The Dáil discussed the Good Friday Agreement on Tuesday 14 and Wednesday 15 May 2013. On the Tuesday the minister, Jimmy Deenihan (FG, Kerry North/West Limerick), gave the standard line on the Clones Sheugh:
One of the projects it is currently progressing is the restoration and reopening of the Ulster Canal between Clones and Upper Lough Erne. Planning permission has been granted by Cavan County Council, Monaghan County Council, Clones Town Council and, more recently, the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment planning service. I have established an interagency group to explore funding options for advancing the Ulster Canal project, including existing funding streams and leveraging funding from other sources. The group comprises county managers from Monaghan and Cavan county councils, the director of leisure development and arts from Fermanagh District Council, representatives from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Fáilte Ireland, the Strategic Investment Board, Waterways Ireland and senior officials from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. The next meeting of the interagency group will take place later this week. This interagency approach has been effective elsewhere and I suggest it could be used for similar projects in future.
Nobody else mentioned the Sheugh that day, but on the following day local man Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin (SF, Cavan-Monaghan) gave a rose-tinted account of the benefits of canal restoration:
The second outstanding issue I wish to raise is the Ulster Canal. Far-seeing individuals, not least in the local communities, saw the potential long ago of re-opening the Ulster Canal from Lough Erne in County Fermanagh, through Clones in County Monaghan and on to Lough Neagh. This was a flagship project identified in the Good Friday Agreement and confirmed in subsequent negotiations and agreements. Those far-seeing people saw the potential economic return for entire communities throughout this beautiful part of rural Ireland with the opening up of the Erne-Shannon waterway, linking Lough Erne with the River Shannon. They rightly concluded that similar benefits could be gained from re-opening the Ulster Canal, with the 13 km Erne to Clones section marked out as the first phase of the overall project.
In July 2007, nearly six years ago, the North-South Ministerial Council agreed to proceed with the Ulster Canal project. That was widely welcomed at the time, especially in the Border counties, where the peace dividend had been very slow to materialise. It was widely seen as vindication of the campaign of the local communities and the calls from elected representatives of all parties North and South, including my Sinn Féin colleagues and me, for this very positive project to be advanced. In the intervening period we have seen the economic collapse in this State and a parallel contraction in the North. Despite that, the Ulster Canal project was kept live. Nonetheless, it took until October 2011 for Waterways Ireland to lodge planning applications. Permission was granted last month for the northern section by Minister for the Environment, Alex Attwood, and earlier this month by Clones Town Council and Monaghan County Council for the section in this jurisdiction. The Minister, Deputy 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 Government to do all in its power to expedite this process. I also urge the Minister, Deputy Deenihan, and other colleagues to maximise the possible EU funding for the project from the PEACE IV programme. The Ulster Canal project is hugely important, not only symbolically, but will prove to be powerful in terms of economic development across this island. It is time to get the work on the ground under way.
Nobody else mentioned it.