, which elicited an interesting answer, was:

Obviously, in the current economic climate, budgets are tight. Has the Department looked at the possibility of funding from the European Union, given that it is a cross-border venture?

Ms Foster said

I simply do not know is the answer, because DCAL leads on this issue. However, I do know, and I have been advised, that some €54 million would be needed to secure the project to get it completed within 21 to 24 months. It is a large sum of money. If there are options to look elsewhere for funding, we would of course be supportive of them being explored.

Now, what is that €54 million for? Irish ministers have been quoting a figure of €35 million for years, even after 2011 when I was given a revised estimate of €45 million [overview of the history here]. That was to get to Clones. Is Clones now to cost €54 million? Or is that to Castle Saunderson? Or to Lough Neagh? Probably not the last. Note that these cost increases have come even before anybody starts digging anything.

Why does Clones deserve €54 million? Its population seems to be slightly below 3000; why not give every man, woman and child €15,000 each to forget about the sheugh, thereby saving €9 million?

Back to the Assembly. Basil McCrea [UUP], who may be the most sensible MLA, suggested, as he has suggested before, that users of inland waterways pay “for example, through a boat tax” something towards the cost of the waterways “provided that the money is used specifically for enhancing inland waterways?” Ms Foster said that was not her business and added

I want to encourage more people to come and use the inland waterways. Of course, I want them to use Lough Neagh and Lough Erne in particular.

I wonder why she omitted the Lower Bann, the Shannon–Erne Waterway and the various derelict navigations — including Saunderson’s Sheugh.

 

 

 

 

 

From the [UK] Civil Service Quarterly

An interesting article [h/t celr] about the setting up of the Canal & River Trust, which runs (it says itself) 2000 miles of waterway in England and Wales. The article is not, perhaps, to be seen as an objective evaluation of the benefits of the UK’s Public Bodies Reform Programme, but the idea of transferring a large operation to the voluntary sector is an interesting one, as is the scope for volunteer donations and involvement (British Waterways, C&RT’s predecessor, had nothing like as high a proportion of lockkeepers as Waterways Ireland has).

I have occasionally been asked, by British folk, whether the possibility of transferring Waterways Ireland to the voluntary sector is being considered here. I have explained (a) that WI has nothing like as significant an independent (non-grant) income as BW had and (b) that any such transfer would require the rewriting of the Good Friday, St Andrew’s and (now) Stormont House Agreements. So we are stuck with the current arangements, which at present are leaving WI at the mercy of budget cuts, a disastrous pensions arrangement, disputes between its two governing departments and a nitwitted demand, from Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil and perhaps from Fine Gael too, for a pointless canal reconstruction.

 

Saunderson’s Sheugh and northsouthery update

I’m trying to catch up on things I was too busy to cover late last year.

Saunderson’s Sheugh 1

For new readers: the proposed rebuilding of the Ulster Canal started off in the 1990s with the idea of rebuilding the whole thing and thus linking Lough Erne and Lough Neagh. It became clear that that would be ridiculously expensive (even by politicians’ standards: to my mind anything more than sixteen and thruppence farthing would be too much) so TPTB decided to look at rebuilding the two ends, leaving the BITM (as WRGies might say) until gold was discovered in Monaghan or something. Then that got shot down but the heroic Irish government, rolling in the profits of property development, volunteered to pay the entire cost of rebuilding one end, from Lough Erne to Clones. This, known as the Clones Sheugh, was held up when the property boom bust; after that the Irish government has asked a group of treasure-seekers to find money. The group doesn’t seem to publish reports, but in recent months we’ve had whispers from two directions:

  • the Irish government seems to think that making the Finn navigable to Castle Saunderson would be a good idea: thus Saunderson’s Sheugh. And see this
  • Her Majesty’s Devolved Administration has been constructing a Business Case to show that it would be a very good idea for (a) the Irish government, (b) the British government, (c) the European Union, (d) Santa Claus or (e) anyone else, really, to do something that is so far unspecified. Actually, that’s guesswork on my part: I don’t know what’s in the business case (see below) but if it’s anything like the last one ….

Hands across the border

The North South Ministerial Council (waterways) met on 27 November 2014. Highlights:

  • WI wants Euroloot (don’t we all)
  • there is to be consultation on new Erne byelaws
  • repairs are taking most of the capital budget
  • there is “a new cruise hire business on the Shannon-Erne Waterway” [someone tell me more, please]
  • there is a Blueway
  • the ministers agreed the “indicative” [I don’t know what that is] budget for 2013. In November 2014. Which must have been helpful in budgeting. Maybe the 2013 accounts will be published soon
  • the “2013 indicative budget of €29.47m (£24.17m)” will be “a baseline for 2014-2016 draft budgets”, one third of that period having expired
  • the amount of the indicative budget for 2013, €29.47m, is 30% down on WI’s total income for 2012, as shown in its income and expenditure account for y/e 31 December 2012. I don’t know whether those figures can be compared directly, so please correct me if I’m wrong, but 30% is a hell of a cut in one year. And that’s without taking account of the increased cost of pensions
  • the 2014-2016 Corporate Plan isn’t available to citizens yet but the NSMC “noted” WI’s “draft Business Plan and Budget provision” for 2014 and 2015 and Corporate Plan for 2014-2016; they have to be approved at some future NSMC meeting
  • no info about the Sheugh was included in the minutes.

More hands across the border

As if all that wasn’t enough excitement, there was a Plenary NSMC meeting on 5 December 2014. That’s where lots of ministers go along: I make it 14 from north and 15 from south. They had their eyes on PEACE and INTERREG Euroloot, assuming the entire EU economy hasn’t collapsed by spring 2015. Apart from that, the only interesting bit was:

Waterways Ireland has developed the Shannon Blueway, Ireland’s first Blueway (a multi-activity trail running alongside water) between Drumshanbo and Carrick-on-Shannon in Co Leitrim in conjunction with the National Trails Office, Canoeing Ireland, Leitrim County Council and Leitrim Tourism. The Body continue to engage with relevant organisations, interested in further development of Blueways or Greenways including exploring opportunities that may exist for EU funding.

There are cycling, walking and canoeing routes along parts of the Ulster Canal: getting Euroloot for them would be a far better idea than making the thing navigable for cruisers.

Stormont

The Stormont House Agreement was signed on 23 December 2014. Slugger O’Toole has the text, a link to the NIO and a summary.

Most of it is very boring, except for the provision that the Ulster Canal is to be restored as an Orangeway, along which all Orange parades will henceforth be routed, giving the marchers entire freedom to do or say whatever they want. It is understood that an abandoned railway will be given to Green marchers for the same purpose.

No, of course not: that’s a joke. The bits that might become interesting are:

60. A reduction in the number of departments from twelve to nine should be made in time for the 2016 Assembly election, with the new allocation of departmental functions to be agreed by the parties.

Will DCAL survive?

70. On the St Andrews Agreement Review, the NSMC (meeting in Institutional format) will agree before the end of February 2015 a report on new sectoral priorities for North/South cooperation, identified during Ministerial discussions since November 2013. A report on new sectoral priorities will be a standing item for future meetings of the NSMC meeting in Institutional format.

Will waterways be affected?

Saunderson’s Sheugh 2

Something is moving in the undergrowth. Every so often I have asked DCAL for news of the development of its business case for the Ulster Canal. On 2 January 2015 I said:

I would be grateful if you could:

– tell me whether the Ulster Canal Restoration Lough Erne – Clones Section Addendum to 2007 Business Case is now complete and available for release

– let me have a copy if it is available

– tell me the revised expected release date if it is not available.

DCAL has very kindly written to say:

The updated business case for the Ulster Canal restoration is currently with our colleagues in the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in the south as co sponsors of Waterways Ireland. They are seeking approval from the Irish Government for the updated business case. Until such time as this approval is granted the business plan cannot be released. Unfortunately I am not able to put a specific date on when this will be, but I am hopeful it will be sooner rather than later. I will ensure that you are advised as soon as the approval is granted.

I must say it seems odd to me that an Irish government department should be seeking Irish government approval for a business case prepared by a Northern Ireland department. But the Shinners want a Sheugh, for reasons best known to themselves [although I suspect it’s because their economic and political thinking stopped in 1797], and the Irish department is now headed by a minister from Sheughland. The prospects for a sane decision look slim.

Addendum: this suggests that the shinners’ main interest may be in getting something — anything — crossborderish built, even if it makes no sense. The Narrow Water Bridge project is like that. What’s really needed up there is a southern bypass of Newry, but that would be entirely within Northern Ireland. So Sinn Féin would prefer an “iconic” bridge in the middle of nowhere that happens to span the border.