I recently asked the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht for a statement on the funding of the Ulster Canal. Here is the response, which I reproduce without comment, save that it seems to me to be more forthright than comments from the predecessor department. I welcome that. I will offer some thoughts later on the canal’s prospects.
The Department’s statement
Funding of the Ulster Canal
The project will reopen a 13 km stretch of the Ulster Canal between Clones and Upper Lough Erne.
- the North/South Ministerial Council (NSMC) Plenary Meeting in July 2007 agreed to proceed with the restoration of the section of the Ulster Canal between Clones and Upper Lough Erne
- The then Government agreed to cover the full capital costs of the project, estimated at that time to be of the order of €35m
- Government Accounting procedures do not provide for the ‘ring-fencing’ of funds for projects of this nature.
- it was always the intention that the Ulster Canal project would be funded from the Waterways Ireland annual allocations, as agreed through the annual estimates processes in this jurisdiction, as well as the deliberations of NSMC in relation to annual budgets
- A key consideration throughout the process that the Ulster Canal project would be supported by a significant level of projected income from the commercialisation of certain Waterways Ireland assets – a scenario that was affected negatively by the economic downturn.
- The economic downturn is of major significance and presents serious difficulties to the Department when there is such pressure on the public finances and there are a lower level of resources available for capital investment during this period.
- While the project was examined in the context of the recent Comprehensive Review of Expenditure it has not been listed as one of the Government Priority projects over the coming years
- The Minister is exploring all possible options that may assist in the advancement of this project, and has asked his Department to keep in regular contact with Waterways Ireland with a view to advancing the project to the extent possible, within the current constraints
- The project has been brought to planning. The Planning applications for the project were lodged with Monaghan Co. Council, Clones Town Council and Cavan Co. Council on the 25th October and with DOE Planning Service NI on the 28th October
- Assuming the planning application processes run smoothly and is successful planning permission could be granted by mid 2012.
- It is understood that planning is valid in both jurisdictions for five years
- Current works are being funded from within the Waterways Ireland capital budget.
Here are some thoughts about the devolution of the canal and the ownership of the project.