Category Archives: Ulster Canal

Aw sheughs

On 6 November 2015 there was a meeting of the Inland Waterways flavour of the North South Ministerial Council, whereat the Minister for Fairytales (RoI) and the Minister for Marching Bands (NI), each with a sidekick, discussed waterways matters. The joint communiqué, artfully written to provide outsiders with as little information as possible, is available here [PDF], but here’s a summary:

  • WI’s “capital expenditure focused on infrastructure repairs”, presumably because it has no money for any improvements or extensions, except a bit of dredging in or near the constituency of the Minister for Fairytales
  • yes, that means the River Finn, Saunderson’s Sheugh, which we’re pretending is or was part of the Clones Sheugh or Ulster Canal
  • WI has managed to get “third party funding” of over €1 million for waterside developments, which is good: much better than transferring WI money to other bodies. WI is trying to nab euroloot but, as there were no announcements of success, we must assume that this is work in progress. Mind you, the ministers would probably claim the success (and the photoshoots) anyway
  • WI may sell some unspecified property
  • the important one:


The Council approved the determination made by Waterways Ireland regarding legacy scale linkages for northern based staff.

I knew you’d want to know about that. Whatever it means.

On 17 November 2015 the latest attempt to get the boys and girls of the Northern Ireland Assembly to be nice to other reached some sort of conclusion, which you can read about in the Irish Times (until it disappears behind a paywall) and the Manchester Guardian. But of course the important question is whether we southron loons have to buy sweeties (sheugher candies) for our northern brethren to persuade them to be polite. For that, gentle reader, you must turn to the inspiringly-titled A fresh start — the Stormont Agreement and implementation plan, available here [PDF].

You will not, of course, want to bother reading most of it, so we can skip straight to Section E Irish Government Financial Support on page 30. New readers may wish to know that, many NI disagreements ago, the Irish government, led at the time by a group of leprechauns who believed they possessed a pot of gold, resolved to impress the poor benighted northerners with a display of southern wealth and power. Accordingly, it promised to pay for all sorts of transport infrastructure, provided that it could be claimed to have some sort of cross-borderality and preferably looked iconic. Whether there was any point to any of the schemes was a matter omitted from consideration.

The three main proposals, IIRC, were

  • the A5, a road in Northern Ireland
  • the Narrow Water Bridge, which would cross the Newry River in the middle of nowhere (whereas a south-eastern bypass of Newry might actually be useful). And it would have an opening span for the many vessels that visit Newry by the Ship Canal
  • the Clones Sheugh, a short section of the Ulster Canal.

Unfortunately the hardheaded northerners have long memories and they keep looking for their three sweeties long after the Free State realised that it couldn’t afford them. So has this latest throwing of their toys out of the pram forced the Free Staters to give in and buy them the A5, the iconic bridge and the Clones Sheugh?

Up to a point, Lord Copper.

The Irish government says it’s all in favour of, er, “investing” in infrastructure “to support North-South co-operation to help unlock the full potential of the island economy”, where no doubt eighteenth century transport methods will prove to as important as they were in the time of Grattan’s Parliament. But with that, and all the other waffle and irrelevancies shoved in at the start of the section, it is clear that the Irish government is trying to big up a small contribution. It drags in the European Union, the Dublin to Belfast railway, flood relief, energy, communications and health, which have nothing to do with the case, but which between them fill almost the whole of the first page.

From there, though, it has to get specific, or at least look as if it’s doing so. Accordingly, each of the three white elephants gets a subsection to itself, with numbered paragraphs, from which we learn that:

  • the Free State government “remains supportive of the commitment under the St Andrews Agreement” to co-fund the A5. It’s going to pay more (I think): £25 million a year in the years 2017–2019, up from a total of £50 million
  • the Free State government “remains committed to the concept of the Narrow Water Bridge”, which has “potential to provide jobs” [how?]; it will review the plans with the NI Executive and think about it by June 2016. It says nothing about the disappearance of funding
  • the Free State government does not say that it “remains supportive of the commitment under the St Andrews Agreement” to fund the Clones Sheugh. Nor does it say that it “remains committed to the concept”. What it does say about the sheugh is that it is funding Saunderson’s Sheugh (see above), it will think about more cross-border greenways and blueways including the Ulster Canal and it and the NI Exec will identify “options for jointly developing future phases of the Ulster Canal restoration project”, which I take to mean that the southron taxpayer won’t be stuck with the entire bill. Oh, and it’s going to think about funding a bleeding sail training vessel, another exercise in pointlessness and nitwittery.

That’s almost it: there is something about a north-west thingie, senior officials will meet and there will be progress reports.

These documents are not necessarily constructed to provide information to outsiders, but my sense is that the Clones Sheugh danger to the southron taxpayer has receded for the moment, although the Narrow Water Bridge and the sail-training nitwittwery need to be blown out of the water (or into it). The A5 road is to go ahead: I don’t know much about it but it might be the least objectionable of the lot.


They haven’t gone away, you know

Yes: it’s the DUP which, according to an Irish Times article which will probably disappear behind a paywall at some stage, has actually agreed with Sinn Féin on something: it wants the Free State to waste €550 million on useless projects:

  • the A5 road
  • an eastern bypass of Newry in the wrong place, ie at Narrow Water instead of near Newry and
  • the dreaded Clones Sheugh.

I can quite see why the DUP might want to bankrupt the Free State [although its assistance may not be necessary], but why do the Shinners share that desire? Do they perhaps wish to discredit the notion of public investment by demonstrating that it does not provide worthwhile returns? Or do they want to show that they are willing to implement Fianna Fáil projects, in preparation for a future Free State coalition overnment?

Pollboy Lock

I mentioned some time ago that, according to its Business Plan 2015, Waterways Ireland was considering automating Pollboy Lock, on the River Suck to Ballinasloe, in order to save costs. Like other offshoots from the main Shannon Navigation [Killaloe to Lough Key], the Suck is relatively little used.

According to the Connacht Tribune, the automation is to proceed and the lockkeeper is to be reassigned. It seems that some local councillors and “business interests” — who do not, as far as I know, contribute to Waterways Ireland’s income — regret the loss of an ambassador for the town. The keeper, Mr Coyne, was indeed extremely helpful to visiting boaters.

However, he could help only those who arrived at his lock: he could do nothing to attract more boating visitors to the town. That is not in the least a criticism of him, but rather a suggestion that councillors and business interests might perhaps have done, or yet do, more to attract visitors and increase the usage of the splendid harbour in Ballinasloe. Perhaps they might even appoint and pay a town ambassador?

A Sinn Féin councillor quoted in the article seems not to be entirely familliar with the duties of lockkeepers. Furthermore, he does not take account of the fact that the Shannon–Erne Waterway succeeds without lockkeepers — or that it was proposed that the Clones Sheugh [not-the-Ulster-Canal] operate in the same way. Surely a Sinn Féin councillor is not suggesting that, without keepers, the Sheugh might not be the enormous success that his party purports to believe it would be?

PS: the Tribune also has a piece about rubbish at Castle Harbour, Portumna.


Placing Percy

Back in May 2013, I wondered whether 53 Percy Place, Dublin 4, which Waterways Ireland was being forced to sell to dig the Clones Sheugh, would still be on its hands in a year or two. And so it was, but in August 2015, I noted that the property was for sale to fund Saunderson’s Sheugh, which we’re all pretending is the Clones Sheugh (aka the Ulster Canal).

The interesting point was that Messrs CBRE wanted over €1.6 million for the site, which was the valuation put upon it in 2008. The 2012 valuation was €650,000 and the 2013 €800,000. I wrote:

On the basis of its asking price for Percy Place, WI seems to believe that the property collapse is over; perhaps it is even now in negotiation to develop Plot 8 and build a sheugh all the way to Clones. In the meantime, if it gets €1.6 million for Percy Place, that will help to alleviate the damage caused by the smash-and-grab raid carried out by the Department of Fairytales to pay for Saunderson’s Sheugh.

Well, it seems that the boom is back. According to the respectable people’s Sunday newspaper, the Sunday Business Post, of 18 October 2015, WI got over €2 million for the site. The SBP is paywalled and I can’t find online confirmation elsewhere, but it’s a high price.

I did note on the CBRE site that the Twelfth Lock Hotel, that haunt of Stakhanovite homoeroticism on the Royal Canal in Blanchardstown, is for sale again. I haven’t been there for some years, so I don’t know whether the mural is still extant.


WI and the RoI budget for 2016

Budget documents [available here] include the Part IV Estimates for Public Services 2016 [PDF]. The Summary of Gross Expenditure (Capital and Current) by Ministerial Vote Group shows that the Department of Fairytales [aka Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht], RoI parent of Waterways Ireland, is to get an increase in its budget.

Its forecast outturn for 2015 matches its estimate for the year at €277,434,000, of which €215,854,000 is current and €61,580,000 is capital spending. However, the estimates for 2016 show €234,430,000 current + €76,000,000 capital = €310,430,000 total, an increase of €32,996,000. Current spending is up 8.6% and capital by 23.4%; total spending is up by 11.9%. Perhaps the extra €14,420,000 in capital spending is to extend Saunderson’s Sheugh to Clones?

Skipping the numerous tables that repeat more or less the same gen in different ways, and skipping too the unimportant government departments, we zoom forward to the details of the Department of Fairytales estimates.

But there we find, alas, that while the department as a whole has secured lots of extra lolly — and it’s going to be shovelling 18% more to the luvvies [Arts, Culture and Film], 11% more to heritage and 3% more to the BéalBochters — it intends to cut spending on North-South Cooperation, which is where Waterways Ireland gets its money.

The 2015 estimate for NSCoop current expenditure was €35,072,000; the 2016 estimate is €34,925,000, which is a cut of only about half of one per cent. But capital spending on NSCoop is down almost 20%, from €3,487,000 to €2,799,000, and total spending down 2% from €38,559,000 to €37,724,000.

The NSCoop figures are “subject to the North-South Ministerial Council”, which means that the (southern, Fine Gael) Minister for Fairytales has to persuade the (northern, Sinn Féin) Minister for Marching Bands that the cross-border language and waterways bodies aren’t getting any increase in their funding from the Free State, at least not while there is an election to be won. However, HM Devolved Administration didn’t seem too keen on allocating extra money to waterways last time I looked.

Regular readers will not need to be reminded that 85% of WI’s current budget is supplied by the RoI government and 15% by the NI administration, while capital expenditure is paid for by the state in which it occurs.

The estimates figures as shown don’t tell us the precise impact on Waterways Ireland’s current budget: the money is divided between WI and the language shamrock but the document doesn’t tell us which gets how much. [The last time a breakdown was given was in 2011, when WI got roughly 60% of the total.] However, most of the department’s NSCoop capital expenditure is undertaken by WI, and little or none of it by the language shamrock, so we can say that the 20% cut in NSCoop capital spending means a 20% cut in capital spending on waterways in the Free State.

The breakdown of the Multi-Annual Capital Investment Framework confirms that: in 2015 €3,368,000 of the €3,487,000 NSCoop capital budget (96.5%) went to WI, and in 2016 WI will get €2,680,000 of the €2,799,000 NSCoop capital budget (95.7%). I imagine that the language folk prefer sitting i dtóin an tí and don’t want fancy buildings.

WI’s capital budget for RoI is down from €11,000,000 in 2008.

According to the Multi-Annual Capital Investment Framework 2016 to 2021 (Table 1), the Department of Fairytales as a whole is getting an unusually large amount, €76,000,000, of Exchequer Capital Funding in 2016; the total is to fall back to €45 million in 2017 and €43 million in 2018, before rising to €46 million in each of the years 2018, 2020 and 2021. So, in a year in which the department is getting much more money for capital spending, NSCoop and, specifically, waterways are getting significantly less.

Looking at the breakdown (Table 2), it seems that the big changes in the department’s capital spending are:

  • a major cut in the grant-in-aid to the Crawford Gallery (€12,100,000 to €6,100,000)
  • cuts of €1,312,000 to the National Parks and Wildlife Service and €1,000,000 to Údarás na Gaeltachta
  • a cut of €688,000 to WI
  • an extra €1,150,000 for Teach an Phiarsaigh under the Decade of Centenaries heading
  • a new thing called Built Heritage Jobs Leverage Scheme gets €2,000,000
  • another new thing called Cork Event Centre gets €5,000,000
  • and, the biggest of the lot, Decade of Centenaries 1912–1922 gets an extra €15,270,000, to bring its capital budget to €28,800,000, by far the largest item in the budget.

There are a few other minor changes, but the increased allocation of €15,270,000 to the main Decade of Centenaries item has more than swallowed the extra €14,420,000 allocated to the department. Three other significant items — Teach an Phiarsaigh, the Cork Event Centre and the Built Heritage Jobs Leverage Scheme, which between them have been given an extra €8,150,000 — have been funded by the reduced allocations to the Crawford Gallery, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Údarás na Gaeltachta and Waterways Ireland.

So there’s no money for Sinn Féin’s beloved Clones Sheugh.

Smell of coffee …

wafts over Clones.

I still have no idea why Sinn Féin thinks the Clones Sheugh would cause any significant increase in tourism, or any other economic benefit.

€200 million for the sheugh?

What does Chris Lyttle [Alliance Party MLA] know that I don’t?

On 16 June 2015 he submitted this written question [AQW 47282/11-15], to which he has yet to receive an answer:

To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what consideration the Executive has given to supporting the Lagan Canal Trust objective of reopening the Lagan Canal from Belfast Harbour to Lough Neagh in light of the Irish Government’s approval of €200 million investment by Waterways Ireland in the Ulster Canal.

To the best of my knowledge, the WI “investment” is €2 million, not €200 million. But perhaps I’m missing something? If, Gentle Reader, you can explain Mr Lyttle’s figure, please leave a Comment below.

Given that the restoration of the Lagan would be quite as insane as that of the Clones Sheugh, it seems that the Alliance Party gets its economic ideas from the Shinners.


WI and oral history

I learn from the Heritage Council that Waterways Ireland is seeking tenders for a pilot oral history project. The winner is to

  • Undertake a minimum of 3 interviews per waterway under our jurisdiction (see list above in Introduction). Any interviews relating to the Ulster Canal will be included as part of the Lough Erne Collection for the purposes of this pilot project. […] The interview questionnaire (to be agreed with Waterways Ireland) should endeavour to elicit material that adds to our existing archive, would be beneficial in our schools education programme and used in a broader promotion capacity.

  • Devise an oral history handbook for Waterways Ireland so staff members and community groups can advance this project in years to come.

  • Deliver training on best practices and guidelines in oral history interview skills and techniques. All training to be delivered in Waterways Ireland offices.

This is very interesting for several reasons. Let me get two quibbles out of the way first:

  • Why is the Clones Sheugh treated as part of the Erne? And why mention that specifically? What sensitivity is being addressed here?
  • Why is this tender not mentioned on WI’s Tenders page or the Current tenders page to which it links or anywhere else that the WI search engine can find?

I think there are four important points about this.

First, it is good that WI is devoting resources to the collection of oral history.

Second, it is good that it has applications in mind for the material: it may be used both in WI educational programmes and in marketing.

Third, the requirement for a training programme and a handbook is yet more evidence [on top of Éanna Rowe’s appointment to manage the Shannon] that the balance of skills required within Waterways Ireland nowadays is different from that of the past. While engineering will always be important, given the extent of the waterways infrastructure that has to be maintained, WI needs a higher proportion of people engaging with users, potential users and communities or devising product variants to attract such users. The marketing department can’t do all the work by itself.

Fourth, it is good that “community groups” as well as “staff members” will be able to use the oral history handbook. I hope that the term “community groups” won’t be interpreted too strictly — that individual amateur historians, for example, will be able to use the handbook — so that all waterways oral history can follow a common format, that the records are conserved properly and that the appropriate consents to the use of the material are collected at the time of the interview.

I should perhaps make a declaration of non-interest: I am much occupied with the waterways of the early nineteenth century but have not, so far, found any survivors from that time whom I could interview. But I might, perhaps, be allowed to express the hope that WI won’t altogether neglect such earlier history, about which there is much yet to be learned.


Bloody Fianna Fáil …

… obviously didn’t get the memo. [They didn’t get the marriage equality memo either, thus losing one of their better people — who needs to update the banner under her photos.] But a nos moutons ….

According to Northern Sound, Monaghan County Council wants the Monaghan Minister for Fairytales, Heather Humphreys, to meet her Northern Ireland counterpart, the Minister for Marching Bands [and boxing clubs, football stadiums and various other things about which MLAs ask questions: they’re as bad as TDs], to do something about the Clones Sheugh.

I suspect this means that FF, and perhaps the citizens of Monaghan, have realised that, despite the Momentous Day on the Ulster Canal [oops: sorry; not that one, this one], the Clones Sheugh has been hijacked by Co Cavan and is not actually going to reach Co Monaghan in the foreseeable future [which means until the next round of election promises].

As far as I can see, the deal was that Sinn Féin would shut up about the Sheugh provided that they got photos of activity before the UKoGB&NI general election. By nicking the money from other navigations in WI’s budget, the Minister for Fairytales was able to deliver the photos. And, as far as Google Alerts can tell, there hasn’t been a word about the Sheugh from the Shinners, north or south, since then. Of course I could be wrong about the deal and, if both departments will send me their full files on the subject, I’ll be happy to use that evidence to correct the story.

Now, though, a Fianna Fáil councillor in Monaghan has

… put forward the motion requesting the Ministers to meet to advance the project and asking Sinn Féin and Fine Gael members of the council to arrange the meeting urgently.

I don’t suppose he’d be trying to embarrass the parties that made the deal, would he? [If they did make a deal, of course, which they may not have, but we won’t know until the departments send on their files.]

SF has 7 members on Monaghan County Council, FG 5, FF 4 and there are two non-party members.

Speaking of parties, or their aftermath, a thought struck me:

Ulster Canal 01 whole_resize

Fianna Fáil’s original conception for the Sheugh: bold, upstanding, thrusting …

Ulster Canal 04 whole_resize

The current plan: brewer’s droop


Hurrah for the red, white and orange

Colour discrimination seems to be rampant in Ireland. Of the sets of colours [red, white and blue] and [green, white and orange], there is Official Endorsement of two, green and blue, while red, white and orange are ignored. Even the North/South Ministerial Council has got in on the act, with a whole page on its website about greenways and blueways. They must have been overdosing on the Erne flag. Their page is a list of links, sort of plonked there without context or explanation, but there’s probably some hands-across-the-borderism or something going on.

I read in the Guardian today of a proposal for a greenway on the former railway line between Roscrea and Portumna via Birr. And a jolly good thing too, but how many greenways and blueways can one small island accommodate? How thinly will the tourists be spread? And what about those of us who hate walking, cycling, kayaking and other such energetic pursuits?