The Ulster Canal 01: background

The Ulster Canal

On 18 August 2010, Waterways Ireland published several documents about the proposed restoration or reconstruction of the Ulster Canal.

Waterways Ireland is a cross-border “implementation body” set up under the British Irish Agreement of 1999. According to its website:

Waterways Ireland has responsibility for the management, maintenance, development and restoration of inland navigable waterways principally for recreational purposes. The waterways under the remit of the body are the Barrow Navigation, the Erne System, the Grand Canal, the Lower Bann, the Royal, the Shannon-Erne Waterway and the Shannon Navigation.

It was also to “take forward appropriate studies and appraisals in relation to the possible restoration of the Ulster Canal”. The Ulster Canal linked Lough Erne to Lough Neagh; it was last used in 1929 and it was officially abandoned in 1931.

The passage from Lough Neagh to Lough Erne is approximately 93km, comprising 13km of navigation via the River Blackwater, 74km via the original route of the Ulster Canal and 5km via the River Finn (North/South Ministerial Ccouncil June 2001).

Cross-border implementation bodies

My impression is that the cross-border implementation “bodies” (what is a “body”? I don’t know) were invented to give Sinn Féin something that could be sold as an all-Ireland dimension, without interfering in any substantive area that might scare the unionists too much. Ed Moloney’s Sunday Tribune article shows that the unionists succeeded in cutting back on the extent of cross-borderality, but eventually six cross-border implementation (ie not policy-making) bodies were set up; they are listed on the website of the North/South Ministerial Council.

Waterways Ireland itself behaves with scrupulous neutrality, but I get the impression that the southern government is rather more keen on pushing northsouthery and handsacrosstheborderism than is the northern (or at least its unionist component). Whatever about the other “bodies”, that is certainly true for the big waterways project, the proposed restoration of the Ulster Canal: the southern government is far more enthusiastic than is the northern executive. For proof, I need cite only the fact that the southern government is (or was) willing to pay for it, on both sides of the border, whereas the northern is not.

There are some other views on crossborderality here, here and here.

Next: the Ulster Canal as a strategic priority for the southern state.

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