I am grateful to Waterways Ireland for letting me have the Shannon traffic figures for June 2014. All the usual caveats apply:
- the underlying figures do not record total waterways usage (even for the Shannon) as, for instance, sailing, fishing or waterskiing on lakes or river stretches, which did not involve a passage through a lock or Portumna Bridge, would not be recorded
- the passage records would not show, for instance, a change in the balance of types of activities from those in larger cruising boats to those in smaller (sailing, fishing, waterskiing) boats
- figures like these, for a small number of months, will not necessarily be representative of those for the year as a whole. The winter months, January to March, see little traffic in any year; for April, May and June, the weather can have a large influence on the amount of activity especially, I suspect, in private boats.
On the other hand, the figures do include the Shannon’s most significant tourism activity, the cruiser hire business. And they are our only consistent long-term indicator of usage of the inland waterways.
Total traffic is down again, but only slightly. The decline does seem to be levelling off and a continuation of the relatively good weather could increase usage.
Private traffic is down slightly on last year, but it has been pretty much the same for three years. I had thought that the good weather might have caused something of an increase, but on the other hand my own impression of Lough Derg traffic (not reflected in the passage figures) is that it has been fairly light.
For hire-boat traffic, there is no sign of an upturn, although the drop on last year’s figures is not very large.
That table amalgamates the two before it, but shows the figures as percentages of the 2003 figures. For private boats, the Celtic Tiger (nach maireann) caused an increase; that effect has worn off and usage has not changed much since about 2011. For hired boats, the decline began long before the Celtic Tiger idiocy.
Hired boats were once the major users; private boats have almost caught up.
I don’t know how much the various locks cost to run, so I can’t work out any measure of value for money, but the sea lock in Limerick and the Lough Allen Canal must surely be candidates for the chop.