Category Archives: Ulster Canal

Sinn Féin asks useful PQ about waterways shock

Yes, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, SF TD for Cavan-Monaghan, has asked a useful question about waterways, one that doesn’t seem to have been designed to promote an insane restoration proposal. He asked for “the current and capital expenditure by Waterways Ireland in each of the years 2014 to 2016; the estimated level of current and capital expenditure for 2017″. The answer included this table:

WI budgets

 

Current spending comes 85% from the Free State and 15% from Norn Iron; capital spending is paid for by the administration in whose territory the montey is to be spent.

There may be a problem here in that I have a feeling that, if there is no NI Executive, spending is limited to 90% of the previous year’s figure [I am open to correction on this], which might cut the NI contribution to current spending: I presume that the RoI contribution would then be cut too, to maintain the 85:15 ratio.

The Minister for Fairytales also said that WI gets money from “third-party funding contributions towards specific projects and from its own income from licences and property.” However, its own income is pathetically small.

I am writing less about current waterways affairs because I’m concentrating on those of the nineteenth century (unlike Sinn Féin, which focuses on the eighteenth), but I did read WI’s Annual Report and Accounts for 2016 [PDF] with interest. Despite the considerable challenges it faces [including the pensions nightmare], the organisation has been expanding its range of activities and looking to new users and new uses. I hope that the Brexit hard border, which I suspect is now unavoidable, doesn’t completely bugger things up.

If it does, we might need to ask Sinn Féin whether it can think of anyone who could help smuggle motor-cruisers across the border to enable boats to move between the Shannon and the Erne. Perhaps their day will come.

 

Éamon Ó Cuív …

… is a loon.

Perhaps he’s basing his economic views on those of his grandfather George, who did his best to drag Ireland back from the nineteenth to the eighteenth century (although he was living — for certain values of “living” — in the twentieth).

What is it about Irish republicans and canals?

They haven’t gone away, you know ….

There we were, about to breathe a sigh of relief that the Clones Sheugh had been buried at the crossroads, with a stake through its heart and numerous rows of garlic planted around it, when a crack appeared in the earth and the shriek of the undead made the night hideous.

Yes, it seemed that the Minister for Fairytales had successfully diverted everyone’s attention away from Clones by (a) designating the River Finn as the Ulster Canal, which would lead to a scout camp at the spiritual home of Ulster Unionism rather than to Clones, and (b) supporting a greenway walking route to take care of the handsacrosstheborder bit (although ministers from up there seemed to be scarce at the launch. I suppose they’re scarce anyway).

The greenway seems like a better idea to me, given that it’s significantly cheaper than canal restoration and likely to attract far more users, although I wasn’t impressed by the economic assessment in Waterways Ireland’s Ulster Canal Greenway draft strategy document from April 2017 [PDF]. Here is the assessment in full:

6.2 Economic Assessment
Ultimately, the cost of developing a route will play a part in the decision-making process. It may be technically possible to overcome an obstacle, but the cost might make it unfeasible and a longer route chosen. All factors in the Greenway Strategy will be assessed and the most sustainable routes chosen.

That seems to suggest that the costs and benefits of the plan have been thought through with as much care and attention as Her Majesty’s Government over the way has given to Brexit. Which, I imagine, will put paid to much handsacrosstheborderism anyway; I hope it doesn’t put paid to Waterways Ireland as well, although it’s bound to increase the difficulties under which that body labours.

But revenons à nos moutons. Just when we thought it was safe to go out, the dead arose. Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy said

Clones needs the Ulster Canal if it’s to have a viable tourism future.

Also from the report of the meeting:

A presentation at the meeting revealed that over 50 percent of buildings in Fermanagh Street in Clones are derelict.

Frustration at the lack of progress with the Ulster Canal was voiced, with representatives stating that it was on the agenda in 1999 and is still on it now.

Perhaps Clones has not got the message: the Ulster Canal is off the agenda. But there is a more fundamental problem: [some] small rural towns are dying because there is no longer any economic need for them. The scale of things has changed since the late nineteenth century; consumers can travel to Aldi and Lidl in larger towns; local markets and fairs are no longer how business is done.

Tourism is unlikely to rescue Clones: if it could do so, why isn’t the town already a tourist destination? Why aren’t its attractions well known throughout Germany and wherever else tourists come from? Enabling tourists to visit by water is not going to attract significant numbers from abroad: there are more scenic and interesting waterways elsewhere, in Ireland and on the continent. There would be a very poor return on the millions that a canal to Clones would cost — not helped by proposals for significant overpayment for land.

I still don’t understand why Sinn Féin is so keen on canals generally and the Clones Sheugh in particular. But Clones might find a new economic role as a post-Brexit smuggling centre.

 

Handsacrosstheborderism

I see from the blatts that there are

Fears over future of Narrow Water bridge project

and that

Planning permission for development at Carlingford Lough due to expire in October.

This is encouraging: I hope that the planning permission will be allowed to expire, unmourned by anyone, and that the project will be buried at the crossroads with a stake through its heart.

Like the Clones Sheugh, this scheme put symbolism over practicality and usefulness. It would require motorists from the south to drive to the middle of nowhere to cross the Newry River, when what is needed is an eastern bypass of Newry. Those living towards the eastern end of Carlingford Lough would be better served by a ferry, and I see that such a service is now proposed, to run between Greenore and Greencastle.

The only possible justification for the proposed bridge would be to build it without access roads, name it Garvaghy Road and allow — nay, sentence — Orange Order members to march up and down it in perpetuity.

 

A post-Brexit business opportunity

While running trip-boats has not always been the way to wealth on Irish waterways, we must always be alert to new business opportunities arising from changing circumstances. Brexit, the impending departure of HM Realm from the European Union may offer one such opportunity for a tourism-related business on the Shannon–Erne Waterway, perhaps around Aghalane.

The old bridge at Aghalane (OSI ~1840)

Here, scenic boat trips could be provided. Of course not everybody likes long boat trips, so there could be a market for short trips, perhaps from one side of the Woodford River (which here constitutes the Shannon–Erne Waterway) to the other.

The new bridge at Aghalane

Such trips could feature in package tours, including flights into Ireland, accommodation and leisure activities. But the Irish tourism board (whatever it’s called nowadays) needs to open up new markets: these tours might be attractive to our fellow-EU citizens from Eastern Europe.

There is another possibility for development here, combining economic growth with humanitarianism. Ireland could offer to open refugee camps in the area, thus sharing the burden with Calais, Greece, Italy and other places currently accommodating these unfortunates. This would not be entirely selfless: there would be a stimulus to the local economy from the construction and operation of the camps. Should demand for camps along waterways exceed supply, the re-opening of the Clones Sheugh could be considered.

I regret that the north side of the river is blank on the modern OSI map; that area is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Who stole the technology?

I was thinking of buying a (secondhand) copy of Juliana Adelman and Éadaoin Agnew eds Science and technology in nineteenth-century Ireland Four Courts Press, Dublin 2011. But, even though the secondhand copy was much, much cheaper even than the publishers’ reduced price, I thought I should check what I’d be getting for my money. I therefore had a look at the contents list, which I reproduce here having nicked it from the publishers’ web page:

The list of contents

 

Is it just me, or is there a big gap there? How can you discuss nineteenth-century technology without an extended discussion of steam power, whether in ships, on railways, for drainage or in mills and other manufactories?

 

Disentangling Waterways Ireland

A possible outcome of the dog’s brexit?

Saith Alan Bermingham, policy and technical manager of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy:

I assume some of the cross-border bodies such as Waterways Ireland with separate jurisdictions would need to be disentangled,

He says that closing cross-border projects could increase administrative costs.

 

RoI Budget 2016 for 2017

The Irish government’s Expenditure Report 2017 Parts I to III is available here [PDF]. The Department of Fairytales [aka Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs] gets a 1% increase for Programme D, North-South Co-operation, subject to the approval of the North/South Ministerial Council.

This programme includes certain language bodies and, more importantly, Waterways Ireland. The estimate for capital expenditure, almost all (if usual patterns prevail) for Waterways Ireland, is the same as for 2016, at €2799000, which suggests that the good people of Clones won’t be getting a sheugh any time soon, although judging by today’s Irish Times [possible paywall], they don’t seem to be expecting one.

The Programme D estimate for current spending is up from €34925000 to €35166000, making for an overall increase of one per cent.

The department’s overall capital allocation is down, but changes in departmental functions and the ending of the special anniversary funding make it impossible to say anything useful about that. Looking forward, the department’s Gross Voted Capital Expenditure is shown as €119 million for 2017, €115 million for 2018 and €118 million for 2019.

Waterways are funded only in order to promote northsouthery:

The aim of this Programme is to maintain, develop and foster North-South co-operation in the context of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. Under this Programme, the allocation for 2017 will:

– Through Foras na Gaeilge and the Ulster-Scots Agency, promote the Irish and Ulster Scots language and culture; and
 Through Waterways Ireland, maintain the waterways for some 15,000 registered boat users.

I presume Waterways Ireland will get extra funding to work out a system of border controls for the Shannon–Erne Waterway.

More budget stuff here.

 

It hasn’t gone away, you know …

Yes, the Clones Sheugh, one of Sinn Féin’s favourite inland waterways, hasn’t gone away, although SF is now allowing FF to make the running. From the invaluable KildareStreet.com:

Brendan Smith [FF, Cavan-Monaghan]: To ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the stage of the proposal to restore the Ulster Canal; the funding provided in her Department estimates in 2016 for this project; when this project will proceed to the next stage; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

I suppose he could have read the Estimates himself, but maybe that would be too much to ask. Anyway, his constituency colleague [Heather Humphreys, FG, Cavan-Monaghan] replied:

Government approval to restore a 2.5km stretch of the Ulster Canal from the Shannon-Erne Waterway to the International Scout Centre at Castle Saunderson, Co. Cavan, was granted on 24 February 2015. The project, which comprises three work phases, is being undertaken by Waterways Ireland.

Phase 1, the site investigation work, has been completed. Phase 2, dredging of the River Finn, is in progress. I have been informed by Waterways Ireland that completion of this phase has been delayed as a result of contractual issues but that efforts to resolve these matters are ongoing. It is intended that Phase 3 of the restoration work, the construction of a new bridge and canal section, will proceed following completion of phase 2.

Waterways Ireland has an allocation of €2.7m in its 2016 budget for the Ulster Canal project. This is comprised of €1m from my Department’s capital allocation to Waterways Ireland of €2.689m for 2016, with the balance coming from the organisation’s own resources.

We are, it will be recalled, pretending that the River Finn is part of the Ulster Canal, and that Castle Saunderson, that shrine of Ulster Unionism, was on the canal’s route: we don’t want to upset the shinners, so say nothing to them.

Quite why folk are expected to want to visit the scouting establishment now on site I do not know; boating does not seem to be amongst the activities offered.

Thon Sheugh and WI’s budget

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.