A Sinn Féin MLA, whose party colleague is one of two ministers responsible for Waterways Ireland, has expressed concern about WI’s financial position:
Phil Flanagan: Is the [North South Ministerial] Council aware of the stark financial difficulties facing Waterways Ireland as a result of not only sustained budget cuts but the currency fluctuation because of the weakened euro? Let me point out some of the figures: compared with 2013, the 2014 budget was down by €290,000; and, in 2015, it was down by €875,000, solely because of the weak euro. Was that matter discussed? What potential solutions may ensure that Waterways Ireland is returned to a sustainable financial footing?
I had not realised the extent of the problems caused by the euro.
Replying, Martin McGuinness — also Sinn Féin — said
The fluctuation of the euro was not discussed at the meeting.
Obviously, it does represent a serious challenge, given the fact that the euro has been very weak over recent times. I note that it has strengthened over recent days. Certainly, on foot of the Member highlighting this, we can give it further consideration.
Mr McGuinness went on to provide some information about Saunderson’s Sheugh (which we’re pretending is the Ulster Canal):
It is important to point out that the work of Waterways Ireland is nearing completion, including the dredging of the River Finn between Upper Lough Erne — that will be of interest to the Member — and Castle Saunderson as part of phase 1 of the restoration of the Ulster canal.
Design plans for the new bridge at Derrykerrib are also at an advanced stage. I understand that there are some contractual issues with the site that, combined with high water levels, have led to delays.
However, Waterways Ireland is working with local councils and other interested parties to secure EU funding under the INTERREG sustainable transport programme. The proposed greenway would run from Smithborough village to the Monaghan town greenway and on to Armagh. The point that the Member raised is important and will be considered by the Council.
Given that that was irrelevant to the question, I presume that Mr McG wanted to get this information on the record.
I would like to know more about the “contractual issues with the site”. I do hope they won’t mean that we miss getting photos of the northern and southern ministers, wearing yellow hard hats and lifejackets, claiming credit for the work. After all, there is an election coming up.
The €875k loss due to the weakness of the Euro does not add up. 85% of WI’s current budget is from the Irish government, 15% from the NI administration. Capital expenditure is paid for by the state in which it occurs. So, the only way a currency loss could be sustained would be if WI were spending far more than 15% of its current budget in N Irl, or buying materials in the UK for use in Ireland.
One point to consider is that WI’s HQ is in Northern Ireland and I presume that (roughly) 85% of its running costs come from the Irish government. And another is that one capital project, the dreaded sheugh, is being paid for by the Irish government even though at least part of the work is in Northern Ireland. Those are minor qualifications, though, and it’s hard to see how either of those could result in a loss of the scale mentioned. Another possibility is the pension scheme, whose operations are obscure to me.
But it is also possible that Phil Flanagan is talking about something different: the effect of currency fluctuations on the budget-setting process itself. I don’t know enough to work out how that might happen and the new NI departmental websites are driving me around the bend, so I’ll have to hope that someone else can expain.