A sense of proportion

Waterways Ireland’s funding comes from Ireland [RoI] and Northern Ireland [NI] in the ratio 85:15. I understand that the ratio reflects the length of WI-run waterway in each jurisdiction, although I am not sure how length is measured on lakes.

The proportions of boats in the two jurisdictions are not 85:15. As of December 2013 there were 5570 boats on the Erne Register and 8816 on the Shannon Register. These numbers may or may not reflect the numbers of boats on the waterways as (a) there may be unregistered boats and (b) folk may not always deregister boats that have moved off the navigation. I do not know how many boats there are on the Lower Bann; boats on the Shannon–Erne Waterway should be on either the Erne or the Shannon Register.

Waterways Ireland reckoned that there were 520 boats on the Grand, Royal and Barrow at the end of 2013. Adding them to the Shannon number gives us

  • RoI 9336
  • NI (excl Lr Bann) 5570.

The ratio is RoI 63, NI 37.

On programme costs, though, matters are otherwise. Granted that the 2011 figures, the most recent available, may not be representative of long-term average costs: the Royal has not been reopened long enough for us to get such a long-term average, and the 2011 figure may be unusually high.

The other difficulty is with the allocation of the costs of the Shannon–Erne Waterway. I have arbitrarily divided it 50/50 between the two jurisdictions, although they probably exaggerates the proportion attributable to NI.

Shannon + Royal + Grand + Barrow + ½ SEW = €7275000

Erne + Lower Bann + ½ SEW = €807000

The ratio is RoI 90%, NI 10%.


  • funding: NI 15%
  • number of boats: NI 37%
  • spending: NI 10%.

All subject to caveats.

No particular point: I just thought it was interesting.

9 responses to “A sense of proportion

  1. Interestingly, Waterways Ireland has probably increased the proportion of navigation and boatage under the RoI side, by thus far focusing most of its restoration work on RoI waterways… whilst the majority of derelict waterways are in NI. (And, with slightly circular logic, derelict waterways in NI were not put under WI jurisdiction because they weren’t open to navigation…). The Strabane Canal *has* been restored (although not to a navigable standard) but for some reason, again, has not been added to WI’s portforlio. Neither have the smattering of locks on the Lagan Navigation that have been restored. And neither is the Newry Ship Canal. Not sure what the reasons for this are.

  2. I don’t know how the waterways to be given to WI were chosen, but I suspect that being open, and having a navigation authority, would have scored highly. Apart from the SEW, all the southern waterways were (a) open or, in the case of the Royal, being restored and (b) under the control of a single authority. Similarly, IIRC, the Erne and the Lower Bann were controlled by the Rivers Agency of the Department of Agriculture of Northern Ireland. bjg

  3. Am I right in thinking the Tralee Ship Canal was restored? But is not in WI’s portfolio? The Newry Canal is intact and would be trivial to restore compared to the Lagan (half of which is under the concrete of the M1 motorway) and the Ulster Canal (much of which has reverted to turf, and as we know, never worked properly in the first place) … yet it was the Ulster that was given to WI, and the Newry Canal appears to be owned by local government councils.
    This has seen a situation where WI is committed to a restoration project that it has currently no hope of completing (and which would only get to Clones anyways)

  4. The Tralee Ship Canal and the Newry, as I understand it, are controlled not by central government but by local authorities, so handing them over to local authorities would have been somewhat more complicated. Furthermore, while both are used for recreation, that involves no (Newry) or very little (Tralee) navigation, so they don’t need navigation authorities. Nonetheless you will no doubt be plesed to know that Sinn Féin’s NI waterways minister proposes to visit the Newry Canal. I presume that it was the crossborderality of the Ulster that appealed: hands across the border, peace in our time, uniting north and south with new technology and economic development …. I am of course speculating as, for some reason that is obscure to me, neither Tony Blair nor Bertie Ahern consulted me at the time. bjg

  5. Well to be fair, on a map, the Ulster Canal offers the possibility of expanding an “integrated cruising network”, of the kind which supports many profitable holiday hire businesses in England, France, and other exotic places. However as we know, the reality of Ireland’s “integrated network” and “cruising rings” involves dicing with death on open loughs at the mercy of the weather, and having to book 3 months ahead and carry scuba gear to get under railway lifting bridges in Dublin. So the point becomes a little moot.
    If Sinn Fein’s honourable member chooses to visit the Newry Canal, I trust he will do so my getting a train to Portadown and cycling along the length of it to Newry so he can actually know what he’s talking about. But he’ll probably get driven to an expensive luncheon in Newry and merely occasionally look out the window at the canal when he’s not playing with his phone.

  6. He’s a she. I’m sure the IWAI folk will rise to providing a few sandwiches; I am in favour of people who do actual work on waterways, even though I think seeking restoration is seriously misguided. Improved walking, cycling and riding, yes; boats, no. bjg

  7. Well the choice was either for the state to pay for Ms Ní Chuilín to continue the remainder of her prison sentence at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, or to pay for allowing her to footer around on canals, and pretty much everyone voted for allowing her to do the latter. You must factor this in to any cost-benefit analysis regarding the financial viability of restoration.

  8. Padhraic Conneally

    Different registration rules
    10hp on Erne, 15 hp on Shannon – erne figure woulde many more fishing boats
    Difering culture predating WI with warden on Erne proctively checking registration. Only time my registration was ever taken in the Southern sector was on entry to SEW presumably for stats Don’t believe their is a registatration system on the Bann.
    rubbish into the computer ,rubbish out

  9. Sure, yes; also some Erne boats (Belturbet, Quivvy) are in RoI, not NI. Lots of small fast boats on the Erne too. And lots of boats will be outside both sets of registration rules. There is a major difficulty with inadequate statistics for all sorts of activities throughout the waterways; for boats, a registration process with an annual fee would help. In the meantime, we can only work with what we have; the order of magnitude is almost certainly correct and the total may not be too far off.

    I see that Jimmy Deenihan gave a total figure of “over 14,000 registered boat owners on the seven waterways managed by Waterways Ireland” in the Dáil the other day. bjg

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