Sinn Féin demonstrates its continuing commitment to the unification of Ireland reconstruction of the Clones Sheugh. KildareStreet tells us that Sandra McLellan, TD for Cork East, no doubt motivated by the wealth of waterways in her own area, asked a written question on 18 July 2013:
To ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the position regarding the Ulster Canal restoration project; the remaining steps that must be taken to complete the project; if he will provide an indicative timeline for the completion of the project; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
She got a more or less standard answer from the minister, Jimmy Deenihan [FG, Kerry North/West Limerick]:
As the Deputy will be aware, in July 2007, the North/South Ministerial Council (NSMC) agreed to proceed with the restoration of the section of the Ulster Canal between Clones and Upper Lough Erne. The then Government agreed to cover the full capital costs of the project, which were estimated at that time to be of the order of €35m.
It was always the intention that the Ulster Canal project would be funded from the Waterways Ireland annual allocations, as agreed through the annual estimates processes in this jurisdiction, as well as the deliberations of NSMC in relation to annual budgets. It was a key consideration throughout the process that the Ulster Canal project would be supported by a significant level of projected income from the commercialisation of certain Waterways Ireland assets. However, as the Deputy will be aware, the economic downturn has had a negative impact on those plans.
In the meantime, the Ulster Canal project is progressing on an incremental basis. Planning approvals have recently been secured for the project in both jurisdictions. I welcome these developments, which, I am sure the Deputy will agree, are a significant milestone for the project.
I am continuing to explore all possible options to advance this project within the current fiscal constraints. In this regard, an Inter-Agency Group on the Ulster Canal has been established to explore and examine ways to advance the project and to examine possible funding options for it, including existing funding streams and the leveraging of funding from other sources, including EU funding options.
Isn’t it funny? Every so often the shinners ask a question to remind the minister that they, er, haven’t gone away, you know. They don’t get really aggressive about it and they don’t seem to be organising mass rallies in Clones to demand a sheugh. And the minister is equally polite, saying in effect “we haven’t shot your horse”.
This project is not very important: it’s a waste of money and will be of no benefit to the national economy, and a government seeking savings could easily kill it off. Yet it has refused, over several years, to take that obvious step. Instead, it’s devoting departmental time, and that of other public servants, to (admittedly low-cost) measures that seem to be intended to show that the project will be maintained on life support, even if it never rises from its bed.
Is there something in the St Andrew’s Agreement, or some other bit of northsouthery, that promises a sheugh to Sinn Féin, to enable them to claim credit for some high-profile but non-threatening all-Irelandism? Is the Clones Sheugh the price of SF support for the Police Service of Northern Ireland? I don’t know, but there must be some explanation for the failure to kill off the sheugh.