Craggy Island’s secrets

Government departments have been putting on line the briefing documents they prepared for incoming ministers. Craggy Island (nach maireann) has done the same, and you can read all about it … or at least about the bits that they feel like revealing to citizens. And, as you might expect, Waterways Ireland has Very Sensitive Issues ….

WI’s budget

Anyway, the Minister (which one?) now knows that Waterways Ireland comes under the heading of Rural Development, run by Principal Officer Aidan O’Reilly, based in Tubbercurry. He is (or was: these documents date from March 2011) also in charge of rural development, rural recreation, marine leisure and northsouthery, reporting to Assistant Secretary Rita McNulty. Record 1 General Brief Part 1 says:

The 2011 budget for WI is the subject of ongoing discussions between the co-sponsoring Departments [ie Craggy Island and NI’s DCAL] and will require formal approval by the North/South Ministerial Council in due course. WI’s priorities for 2011 include the ongoing [it’s that word again] re-commissioning of the Royal Canal (which links Dublin with the River Shannon) and progressing work on the re-opening of the Ulster Canal from Upper Lough Erne to Clones. The section of the Ulster Canal proposed for re-opening is some 13km in length. Preliminary design, land acquisition and the acquiring of planning permission are underway and construction is anticipated to commence in 2011 and to be completed in 2013, subject to resources.

Well, that’s pretty definitive: it might or might not happen. WI’s capital budget for 2011 is said to be €6m; the cost of building the Clones Canal was said to be €35m (although no recent basis for that costing has been published, as far as I know). Three years at €6m (2011–2013 inclusive) won’t meet even that cost but no doubt, given the prosperity of the Irish economy, it will be easy to double the amount available.

The EU/IMF Programme of Financial Support for Ireland of 16 December 2010 suggests that the government’s capital spending will be cut every year up to 2013.

Issues for ministerial attention

Back to the briefing documents. The Issues for Ministerial attention say this about Waterways Ireland:

Next paragraph in relation to Waterways Ireland is exempt from release under Section 20, Section 21 and Section 24 (d) of the FOI Acts.

Not that anybody asked them, as far as I know: the FOI Act is irrelevant as the department could itself decide to release the information. My guess at the missing text is this:

We promised to spent millions on that canal to Clones; we haven’t got the money and we have no idea where to get it. Could you lean on Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin please?

For the Finance/IT Division, we read:

Given the nature of capital expenditure, contractual commitments must be entered into in advance in order for projects to proceed. Discussions have been [guess what?] ongoing at official level with the Department of Finance on securing (a) the prospect of additional funding for LEADER in future years and (b) sanction to make additional commitments this year in respect of future years.

However, a litle earlier it said:

The multi-annual capital investment sanction was received recently from the Department of Finance.

I can’t find anything further about that.

Priority issues

The priority issues document says this:

Waterways Ireland — As is the case with An Foras Teanga, decisions will be required in relation to Waterways Ireland, including approval of business plans and budgets for 2011.

I wonder whether that has happened.

The Waterways Ireland staffing secret

The briefing document on state agencies and bodies gives some background information about WI. Then:

Staffing of State Body

Waterways Ireland has NSMC approval for 381 Full Time Equivalent posts (FTE). Employee numbers at the end of 2010 were 364.

Key Issues for State Body in 2011

Budget: The 2011 budget and business plan are the subject of [here it comes] ongoing discussions with the co-sponsoring NI Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, and the Departments of Finance, and will require formal approval by the North/South Ministerial Council in due course.

Staffing: Next paragraph in relation to Waterways Ireland is exempt from release under Section 20, Section 21 and Section 24(d) of the FOI Acts.

Well, well. So there is a secret about staffing. And it’s a big secret, which the Craggicians can’t tell us about because (a) they’re still thinking about it (FOI Section 20), (b) it might affect negotiations (Section 21) and (c) it could cause Northern Ireland to invade us (Section 24(d)) or something. If I worked in WI, I’d be a bit worried about that — although it could be that Craggy Island just doesn’t like revealing anything that might be embarrassing.

Ask the experts

The document on northsouthery reveals that a “review of the North-South Implementation Bodies and Areas for Co-operation” is “being taken forward by a Review Group of senior officials and an advisory panel of four experts/advisers, two appointed by the Northern ireland Executive and two appointed by the Irish Government, reporting to the NSMC”. The term of reference relevant to WI, the first, says that the group will “examine objectively the efficiency and value for money of existing Implementation Bodies”.

The review is covered on the NSMC website. Joint communiqués from plenary meetings say:

5 July 2010: The Council agreed that recommendations in a report prepared for the Review Group by an advisory panel of experts/advisors, would be forwarded for views to Ministers who have responsibility for the North South Bodies. They noted consultation that is underway within Executive departments on the second and third terms of reference of the St Andrews Agreement Review and anticipated that the Review Group would move rapidly to conclude its work when this is complete. Ministers agreed to consider the outcome of consultation that is underway in both jurisdictions at a future NSMC meeting.

21 January 2011:  The Council noted that the consultation with relevant Ministers in both jurisdictions on all aspects of the St Andrews Agreement Review is now near completion and taking account of the outcome of this consultation, the Review Group will prepare a report for consideration by NSMC at its Plenary meeting in June 2011.

10 June 2011: Ministers noted proposals relating to Terms of Reference 1 and prepared by the St Andrews Agreement Review Group arising from consultation on recommendations in a report prepared by experts/advisers to the Review Group. They agreed that these will be forwarded, along with a copy of the report, for consideration by Ministers in the new Executive and Irish Government with responsibilities for North South Bodies and Finance Ministers and that, taking account of these considerations, the NSMC Joint Secretariat will make recommendations to finalise this element of the Review at the NSMC Plenary meeting in November 2011. They further agreed that Terms of Reference 2 and 3 of the St Andrews Review will be discussed also at that meeting.

No info on what the proposals actually are, alas. Must be a secret.

The crossborder secret

The northsouthery document repeats background information about WI and its current budget and says:

Next paragraph in relation to Waterways Ireland is exempt from release under Section 20, Section 21 and Section 24(d) of the FOI Acts.

So another unknown unknown. Or perhaps the same one. Who knows?

The remaining briefing documents have no relevant content.

Justifying secrecy

The official description of the waterways secrets is this:

Text in relation to administrative matters and Waterways Ireland

The official explanations for the secrecy are these:

Section 20 protects against the release of material related to an ongoing deliberative process of the Department or ongoing discussions at Departmental level.

Or in other words “When we’ve made our decision we’ll tell you about it. And no, we don’t want any information, comments or suggestions from any informed citizens until then.”

Section 21(1)(c) provides for this material to be withheld on the grounds that release may have an adverse effect on negotiations being carried out by the Department.

Note “may have”. The probability might be less than 1%, so this is an ideal excuse.

Section 24(d) also provides for this material to be withheld on the grounds that release could have an adverse effect on matters relating to Northern Ireland.

We’re not talking about terrorists here: we’re talking about canals and rivers and boats. What adverse effects could there be?










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