Readers will be saddened to learn that Ireland’s cargo cult, the delusion that canals bring prosperity, is spreading. It may even be that an increasing frequency of political references to Saunderson’s [né the Clones] Sheugh means that the devotees are about to engage in sympathetic magic by attempting to dig a sheugh.
The sheugh was mentioned in both legislative assemblies on the island on 20 January 2015. In Dublin, Gerry Adams [SF, Louth] said:
I remind the House that the peace process is the most important political project on this island at this time and it needs to be nurtured, protected and enhanced. It must be at the top of the Government’s agenda alongside other priorities.
I wonder how many priorities can dance on the head of an agenda ….
I welcome the financial commitments that have been made, including €25 million in annual funding for the A5 road project, which will assist people in Tír Chonaill, Derry, Fermanagh and Tyrone. I welcome additional funding for reconciliation under the European Union’s PEACE and INTERREG programmes and the Government’s renewed commitment to the Narrow Water bridge and Ulster Canal projects. These are important developments which need to be delivered.
If the Shinners are going to prioritise such nitwitted public spending projects, Goldman Sachs will never allow them into government [assuming that Goldman Sachs cares what happens in Ireland, which they might not, pace Peter Sutherland]. Nobody else mentioned the sheugh in that debate, but several Norn Iron politicos seem to have succumbed to the delusion. They had a debate on “Ulster Canal: Tourism Benefits“, which is like having a debate about the nature of unicorn excrement without first checking to see whether unicorns exist.
Note, in what follows, the complete absence of any quantification of benefits, with only a single mention of costs and with an unwavering belief that canals bring prosperity, even if they lack any interesting features (apart from the engine shed in Clones). There is no attempt at identifying why tourists would be attracted to the sheugh, no discussion of the mechanism by which public spending is translated into tourism revenue and then into local or national benefit.
Not that southern politicians are any better, of course.
Anyway, back to the NI Assembly. Sean Lynch [SF] “asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment for her assessment of the potential tourism benefits of re-opening the Ulster canal”. Note that he didn’t say how much of the canal he wanted.
Arlene Foster [DUP] [for it was she] said
The waterways of Northern Ireland have the potential to become an integral part of the tourism experience in Northern Ireland. The proposed Ulster canal development could provide opportunities for canal boating as well as supporting infrastructure to support walking and cycling, all of which would benefit our visitors and the local area.
All of which is waffle. She provided no assessment.
Although the project is being led by DCAL, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) continues to work with the Ulster canal inter-agency group through the Destination Fermanagh steering group and with the Clones Erne East Blackwater project to try to maximise the tourism benefit that this project could bring.
Nice to hear that the treasure-seekers, the “inter-agency group”, still exist. I wonder what they do.
So far, Arlene seems to be sticking to her script and hasn’t given much away: the sheugh could do this, that or the other, but there’s nothing concrete. But Mr Lynch asks a follow-up question:
I thank the Minister for her somewhat encouraging answer. Does she agree that, because the canal goes through Monaghan, Fermanagh, Cavan and Tyrone, both tourism boards on the island of Ireland should work closely together to ensure that it is a success?
If it were worth doing, why would the tourism boards have to “work closely together”? Would not hundreds of thousands of foreigners, from lands without canals, come flocking to the sheugh and to the irresistible attractions of Clones? What more could the tourism boards do to sell the thing? “Visit a short canal in the middle of nowhere leading to Clones”?
Mr Lynch may just have been trying to trap Ms Foster into agreeing to some tourism crossborderality. But she seems to have been doing a bit of crossborderality of her own:
The TD for Cavan-Monaghan, Heather Humphreys, has taken a particular interest in the matter, as you would imagine. It is in part of her constituency, as it is in part of ours; therefore, she is keen to move the project forward. When I last spoke to her, she again mentioned the need to push ahead on the Ulster canal.
So, I think, generally, there is support for the project. I suppose that the big challenge for us all is funding. The Northern Ireland Tourist Board — or Tourism Northern Ireland, as we should now call it — will work with its counterparts to assist and make sure that all the tourism benefits are put into any business case that is put forward.
When ministers are asked questions by members of their own parties, I wonder whether the questions were arranged beforehand in order to allow the ministers to make certain points.
William Humphrey [DUP] said “The Minister is quite right that the primary responsibility lies with the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.” The minister knew that already. But then he asked two questions. The first was:
Is Fermanagh District Council taking a collaborative approach to the cross-border element?
That might be intended to sell the prospect of further local government crossborderality to DUP supporters. The minister answered:
As I understand it, Fermanagh District Council is part of the Clones Erne East partnership, which seems to be driving this initiative. Of course, the Erne East councillors will be part of that partnership.
Humphrey’s second question, which elicited an interesting answer, was:
Obviously, in the current economic climate, budgets are tight. Has the Department looked at the possibility of funding from the European Union, given that it is a cross-border venture?
Ms Foster said
I simply do not know is the answer, because DCAL leads on this issue. However, I do know, and I have been advised, that some €54 million would be needed to secure the project to get it completed within 21 to 24 months. It is a large sum of money. If there are options to look elsewhere for funding, we would of course be supportive of them being explored.
Now, what is that €54 million for? Irish ministers have been quoting a figure of €35 million for years, even after 2011 when I was given a revised estimate of €45 million [overview of the history here]. That was to get to Clones. Is Clones now to cost €54 million? Or is that to Castle Saunderson? Or to Lough Neagh? Probably not the last. Note that these cost increases have come even before anybody starts digging anything.
Why does Clones deserve €54 million? Its population seems to be slightly below 3000; why not give every man, woman and child €15,000 each to forget about the sheugh, thereby saving €9 million?
Back to the Assembly. Basil McCrea [UUP], who may be the most sensible MLA, suggested, as he has suggested before, that users of inland waterways pay “for example, through a boat tax” something towards the cost of the waterways “provided that the money is used specifically for enhancing inland waterways?” Ms Foster said that was not her business and added
I want to encourage more people to come and use the inland waterways. Of course, I want them to use Lough Neagh and Lough Erne in particular.
I wonder why she omitted the Lower Bann, the Shannon–Erne Waterway and the various derelict navigations — including Saunderson’s Sheugh.