I wonder why Sinn Féin asks questions when it does. This one [h/t KildareStreet.com] seems to have been asked at a time that the minister might have welcomed.
Sandra McLellan [SF, Cork East]:
To ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the position regarding the Ulster Canal restoration project; the steps that must be taken to complete the project; the indicative timeline for the completion of the project; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Jimmy Deenihan [FG, Kerry North/West Limerick] [the third para is the interesting one]:
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, the economic downturn has had a negative impact on those plans.
I am continuing to explore all possible options to advance this project within the current fiscal constraints. In this regard, I established an Inter-Agency Group on the Ulster Canal to explore 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. The Inter-Agency Group last met on 9th October and will meet again next week, on 9th December.
In the meantime, the Ulster Canal project is progressing on an incremental basis. Planning approvals have now been received for the project in both jurisdictions. Compulsory Purchase Order land maps are in preparation and consideration is being given to how the construction work and other technical aspects of the project will be structured once the necessary lands have been secured. The timeline for completion of the project will be determined when these preparatory steps have been completed.
I welcome these developments, which, I am sure the Deputy will agree, are a significant milestone for the project.
Hmm. The inter-agency group first met on 20 September 2012 and its second meeting was to take place in May 2013 or thereabouts. Now it’s going much faster, with meetings on 9 October and today, 9 December. Does this suggest that the group has found a pot of gold? Is there any link to the cancellation of SEUPB funding for the Narrow Water project?
And what has been going on in (and around) the North/South Ministerial Council? At its June 2013 meeting the Council approved or noted:
- the business plan for 2012 (which had ended six months earlier)
- the budget for 2012
- the annual report for 2012
- the draft accounts for 2012.
That suggests to me that there was either a major disagreement between the northern and southern ministers or a serious problem that rendered ministers unable to approve the WI budget and business plan until 18 months after the documents were required. Could it be that the northern minister, Carál Ní Chuilín [SF], like other NI politicians, had been looking for something from the waterways sector that hasn’t been delivered so far?
Note also that Jimmy Deenihan said
[…] consideration is being given to how the construction work and other technical aspects of the project will be structured once the necessary lands have been secured.
I understand that the design and construction of the Clones Sheugh was to be put out to tender but I wonder whether keeping the work in house might help WI to meet its increasing wage costs with a declining budget.