I have sent to Waterways Ireland my comments on the proposed canals byelaws, on everything from the structure of the document to the finer points of wording. Here is a summary of what I said about the more important points.
I am not a lawyer, but as far as I can see the draft byelaws are, and are being made, in accordance with the provisions of the Canals Act 1986 and the Maritime Safety Act 2005.
The structure of the new byelaws document
I suggested that the structure of the document would be improved, and the document would be easier to follow, if each new concept had:
- a definition
- a mention in a byelaw
- an entry, giving the charge, in the schedule.
As it is, eight concepts (excluding Waterways Ireland) are introduced in the definitions section:
- annual canals cruising permit
- annual extended canals mooring permit
- annual houseboat mooring permit
- Barrow open fishing boat licence
- continuous cruising
- fixed payment notice
- visitor cruising permit.
The second and third concepts are implicitly, but not explicitly, covered by Byelaw 3. Its heading includes fishing but the text does not. The sixth concept, the fixed payment notice, is covered in Byelaw 7 and the seventh concept, the houseboat, is covered in Byelaw 4.
However, the three cruising concepts, two of which have permits, and the Barrow licence are not discussed in any of the draft byelaws, although the concepts are just as novel as those of the various mooring permits. That leaves the attentive reader wondering why some new concepts are covered by, or discussed in, byelaws and other are not.
I suggested that it would be better to
- group the cruising concepts together, and then the mooring concepts, in the definitions
- devote at least one byelaw to each set of concepts, treating them in the same order as in the definitions
- follow the same order in the schedule of charges.
Apart from being easier to follow, that would ensure that all the new concepts have the same level of legal cover: at present some are covered by byelaws and others are not.
I suggested therefore that Byelaw 3 might cover the use of the canals and Barrow for navigation and Byelaw 4 might cover their use for the mooring of boats. Each byelaw would list the types of use that Waterways Ireland is providing for, state the permit required and state that the charge is set out in the schedule.
For the moorings, the byelaw would also state that WI will designate the areas or stretches of canal bank that may be used for each type of mooring; it might also state that those areas or stretches may not be used by boats without the appropriate permits. And it would make it clear that WI can set different rates depending on the size of boat, location and services provided.
Both byelaws should, as at present, give the legal basis, but I recommended sticking closely to the wording of the appropriate parts of Section 7 (1) of the Canals Act 1986.
Categories of cruising activity
The draft envisages permitting three types of cruising activity:
- year-long cruising
- continuous cruising
- visitor cruising.
The definitions seem to be slightly contradictory: the annual canals cruising permit is said to be required by all boats but the definitions for the other two forms suggest that those activities may be undertaken without an annual canals cruising permit.
I suggested that the concept of continuous cruising be dropped. It describes the cruising permitted to holders of visitor permits, which Byelaw 5 can deal with adequately. Given that real continuous cruising is barely possible on the canals and Barrow, especially in the winter, providing for it seems pointless, and it might tempt customers to try to avoid paying for mooring permits.
I suggested that Waterways Ireland include a provision empowering itself to issue cruising permits for designated journeys, as in Byelaw 6 of the 1988 byelaws. The provision could be phrased so as to allow (but not require) Waterways Ireland to offer special permits, perhaps at discounted rates, to boats or groups of boats undertaking specific journeys, perhaps taking longer than one month, or travelling to specific events.
For example, a boat might not be able to complete the round trip from the Shannon to Dublin via the Royal, and back via the Grand, within one month, given the restricted schedule of bridge lifts, but WI might like to encourage boaters to undertake that trip by offering discounts on tolls. Similarly, if a waterside community were organising a festival, it might like to encourage boaters to travel there and WI might support the event by offering a package deal to festival-goers.
Categories of mooring
I noted that, as far as I can see, the Combined Mooring and Passage Permit will no longer exist. I take that to mean that there will be no uncontrolled mooring on the canals and Barrow. The definitions envisage permitting three types of mooring:
- annual extended canals mooring permit (perhaps the word “extended” could be dropped)
- annual houseboat mooring permit
- Barrow open fishing boat licence. I asked (again) about the difference between licence and permit (I don’t understand the answer I got last time) and why open non-fishing boats should not be licensed too.
I suggested that the byelaw should state that WI can designate moorings for boats that are touring, visiting or cruising (or whatever the appropriate term is) and also state that other boats may not use those moorings without permission.
I said that the byelaw, rather than (or as well as) the schedule, should make it clear that WI can set different rates depending on the size of boat, location and services provided; it should also cover the annual and daily charges for the Grand Canal Dock and Spencer Dock.
I am not clear whether it is intended that a houseboat should hold the annual extended canals mooring permit as well as the annual houseboat mooring permit. The first is said to be required of all boats not navigating or continuously cruising, and that definition includes houseboats. I suggested that houseboats should not be required to hold both permits and that the definitions and byelaws should make that clear. If, on the other hand, it is intended that houseboats should hold both permits, that too should be made clear.
I said that the definition of houseboat must be fireproof, as must the power to decide what is and what is not a houseboat. The current definition, I felt, invites endless argument about the definition of “principal” and about whether or not the sleeping practices of the owner or occupant mean that the boat is a principal residence.
Finally, I suggested considering a canals equivalent of the Shannon’s winter mooring scheme, albeit with higher charges, or perhaps an annual permit that combined cheaper winter with more expensive summer mooring. That would cater for boats that spend the winter on the canals (presumably near their owners’ homes) and the summer on the Shannon. In winter, they could use visitor moorings or bank moorings near Dublin with little likelihood of their depriving anyone else of access.
I suggested that it be made clear that “canals” includes “Barrow navigation”. Neither the Canals Act 1986 nor the existing byelaws make that clear.
The definition of the visitor cruising permit confines it to boats “visiting the canals from another navigation”. I asked whether the Liffey, the tidal Barrow and indeed the sea come within the term “navigation”.
Compliance and enforcement
I have given my interpretation here.
Price and revenue
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.
I have no objection to the rates shown in the first schedule but I wonder whether they make sufficient allowance for any future inflation. I raised some minor points about the Dublin passage charges; in particular I suggested that the per-boat charge for the Newcomen railway bridge should be changed to a per-lift charge to encourage numbers of boats to travel together and thus to reduce the number of lifts required.