“Ireland has no inland waterways …” says Minister for Transport

Those very words came from Leo Varadkar [FG, Dublin West], Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, in a written answer to a Dáil question on 3 December 2013.

I have, of course, quoted him selectively and out of context. The full sentence was

Ireland has no inland waterways within the definition of the EU legislation as Ireland’s inland waterways are not navigable for commercial traffic and we do not have any interconnected inland commercial transport for the purposes, or on the scale, envisaged by EU proposals in this area.

The poor man was responding to yet another question from the Pest of the Royal Canal, Maureen O’Sullivan [Ind, Dublin Central], who was continuing her misguided campaign to get public money from anywhere at all to replace Effin Bridge, the lifting railway bridge at Newcomen Bridge over the Royal Canal in Dublin 1. I reported on her campaign here, here and here, with the last of those showing that current demand for passages is less than the (admittedly restricted) supply. That being so, I cannot see how any expenditure on replacing Effin Bridge could be justified, especially in the country’s current situation and with Waterways Ireland desperate for money. I would, of course, have no objection to any voluntary fund-raising campaign that Ms O’Sullivan might initiate.

Ms O’Sullivan questioned two ministers on 3 December. She asked Leo Varadkar:

…  if his attention has been drawn to Inland Waterway Transport Funding, the Funding Guide for Inland Waterway Transport in Europe published by the European Commission’s Directorate General for Energy and Transport in 2008; the reason the 19 countries’ inland waterways systems referenced in the publication does not include Ireland; if he will ensure that any future edition of the guide will contain a country profile for Ireland including information on major inland waterways and ports together with an overview on the national inland waterways transport funding policy, funding programmes and institutions; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The saintly and erudite minister replied:

The Funding Guide that the Deputy refers to was published following the launch of the 2006 NAIADES Action Programme, a multi-annual programme on the promotion of inland waterways transport. The Commission has recently decided to update and renew this programme until 2020. Ireland does not have a country profile in the Funding Guide as, in general, Ireland is exempt from EU inland waterways rules and proposals since they relate to waterways of a greater size and carrying a greater capacity of goods than exist in Ireland. The European Union’s inland waterway network spans 20 Member States with about 37,000 kilometres of inland waterways. Every year, these transport around 500 million tons of cargo, in particular in the densely populated and congested areas of Germany, the Netherlands, France and Belgium.

Ireland has no inland waterways within the definition of the EU legislation as Ireland’s inland waterways are not navigable for commercial traffic and we do not have any interconnected inland commercial transport for the purposes, or on the scale, envisaged by EU proposals in this area.

My Department is responsible for licensing all commercial inland craft in Ireland. There are no commercial cargo craft on Ireland’s inland waterways, apart from some small workboats. There are a number of domestic passenger boats and ships operating locally as tourist excursion vessels.

Ireland keeps a watching brief on EU inland waterways matters, mainly to ensure that any proposals do not conflict with, or overlap, the existing maritime safety regimes.

I expect that Ms O’Sullivan will be back shortly to propose the setting up of a horse-drawn barge fleet on the Royal Canal, returning Ireland to the late eighteenth century, to which the Irish left (and republicans) seem so devoted.

Her other questions were to Jimmy Deenihan [FG, Kerry North/West Limerick], Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. She asked:

… if he will identify the various State agencies whose operations bear upon the management of the Royal Canal and the steps they are taking, individually or collaboratively; if he will increase commercial-leisure use of the Royal Canal since the reopening of Spencer Dock to navigation in 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

… if the European Regional Development Fund has been considered as a possible source of funding towards the costs, estimated at over €5 million, of overcoming obstacles to navigation, namely, the lifting bridge and the fixed Spencer Dock bridge on the sea level of the Royal Canal; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The patient and polite minister said:

[…] Waterways Ireland is the navigation authority for the Royal Canal and is responsible for the management, maintenance and development of the Royal Canal, principally for recreational purposes. Waterways Ireland undertook the work to re-commission the Royal Canal prior to its reopening in 2010 and continues to develop the canal and its facilities, and promote its use for recreation.

I am advised that Waterways Ireland has not sought funding to redevelop the lifting bridge referred to by the Deputy and has no plans to seek such funding at this time. Ongoing operation of the bridge continues to be kept under review with Iarnród Éireann, while Dublin City Council remains responsible for the operation of the Spencer Dock Bridge at Sheriff Street.

And rightly so.

Note that the €5 million figure referred only to Effin Bridge; replacing Sheriff Street Bridge would be another kettle of fish.

2 responses to ““Ireland has no inland waterways …” says Minister for Transport

  1. “…current demand for passages is less than the (admittedly restricted) supply” – the only traffic is tourist and leisure use, and the current arrangements basically preclude any casual holiday makers from wanting to book passage. There would be no point! Hirers typically hire for 1 week, perhaps two. Given how infrequent the bridge openings hour, how would a hirer on the Royal Canal fit passage through the bridge into their 6 days of cruising? Where would they go once they’d gotten through it? And how would they get back again?

  2. As you know, I gave some thought to those issues here; I should warn readers that that page was written some years ago and may need updating.

    However, there are only two hire boats (that I know of) on the Royal Canal and none (that I know of) on the main line of the Grand Canal. I see no reason to borrow millions on the off chance that a casual holiday maker might want to make the passage.

    bjg

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