Pull the plug: drain the canals

The worst aspect of the piece published by the Indo last Sunday is that information is presented entirely without context. Persecuted boatowners are, it seems, to be forced to pay money, and the economy of the canals (such as it is) is to be damaged, for no reason whatsoever. The assertions of the boatowners go unchallenged.

Happily, this site provides a bilge-cleaning service. Here is the news.

1. Waterways Ireland is in dire financial straits

I have written extensively here about Waterways Ireland’s finances. I pointed out that there is a continuing dispute between the NI minister responsible for waterways and her southern counterpart, but that if the RoI government gets its way WI’s income will be cut by one third between 2010 and 2016. I showed that WI’s operating income is negligible and that most categories of expenditure have already been cut; I also showed that retirements will increase the cost of pensions benefits from just under €1000000 in 2011 to just under €2400000 in 2016, which will account for 10% of the total real staffing budget.

The combined effect is that Waterways Ireland needs to make further cuts in its spending, but that its scope for doing so is extremely limited: further cuts are bound to affect the staffing budget. WI’s only other option is to increase its (pathetically small) operating income.

2. canals and Barrow are disproportionately expensive

Here, I gave WI’s programme costs for 2011, taken from the annual report for that year (the most recent available). Here they are again, rearranged:

Royal Canal €2908k
Grand Canal €1556k
Barrow €600k

Total Canals + Barrow €5064k

Shannon €1882k
Erne & Lower Bann €478k
Shannon–Erne Waterway €658k

Total other waterways €3018k

There are all sorts of caveats to be entered about these figures: for instance, as I observed here, WI has different levels of non-navigational responsibilities on different waterways, and programme costs do not include staffing costs; nor do they include overheads like IT, marketing, personnel and so on.

But the Canal-and-Barrow costs clearly offer more scope for cutting than those for other waterways, as WI’s Corporate Plan 2011–2013 recognised. I showed here that it proposed these cuts for the period:

  • Grand Canal €910,000
  • Royal Canal €503,000
  • Barrow Navigation €387,000
  • Shannon Navigation €662,000
  • Shannon–Erne Waterway €232,000
  • Erne System €70,000
  • Lower Bann €69,000.

That’s €1800ooo in reductions from Canals + Barrow, €1033000 from the rest. However, budget developments since that plan was drawn up are likely to have increased the amounts required to be cut.

3. Canals and Barrow boaters get huge subsidies

I do not have up-to-date figures for the numbers of boats on the waterways, but suppose for the sake of argument that there are 500 on the Canals + Barrow and 8000 on the rest. I am confident that those figures are of the right order of magnitude.

In that case, counting only WI’s programme costs for the waterways in question and excluding staffing and central overheads, the costs to the taxpayer are:

  • Shannon, Erne, Shannon–Erne, Bann: €377.25 per boat
  • Grand, Royal, Barrow: €10128 per boat.

I hope to be able to provide better figures later, but the exact figures don’t matter very much: the point is that every boat on the canals and Barrow is benefiting to an enormous extent from taxpayer support. The poor persecuted boaters are seeking the continuation of a very, very privileged position: owners of camper vans, for instance, get no comparable benefit.

4. Canals and Barrow boaters contribute very little

I have figures for the numbers of boats on the canals and Barrow that held permits in September 2013. I have sought those for December, but I suspect that the number did not greatly increase by the end of the year.

By September:

  • 254 boats had Combined Mooring and Passage Permits
  • 134 boats had Extended Mooring and Passage Permits.

So the total contribution by boaters to the cost of the canals and Barrow was (254 X €126) + (134 X €152) = €52372, about 1% of the programme costs for the three waterways, which means it was considerably less than 1% of the total costs including salaries and overheads.

Let me dwell on that for a moment. The poor persecuted boaters, some of them members of organisations that claim to value the canals, themselves think that the canals are worth only €50000 a year, because that’s all they’re prepared to pay. It is not clear to me why anybody else, like the taxpayer, should pay more.

The poor persecuted boaters are now being asked to pay more than 1% of the total cost of the waterways they use (and, presumably, support). I would have thought that they would welcome an opportunity to contribute.

These figures also suggest that the level of compliance on these waterways is low, although I accept that my figures are inadequate and I will try to obtain more comprehensive information.

5. canals and Barrow are a poor use of public money

It is not clear how the taxpayer benefits by keeping the canals and Barrow open to navigation. Suppose Waterways Ireland were to open all the racks, drill holes in the bottoms of aqueducts and run off all the water. What then?

I suspect that it wouldn’t be that simple: that there are engineering-type reasons why some structures would need to be maintained and some water flow kept up. Perhaps the Morrell Feeder would suffice to keep the Grand Canal in Dublin looking nice; the flow from the Milltown Feeder, the canal’s main supply, could be sold off to Irish Water to relieve the Dublin drought. The Royal could simply be abandoned altogether; the Barrow would continue to be navigable by canoes and small craft. Shannon Harbour and Richmond Harbour could be kept in water (by pumping if necessary) and operated as commercial marinas, charging commercial rates.

Staffing could be reduced: even if there were no immediate redundancies (or transfers to Irish Water), the need for any new recruitment would be avoided for some time. Overtime would never be required and Irish Rail wouldn’t have to lift Effin Bridge.

So who would lose? The Irish tourist trade would hardly notice: as far as I can see, very few tourists go boating on canals or Barrow. There are two small hire firms on the Barrow Line, but apart from them there are (as far as I know: correct me if I’m wrong) only individual boats for hire here and there. Unless a large, well-capitalised firm, with a large marketing budget, moves in here, I can’t see there being any significant tourism activity that relies on there being water in the canals. Walking and cycling routes could be improved along the towing-paths, while the Barrow could also cater for canoeing and kayaking.

Who else benefits from having the canals and Barrow navigable? A publican or two in rural areas will sell an extra pint or two to passing boaters whose money might otherwise have been spent in Dublin; a takeaway in Tullamore will have a tiny increase in turnover … but that’s about it. This vast expenditure moves the spending of a few quid from Dublin to Daingean, but I doubt if the total is enough to create even one job in any location. I cannot see that there is any multiplier effect worth talking about.

Furthermore, such business as there is is highly seasonal, with very few boats moving any considerable distance other than in short periods in spring and autumn. Traffic is low in winter and summer.

Over the last ten years canal businesses have closed down. There were four hire fleets on the Barrow: they’ve all gone. Various trip boats have gone. Lowtown Marina is for sale. All of that during a period when capital expenditure on the canals was rising, facilities were being improved and charges to users ranged from low to non-existent.

I suggest therefore that spending on the canals and Barrow is not of any benefit to the tourist industry and is of minimal benefit to commercial service providers along the waterways. Instead the benefits go largely to two groups: the employees, who work for what they get, and the boat-owners.

6. Waterways Ireland should share the benefits

The cost of a year-round berth for a 60′ barge at a marina in a small village on the east (Dublin) side of Lough Derg is €3000. Lower rates are available on the west side.

The cost of a year-round berth for a 60′ (or any other size) barge in Shannon Harbour, a small village on the east (Dublin) side of the Shannon is currently that of an Extended Mooring and Passage Permit, €152. Thus Waterways Ireland is providing a benefit worth over €2800 to someone keeping a barge at Shannon Harbour.

I can see no good reason why Waterways Ireland should allow the Shannon Harbour owner the whole of that benefit: it would seem reasonable that Waterways Ireland should claw back at least half of it. Most marinas charge by the foot (or metre) of length, so rates for other boats could be worked out in proportion.

A berth at Shannon Harbour enjoys easy access to the Shannon; a berth in (say) Pollagh is less favourably situated and might thus be charged for at a lower rate. But berths closer to Dublin – say at Sallins or Hazelhatch or at the Leinster Mills on the Naas Branch — should attract a premium. And folk who are saving money by living in boats should be happy to share part of their savings with Waterways Ireland. (I don’t know what the premiums should be but, in another post, I’ll discuss pricing.)

The point here, the point ignored by the Indo, is that Waterways Ireland needs to narrow the gap between income and expenditure on the canals and Barrow. It is entirely fair that it should charge for the services it provides and that the burden should be borne by those who benefit.

However, it should be noted that WI’s charges are not inescapable: anyone who does not want to pay them is at liberty to remove his or her boat from the canal or Barrow and place it elsewhere, or to sell it and buy a camper van.

That being so, I see no more ground for objecting to any level of charge that WI might bring in than there is for objecting to the prices in, say, Brown Thomas.


If (as seems to be the case) boaters’ organisations are incapable of engaging in rational discussion of the funding and management of the waterways, I suggest that Waterways Ireland should ignore them. Just pull the plug, shut down the canals and spend the savings elsewhere.

WI and the state should not continue to spend ridiculously large amounts of public money subsidising the leisure activities of a small number of people, who don’t themselves value what they’re getting, when there is little benefit to the economy as a whole. There has to be some better balance between income and expenditure on the canals and Barrow.

28 responses to “Pull the plug: drain the canals

  1. To say that spending on the Canals and Barrow is only for the benefit of 500 boat owners is a simplistic analysis. Thousands of people in the towns and villages along their banks use them for regular walks, cycling, fishing, canoeing and even swimming in summertime. Boats are only part of the reason why they are maintained and their presence adds to the overall experience of all users of the amenity, whether they are local communities or the small, but increasing number of tourists walking the tow-paths. If they were abandoned as navigations all activity would suffer. To take the operation and maintenance costs and divide by 500 boats and come up with a figure saying that each boat owner on the 3 navigations in question is being subsidised to the tune of €10,000 a year is the kind of poor analysis one might expect from the Waterways Ireland PR department.

    If there was proper maintenance and facilities at regular intervals as you will find on the Shannon there would be far more boats on the canals. But as many boaters have found out the hard way, canals in Ireland take their toll on boats – weeds, lock-gates not opening properly and low water levels make canal boating a more difficult and costly cruising experience.

    As for tourism development – They are completely under-developed resources. All stakeholders, including Waterways Ireland, Failte Ireland and County Councils are in agreement on this. While the traditional barge hire business has struggled on the canals and barrow, I for one am prepared to invest in this untapped resource and have recently launched http://www.bargetrip.ie. There are other small start-ups emerging on the canals and I don’t believe that tourism development is dependent on a large corporate with a barge full of money arriving on the scene.

    On the subject of paying fees I believe everyone should pay for the services provided. If the 14,000 registered boat owners on the 7 navigations under WI’s control (their figures as stated in the Senad by the Minister last week) were to pay what I pay to them for one 45 ft barge it would bring in €3.9 million. To take a private marina at the upper end of the scale on Lough Derg and throw it out as the mooring cost on the Shannon is misleading. We all know that there are good deals available on the Shannon for private moorings, and boats that move regularly during the season can avail of WI jetties and winter moorings for a lot less.

    Live-aboards on the canals in County Kildare are not opposed to the principle of paying fees for services. I lived aboard for 10 years in Sallins. The communities involved were allowed develop in the absence of regulation and services. There needs to be recognition of this and an understanding of the communities involved. A range of allowances should be made for pensioners (there are quiet a few in this category), unwaged and people living on disability benefits as happens in our neighboring jurisdiction. Large up front fees are out of reach for the majority of live-aboards. This should not be confined to a debate about only boats and navigations – there are people involved, these are their homes and some have been living there for 20 years and more.

    Waterways Ireland need to get their budget problems under control. But their current proposals for new-bye-laws won’t make much of a contribution to their financial problems. There are no pots of gold on the Canals or Barrow and if people cant pay then they might opt to sell and buy the camper van. The proposed restrictions on when to move, how long you can stay etc will discourage boat movement.

    The representative organizations are right to campaign for a better deal. While boat owners on the Canals and Barrow only paying small money for now, they are the only ones paying anything to WI.

    As for closing them down – well that would be a shame.

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

    I suppose I should say at the outset that I do not really want the canals to be drained. But if the boatowners don’t pay some reasonable portion of the cost, considerably greater than they do now, then (if I were Waterways Ireland) I would throw my hat at it and pull the plug. Under the Canals Act 1986, WI has the power to make byelaws for “the closing to navigation of any part of the canals”.

    I don’t agree with your first para: the activities to which you refer do not require that the canals be in water of navigable depth. So the question is what amount of the current expenditure would be required if they were not in water, or were closed to navigation by weiring the locks. I suggest that the amount required would be much less than is currently being spent. You will note that I took account only of the programme costs, not of the staffing and overhead costs: had I included them, the cost per boater might have been over €50000. But, again, I do not insist on the exact figures: the order of magnitude is what matters.

    On your second para, maintenance costs money. Perhaps if boat-owners were to pay up …? But in fact I don’t think you’re right: Shannon boaters have in recent years been buying large boats that are not suited to the canals. I see little prospect of attracting large numbers of them to the canals, although I welcome such efforts as have been made.

    While I hope that your enterprise succeeds, the record of small operations on the canals, whether with trip boats or with hire firms, is not good. For hire firms, I suspect that the difficulty is with marketing: to be able to afford a proper marketing campaign, especially in the UK, your scale of operations needs to be big enough to pay for it. And unless such operations attract overseas visitors, they’re not really doing much for the economy. I regret this, I wish there were a prospect of a thriving canal-based tourism industry in Ireland, but after seeing so many firms close down I don’t think that prospect exists. But perhaps if boat-owners paid more to Waterways Ireland it could afford more marketing on their behalf?

    You will have seen that I said that there were cheaper rates, less than that I cited, available for barges even on Lough Derg. But I do agree that WI should charge Shannon, Erne, SEW and Lower Bann boaters much more, including for winter mooring — which I suspect will be much more popular next winter unless WI bangs in a price increase in good time.

    You are right about the liveaboard communities having been allowed to develop without regulation. But WI has to tackle this at some stage and, whenever it does it, it will meet resistance, so the sooner it gets stuck in the better. But I do not at all agree with you about allowances for pensioners, folks on disability benefit or anything else: WI is not a benefits agency or a housing authority and it has no competence in the matter. If folk need extra financial support, they should get it from the competent authorities. WI needs a simple scale of charges.

    I think that there is more to the byelaws than raising money, and even as we speak I am writing about other aspects; I will publish my conclusions. But the Indo article to which I responded gave prominence to the alleged costs to boat-owners, while ignoring WI’s financial situation and hiding the extent to which boat-owners benefit from taxpayer subsidy. That article was, in my view, seriously misleading, and I determined to offer a corrective.

    I should also say that I do not suggest that boaters, or any other group, should pay the full cost: other interests are served, other benefits conferred by the canals and Barrow. But the present income, and rate of compliance, are both ridiculously low.

    As for whether folk would sell and buy camper vans, that would not matter. The important question, a function of the price elasticity of demand for canals moorings, is whether WI’s income from canals and Barrow would go up or down under the new regime. And my calculations so far suggest that it should be relatively easy to improve its income, even if large numbers of boat-owners remove their vessels. However, I would urge WI to show no hesitation in issuing proceedings against non-payers and in sending in the bailiffs (or taking whatever other steps are required) to recover amounts owed, thereby protecting the state’s financial interests. Incidentally, some folk seem to think that WI is seeking new enforcement powers in the new draft byelaws, whereas in fact those powers were conferred by the Maritime Safety Act 2005.


  3. Hi bjg,
    One point that caught my eye was the figures for CMPs and EMPs, 254 and 134 respectivle when we consider that all EMP holders must first hold an CMP this gives us a figure of 254 registered boats.
    Sometime in Summer/Autumn 2012 (sorry don’t have correspondence to hand) I enquired of W.I. as to the number of registered boats on the Canals and Barrow and received the reply 496 CMP holders. This represents a reduction in compliance of almost half in just over one year, as I don’t think that half the boats have left the Canals and Barrow in that time.
    People can theorise about the factors involved, I believe very few of those theories will not have W.I. playing a very prominent role.
    Maybe it’s a simplistic view but why not up the price of the CMP and enforce the existing bye-laws. I would not object to them charging extra for jetty spaces for those who want them.The CMP would, as it presently does, allow grass bank mooring, and all involved could argue how much one should cost.
    Perhaps the liveabord situation could be approached with a little tact and consideration, I feel it would yeild better results than getting stuck in.
    Hope I made some sence , Jerry.

  4. Hi Brian
    At an annual cost to run of €5 million for the canals/Barrow, this represents a cost to each taxpayer of approx. €1 per head, per annum. Each one of those 5 million taxpayers are equally entitled to avail of the resultant “subsidy”. Some do and some don’t. This is exactly the same as for every other state funded service is it not…..?? I fail to see the relevance of your point on subsidies unless you are also proposing that people who feed the ducks in Stephens Green and parents of children who use playgrounds should also be paying a fee to do so.

    On the matter of the MSA, as the name implies, the act and its fines were intended to be used to improve safety rather than to regulate “parking”. I suggest you look at the alterations to the Canals Act resulting from 56(b)(i) and 56(b)(iii) of the MSA, in this regard.

  5. after reading your disturbing post i went straight to bed and had a nightmare and in the nightmare your dream came through and the plug was pulled. initially everybody was very happy especially you as you boasted about the huge saving that had been made, over €5 million. Taxpayers from around the country queued up to shake your hand and buy you a drink. but after a while people started to forget what a great man you were so you thought to yourself i better go back to the books and see if there is another plug that can be pulled. after extensive study of the waterways ireland’s accounts you realised that it was costing the taxpayer €36 million to administer and oversee a shannon and erne programme of just over €3 million so you decided to pull the plug on waterways ireland thus saving the taxpayer €33 million. you were back on the high stool, high and mighty. you got a few contractors to take over the shannon programme to keep all the men in the shiny boats happy and 2 civil servants were employed in a dimly lit room in govt. buildings to administer the lot. you also got an engineer with a bike and strong legs to keep an eye on the contractors just to make sure they weren’t pulling a fast one. one day you met a man in a pub who said something that made you think, he said “jaysus brian, i always thought that the canals owed their existence to waterways ireland, but you proved me wrong, it was waterways ireland that owed their existence to the canals”
    in my nightmare you continued to trailblaze your way through public spending, closing stephens green, merrion square, the phoenix park. you put the president on a bike and nearly choked one day when you saw the poor tax payer was subsidising the abbey theatre to the tune of €7 million. there i was in my nightmare sitting in the front row of the theatre watching you telling the poor punters that the taxpayer would no longer subsidise their theatre going and you were closing the whole lot down. the curtain came down, the lights went out and i woke up. please tell me brian it isn’t true.
    jim o’riordan

  6. Brian

    I would just like to make one point on your figures on compliance. The fiigure is skewed in 2013 because of the introduction of the indemnity clause on the non – sanctioned permits that were introduced illegally by Waterways Ireland last year.(our insurance company still awaits a response from them before we can sign)

    I think you will find that the compliance rate would be much higher in 2012 before this mess started.

    Latest count by volunteers for boats on the navigation is 720. Would be a few more in lowtown if it hadnt been forcibly shut down by Waterways Ireland.(I know personally of some boats who went to the shannonfor similar services)

    On the subject of Lowtown and Services. I lived aboard at lowtown and happily paid €1200 a year to robert and caroline for – a postal address and delivery to my boat, a secure mooring, car parking, cctv, broadband, satellite TV, a registered vote in elections, electricity, water, chandelry, pump out facilities, lift out facilities, and welders and repair men on site. If WI can provide this no-one would mind paying.


  7. I will not argue figures at a time when we are suffering the ill effects of creative accounting which as we all know can show profit or loss depending on the agenda. we all know where Anglo got they’re figures from.
    As a live aboard I do not have a problem paying fees. I have been paying 1,300 -1500 euros per year since I came to live on the canal up until Feb 2012 at which time the marina owner , his management agent/developer and Waterways Ireland all suffered a severe case of selective amnesia and I suddenly became a non fee paying squatter in a non mooring zone.
    Fortunately for me I have plenty of documentation to prove otherwise when the time comes.
    You made reference to the extended mooring permit but you forgot to mention that not only was it being enforced illegally but it required the signing of a one sided contract under which all rights of those who signed became non existent.
    Please do not quote the 1986 bye law which states (i) the commissioners
    have the right to issue new permits etc. etc.
    We all know it was being introduced because Waterways determined that the combined mooring and passage permit only entitled the holder to moor in the same spot for five days continuous.
    Is it really credible to say that all the boats that have been moored in the same spot for the past twenty five years were breaking the bye laws?
    Are we to believe that nobody bothered to do the job they were getting paid to do for twenty five years?
    Is it reasonable to believe, that not one single boat held the appropriate permit to moor in the same location on an annual basis?
    The bye laws state that all permits are for stated periods or journeys .
    Are we to believe now that the annual combined mooring and passage permit issued by the commissioners that had the start date and the finish date clearly written on it was not actually for the stated period?
    And what about the other appropriate permit that was not listed in the schedule and nobody bothered to get and the commissioners never enforced in all those years? In fact nobody has ever seen one.
    It would seem to me that the commissioners were incompetent at their job and Waterways Ireland are no improvement. the new annual combined mooring and passage permits are invalid also. If you look at the stated period it is only valid for one day.
    It has no start date ,only one single day in the following year.
    Very suspect indeed.
    I hear people are going to be asking for their money back from Waterways Ireland.
    As for their financial predicament? I am unsympathetic and I can see it getting a lot worse if they continue down this road.

  8. Thanks for that, Jerry. I just got year-end (December 2013) figures from WI: 301 CMP, 157 EMP. The 496 figure looks very high to me as my estimate of the total number of boats on the three waterways is about 500, and I have heard elsewhere that it’s about 520. I would be surprised if there was ever the near-100% compliance that the 496 figure suggests. I agree that enforcement is critical: folk will be more likely to go along (I think) if they feel everybody is treated the same.

    I have a feeling that the top-end numbers quoted are causing too much worry: the Indo cited the €2500 figure but that’s for a Dublin city centre berth: the lower end of the moorings charges, €160, is probably for grassbank moorings. bjg

  9. Mick: join the real world, please. Waterways Ireland’s budget is being cut. It has to apply those cuts. It will do best to chop the services that are most expensive and benefit the fewest people. That’s the canals and the Barrow. If you want them saved, you and others need to work to reduce the gap between income and expenditure. One way of doing that is for you to pay more money. Pay up and look cheerful.

    As for the Canals Act etc, I have of course read all the material in detail; my interpretation is here. Note that the Maritime Safety Act made non-payment of fees a civil and not a criminal matter. bjg

  10. Actually, that’s not where I’d put the president: he’s to blame for taking the canals from the Office of Public Works in the first place. And that’s without mentioning his nitwitted community boats idea. bjg

  11. Thanks for that, Adele. I mentioned in response to another posting that I was given a count of 520 boats, with about 60% compliance for CMPs and 157 EMPs. But it would be good to know that more folk would like to be compliant.

    I was interested in your insurance experience: in my case it was the insurer (or rather broker) who wouldn’t answer a query about the WI indemnity, which is why I am now with a British broker.


  12. I presume therefore that you are cheered by the fact that the new management is introducing amended byelaws and that you will be giving them your support, which is nice. You may be interested in this Marxian perspective on the perfectibility of organisations. bjg

  13. Arra feck THE REAL WORLD Brian…..sure didn’t I buy the boat to escape from that…!!

    I note from the 2011 accts…..

    123 Admin staff @ 30,000 (? ) apiece…..3690 k
    Computer RUNNING costs……………………1216 k
    Marketing……………………………………………883 k
    Travel………………………………………………….592 k

    Total………………………………………………….6381 k

    Wouldn’t it be ironic if these new permits/charges were primarily to give all those administrators a little something to be doing….??

    As regards the Canals/MSA Acts, that was rather my point. It would also appear that any mooring bye-laws are also made pursuant to 7(1(i) of the 86 Act, so I am wondering what offences they anticipate issuing the FPN’s for. Incidentally, would you say that the existence of a “simple contract debt” might imply the existence of a “simple contract” for, lets say, a permit to navigate….??

  14. Your suggestion that I may be interested in some Marxist twaddle is laughable. […]

  15. I have snipped the rest of your stuff because I have no time for fantasy. bjg

  16. IANAL. Let me not do anything to discourage you from consulting someone who does know about the law. bjg

  17. Hi Brian

    In relation to the insurance queries we opened dialogue with WI in sept and our last reply was on 31/10/2013. We were told to seek legal advice on the issue raised by our (British) insurance company as they couldnt be certain!!

    I can assure you that in my experience boaters on the canal are mostly compliant appart from the imdnity fiasco. This considering they are the only boaters subsidising the inland waterways at this point and time.

    Also, in the 2010 submission on draft bye laws i remember the point being made that indemnity is not required were 3rd party insurance is in place.

    Thats another debate but what can be agreed on here (I hope) is the manner and approach taken by WI in all these issues most importantly the Sallins lock out last week is less than appropriate for a Public Body in these times of expected transparancy and regulated public service.

    Adele ( not a happy camper or boater)


  18. Fantasy has a funny way of becoming reality.

  19. Good point on who’s paying: I think Shannon (and Erne etc) boaters should pay too. I’ve been saying that since the 1980s, when I wrote an article to that effect in IWNews.

    I’ve been thinking about your point on boat numbers. The number you found, 720, would make more sense of Jerry Gleeson’s figure of 496 CMPs in 2012: if WI’s estimate of 520 boats is correct, 496 (admittedly for the previous year) sounds like a very high compliance rate. When was your count done? And is it possible (it seems unlikely to me) that a couple of hundred boats could have left the canals-and-Barrow for other waters? I’ve been struck in recent months by the relatively low numbers of boats on winter moorings in WI Lough Derg harbours, so there don’t seem to be any extra boats there. Could boats have moved from the canals to the north Shannon? I have the Shannon registration numbers, but they are affected by the lack of any deregistration process. bjg

  20. Hi Brian

    This figure was collated by walking volunteers over the last few weeks. It is also the quantity of floating vessels. As far as I know sunken boats were excluded.

    In response to your question about the number of boats in marinas, if not the north shannon maybea lot of people are getting out of the game due to the countries economic situation, reposessions? affordability etc..

    On a side note although i was irked by this entry I am completly in awe of this site only having started to look at it when I saw the post on the IWAI forum.. It combines two of my passions..history and water..


  21. Thanks. I’ll have to get back to WI about their figure. On folk stopping boating, there were indications of expensive Shannon cruisers being sold abroad and trucked out of the country, but many canal boats are more modest in scale so I wouldn’t have expected them to be sold abroad. But as your figure is very recent [I didn’t know when your survey was done] there really can’t have been much of a reduction in numbers. Back to the drawing board …. bjg

  22. Rest assured Brian, I consult with Judge Judy on an almost daily basis…!!

    As you do seem to have some expertise with the figures (costings), assuming that suitable provision were made for visiting boats at the various locations that require it, what would you consider to be a suitable fee for a base level annual permit that allowed annual mooring at the same place, be it liveaboard or just berthing….with increases in price for provision of extra services….??

  23. Hi Brian

    I was addressing your point about lough derg.I think the canal traffic / winter mooring has increased due to the same economic situation.

    Is’nt that what has always been the beauty of the canal. A safe starting ground for new (young) not so flush boaters. There is no way I could have started out on the shannon when we first took to the water just out of college on low wages coupled with inexperience on a (cheaper) narrow boat.

    Gerry Brian addressed your point earlier stating that (correct me if I am wrong). The grassy bank moorings should be priced at the lower €160. This is what the intention is on WI’s part. The issue I have withis is the new 4 & 1/2 day rule that goes with it. No other canal in the world has such a draconian measure. The action group are campaigning to have this changed to a touring permit with a longer duration and winter mooring permits.

    I see this as a positive way forward and really hope WI listen as this could prove to benefit them in the long run.


  24. I wouldn’t even consider setting a figure: I think it has to be whatever figure, for each location, maximises WI’s revenue. That does NOT mean the highest possible price: that’s where the price elasticity of demand comes in. If WI sets a figure that is seen, by potential customers, as too high for a particular location, nobody will want it and total revenue for that location will be nil. On the other hand, if the price for a particular location is too low, demand for that location will be too high and it will not be possible to allocate the available spaces rationally.

    C&RT uses an auction system, which is probably the best way of doing things, but I don’t think WI is ready for that yet. WI could commission economists to determine the price elasticity of demand, but (a) I don’t think it could be done and (b) the effort would cost money. Accordingly, as I said in my comments to WI on the byelaws, I think there is going to have to be a certain amount of running it up the flag pole and seeing who salutes:

    I said that I do not imagine that WI knows, or could find, the price elasticity of demand for the various types of moorings. As a result, I suggest that WI should retain the maximum flexibility in price-setting and should be willing to change prices year by year to discover the best price points.

    If, for instance, WI sets the price for houseboats at one location — Shannon Harbour, for instance — at a rate higher than anyone wants to pay, then nobody will go there and the berths will be unused [although in that case I’m not sure why it was thought that there would be any demand]. As long as WI offers a range of moorings at a range of prices, it will be possible after a year or two to arrive at an approximation of the market-clearing price, although the speed of price changes will obviously be much slower than, for instance, that at which that nice Mr O’Leary is able to change his prices. I see no reason why WI should not be able to lower its prices for a given location within a year [“We have vacant berths at Sallins: we should drop the price there.”] but prices would be sticky upwards: once all the spaces at a location had been allocated, and agreements signed (or whatever the formalities are) for a year, the prices at that location could not be changed until the next year’s round of allocations [“We had heavy demand for Hazelhatch hard moorings last year so we could raise that price a bit.”].

    So, in a sense, what you or I think of the price on offer for a particular service at a particular location is irrelevant: what matters is what the potential customers for that site think of the price. An [electronic/online] auction system would discover that more quickly and effectively, but initially there will have to be some trial and error. For that reason, the range of prices that WI has set for moorings seems to be not inappropriate. But there is going to have to be some trial and error: without an auction system, I don’t see any way of avoiding that.

    Incidentally, it seems that the base price for using the canal is €290 a year, €130 for passage plus €160 for mooring; I wonder whether that total might indicate WI’s thinking about what to charge on other waterways. I have no evidence about that, but 15000 boats at €290 would bring in almost €4.5 million, which would make a considerable difference to WI’s financial position.


  25. Winter mooring: oh I see; the traffic is in the opposite direction to what I was thinking about. On beginners, when in the same position as yourselves we started with a sailing dinghy on the lake, but didn’t know about canals until much later.

    I agree on the €160. I think (as I said in my comments to WI) that the byelaws are not well drafted, and clarification is needed, but the way I envisage it is that WI would designate certain lengths for different things: houseboat moorings, your “home berth”, hard-edged spaces for boats in the process of touring, ie where you tie up when in say Daingean. The basic €160 would give you a grass-bank home berth somewhere, probably requiring a walk down the towpath. But any length of bank that is not specifically designated should be available for use on your basic rate. I don’t know what WI’s intention was, but I suspect that they’re trying to ensure that you can’t unilaterally change your home berth to somewhere without permission (ie a permit, or a procedure to amend your existing permit: “Boat X, which is in good standing, will be based at Vicarstown for the next three months”).

    I remarked elsewhere that I see a draft like this as a beta version: Wi put it out there and invite comments, which is good. And I would be reasonably confident that WI will seriously consider the comments. I ask WI a lot of (often quite specific) questions on topics that might be seen as embarrassing. In the past I have sometimes been given PR-type waffle, which was obviously intended to avoid answering the question and which I’ve had to send back to try to get real information. There has been far less of that in recent times: I have had very frank answers to questions and, on one topic that I’m examining in detail (nothing to do with byelaws), I’ve been given full access to the files. The press and marketing people report to the CEO, so I presume that what I’m seeing is her policy, which I find encouraging. (Incidentally, I have never met or had any other communication with the CEO.) bjg

  26. Hi Brian,
    the first thing that wi have to realise is that they are starting off with a very small customer base and their first priority should be to protect this customer base.to use your analagy if they raise the flag too far up the pole instead of having people salute they will have everybody running for cover some will run to the Shannon ,others will sell up and more will just abandon their boats leaving wi to clean up the mess.to use my analagy they should start by dipping their toes in the water before plunging in.No doubt they have a target income but this is something that they will never reveal to us,they would never run the risk of somebody pointing the finger and accusing them of not meeting their targets .with information collected in the recent IWAI survey i estimate that if they started off charging the base level permit fee of 290 for the less desirable mooring spots and an extra 100 euro for the more popular moorings added to the charges for houseboats it would generate an annual income of over 600,000 ,not a bad start.WI are in the enviable position in that all income generated by these new permits is a bonus they dont have large loans to service for capital expenditure and they dont have a bank manager breathing down their necks threatening. to reduce their overdraft .The problem with this is that they dont live in the real world where if you have set a price for a houseboat mooring in Shannonharbour and nobody rents it you reduce your asking price.their aim should be to have happy compliant customers who dont sail into the sunset
    By the way Brian i went out and bought myself a copy of Sigmund Freuds ,The Interpretation of Dreams,in order to find an explanation for the nightmares brought on by your blog he reckons that dreams of being in/on water are based upon phantasies of intra-uterine life ,so thats why we all go boating we are looking for a way back into the womb …………life was much simpler then.

  27. Jim: while I can follow your logic, I don’t think you are entirely correct in what you say in your first sentence. Wi could, as the DDDA (nach maireann) used to suggest, develop a new market for high-quality houseboats [I think that’s the phrase DDDA used, but I can’t find the reference just now] in Grand Canal Docks, as a start, and perhaps later in Spencer Dock. The current draft byelaws don’t make explicit mention of houseboats in GCD, probably for the reason given to Clare Daly in this Dáil written answer, but I guess that the top ends of the scales are intended to apply to those city-centre moorings, whether for houseboats or for non-residential berths.

    The significance of this, in the context of your point, is that one newbie paying €2500 is worth fifteen existing customers paying €160. So it would be well worth WI’s while seeking to develop that new market. But what if the well-heeled new boaters, in their expensive houseboats, want berths at Hazelhatch and Sallins, and are willing to pay less than city centre rates but well above €160? In fact, I think that the price elasticity of demand for spaces is lowest for current liveaboards who work in Dublin: they have fewest alternative moorings available to them.

    On revealing target income, nothing gets revealed until the NSMC has approved it, so non-publication of figures on target income from fees and charges would be in line with existing practices. You will find elsewhere on my site various articles about WI’s funding, budgets and accounts and my struggles to get timely and useful information. But I have tried to estimate the size of the pressure on their budget and, despite my inviting them to do so, none of the powers-that-be have contradicted my figures [which they are welcome to do]. I think that, with constant attention, it is possible to get a feeling for the size of the problem.

    You are right about the absence of borrowings; I noted that WI needs NSMC approval for borrowings and I confirmed with WI that it has never sought such approval. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t suffer financial pressures. Although we’re still waiting for the 2012 accounts (never mind the 2013), it seems to me that the non-staff budgets ahve been cut way back and have probably been cut even more since 2011. Now comes the extra pressure of the pensions payments. I’ve written all that up in some detail elsewhere on this site so I won’t repeat it all here, but I am in no doubt about the extent of the pressure and the two ministers are fighting only about the extent to which they should cut WI’s budget, not about increasing it to cope with the pensions problem. On the estimated income, I said somewhere that an average €300 on every boat on the connected waterways, about 15000 in total, would bring in €4.5 million, which would make a considerable difference to WI’s financial health.

    If you are having difficult dreams about liquids, may I recommend beer instead of water?

    I’m off to take my own advice now.


  28. Pingback: Comments closing | Irish waterways history