I’m trying to catch up on things I was too busy to cover late last year.
Saunderson’s Sheugh 1
For new readers: the proposed rebuilding of the Ulster Canal started off in the 1990s with the idea of rebuilding the whole thing and thus linking Lough Erne and Lough Neagh. It became clear that that would be ridiculously expensive (even by politicians’ standards: to my mind anything more than sixteen and thruppence farthing would be too much) so TPTB decided to look at rebuilding the two ends, leaving the BITM (as WRGies might say) until gold was discovered in Monaghan or something. Then that got shot down but the heroic Irish government, rolling in the profits of property development, volunteered to pay the entire cost of rebuilding one end, from Lough Erne to Clones. This, known as the Clones Sheugh, was held up when the property boom bust; after that the Irish government has asked a group of treasure-seekers to find money. The group doesn’t seem to publish reports, but in recent months we’ve had whispers from two directions:
- the Irish government seems to think that making the Finn navigable to Castle Saunderson would be a good idea: thus Saunderson’s Sheugh. And see this
- Her Majesty’s Devolved Administration has been constructing a Business Case to show that it would be a very good idea for (a) the Irish government, (b) the British government, (c) the European Union, (d) Santa Claus or (e) anyone else, really, to do something that is so far unspecified. Actually, that’s guesswork on my part: I don’t know what’s in the business case (see below) but if it’s anything like the last one ….
Hands across the border
The North South Ministerial Council (waterways) met on 27 November 2014. Highlights:
- WI wants Euroloot (don’t we all)
- there is to be consultation on new Erne byelaws
- repairs are taking most of the capital budget
- there is “a new cruise hire business on the Shannon-Erne Waterway” [someone tell me more, please]
- there is a Blueway
- the ministers agreed the “indicative” [I don’t know what that is] budget for 2013. In November 2014. Which must have been helpful in budgeting. Maybe the 2013 accounts will be published soon
- the “2013 indicative budget of €29.47m (£24.17m)” will be “a baseline for 2014-2016 draft budgets”, one third of that period having expired
- the amount of the indicative budget for 2013, €29.47m, is 30% down on WI’s total income for 2012, as shown in its income and expenditure account for y/e 31 December 2012. I don’t know whether those figures can be compared directly, so please correct me if I’m wrong, but 30% is a hell of a cut in one year. And that’s without taking account of the increased cost of pensions
- the 2014-2016 Corporate Plan isn’t available to citizens yet but the NSMC “noted” WI’s “draft Business Plan and Budget provision” for 2014 and 2015 and Corporate Plan for 2014-2016; they have to be approved at some future NSMC meeting
- no info about the Sheugh was included in the minutes.
More hands across the border
As if all that wasn’t enough excitement, there was a Plenary NSMC meeting on 5 December 2014. That’s where lots of ministers go along: I make it 14 from north and 15 from south. They had their eyes on PEACE and INTERREG Euroloot, assuming the entire EU economy hasn’t collapsed by spring 2015. Apart from that, the only interesting bit was:
Waterways Ireland has developed the Shannon Blueway, Ireland’s first Blueway (a multi-activity trail running alongside water) between Drumshanbo and Carrick-on-Shannon in Co Leitrim in conjunction with the National Trails Office, Canoeing Ireland, Leitrim County Council and Leitrim Tourism. The Body continue to engage with relevant organisations, interested in further development of Blueways or Greenways including exploring opportunities that may exist for EU funding.
There are cycling, walking and canoeing routes along parts of the Ulster Canal: getting Euroloot for them would be a far better idea than making the thing navigable for cruisers.
The Stormont House Agreement was signed on 23 December 2014. Slugger O’Toole has the text, a link to the NIO and a summary.
Most of it is very boring, except for the provision that the Ulster Canal is to be restored as an Orangeway, along which all Orange parades will henceforth be routed, giving the marchers entire freedom to do or say whatever they want. It is understood that an abandoned railway will be given to Green marchers for the same purpose.
No, of course not: that’s a joke. The bits that might become interesting are:
60. A reduction in the number of departments from twelve to nine should be made in time for the 2016 Assembly election, with the new allocation of departmental functions to be agreed by the parties.
Will DCAL survive?
70. On the St Andrews Agreement Review, the NSMC (meeting in Institutional format) will agree before the end of February 2015 a report on new sectoral priorities for North/South cooperation, identified during Ministerial discussions since November 2013. A report on new sectoral priorities will be a standing item for future meetings of the NSMC meeting in Institutional format.
Will waterways be affected?
Saunderson’s Sheugh 2
Something is moving in the undergrowth. Every so often I have asked DCAL for news of the development of its business case for the Ulster Canal. On 2 January 2015 I said:
I would be grateful if you could:
– tell me whether the Ulster Canal Restoration Lough Erne – Clones Section Addendum to 2007 Business Case is now complete and available for release
– let me have a copy if it is available
– tell me the revised expected release date if it is not available.
DCAL has very kindly written to say:
The updated business case for the Ulster Canal restoration is currently with our colleagues in the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in the south as co sponsors of Waterways Ireland. They are seeking approval from the Irish Government for the updated business case. Until such time as this approval is granted the business plan cannot be released. Unfortunately I am not able to put a specific date on when this will be, but I am hopeful it will be sooner rather than later. I will ensure that you are advised as soon as the approval is granted.
I must say it seems odd to me that an Irish government department should be seeking Irish government approval for a business case prepared by a Northern Ireland department. But the Shinners want a Sheugh, for reasons best known to themselves [although I suspect it’s because their economic and political thinking stopped in 1797], and the Irish department is now headed by a minister from Sheughland. The prospects for a sane decision look slim.
Addendum: this suggests that the shinners’ main interest may be in getting something — anything — crossborderish built, even if it makes no sense. The Narrow Water Bridge project is like that. What’s really needed up there is a southern bypass of Newry, but that would be entirely within Northern Ireland. So Sinn Féin would prefer an “iconic” bridge in the middle of nowhere that happens to span the border.