No, that’s not me saying it: that’s the message from Enda Kenny to Heather Humphreys about Saunderson’s Sheugh. Recall that Ms Humphreys’s Northern Ireland counterpart has been pressing her to do something about the Ulster Canal:
Moving to implementation would have a positive impact on wider North/South relations. It would provide delivery on a commitment given by the North South Ministerial Council in 2007 in the context of the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive following a five year hiatus. It had not been possible to make visible progress up to now in the absence of planning permission. However, now that the necessary preparatory work has been completed and the required planning permissions are in place, failure to proceed to implementation could be viewed as tantamount to retracting the commitment given in 2007 and reported on regularly at North South Ministerial Council meetings since then.
Strange words to find in a business case, but that’s where they are: in the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht’s Restoring the Ulster Canal from Lough Erne to Clones: Updated Business Case February 2015. They read to me as if they might have been written by Carál Ní Chuilín’s Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in the draft they sent to DAHG; it might have been tactful to remove them, as they smack of the message I envisaged here:
[…] I suspect that Sinn Féin put a gun to someone’s head: “We’re fed up waiting for our sheugh. Start digging or the baby gets it.”
Presumably, then, Ms Humphreys went to her government colleagues and asked for money to buy a few shovels. It is clear that the government took a decision on the matter:
The Government also remains committed to the Narrow Water bridge project and to developing the Ulster Canal. The Government made a decision in regard to an element of that project today.
That was Enda Kenny in the Dáil on 24 February 2015. Later in the same discussion, he said:
This morning, on a recommendation from the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the Government approved a recommendation from Waterways Ireland to allocate €2 million from its resources to address a 2.5 km section of the Ulster Canal. It is a stand-alone project which will demonstrate further evidence of great co-operation. I understand a further 11 km are due for assessment after that.
Now, I am quite ready to believe Mr Kenny’s assertion that Waterways Ireland volunteered to have its already tattered budget cut by another €2 million to pay for dredging the River Finn; I also believe Mr Kenny’s assertions about economic recovery and about the existence of unicorns. I’m less certain that having the southern state pay the entire cost can be called “evidence of great co-operation”. But I am happy to note that no decision has been taken to dig a further 11 km of sheugh to Clones.
It seems, though, that — despite its commitment to sheughery — Mr Kenny’s government does not intend (at least until that economic recovery is further advanced and the unicorn mating season is over) to pay an extra penny or cent to cover the costs. That is very wise, but I suspect that it left Ms Humphreys swinging in the wind: forced to do something to satisfy DCAL and Sinn Féin but unable to extract any extra money from the government. Waterways Ireland then — without, I am sure, any prompting — nobly volunteered to reduce the spending levels agreed in its business plan just two months before, and to sell some unidentified property, to come up with €2 million to save its southern minister.
I have asked DAHG for a list of those government departments to which the business case was sent; I’ll then ask them what they said about it. As it stands, it seems that DAHG’s work of imaginative literature failed to convince the Irish government.