Tag Archives: budget

Underwear and the Ulster Canal

In September 2010 I wrote:

[…] a government department, in a time of economic crisis, is proposing to commit to the spending of at least €35,000,000, without having any certainty of being able to get the money anywhere. Unless Waterways Ireland has surplus assets that I don’t know about, I cannot see how it can raise that amount by selling property in a slump; nor do I see any certainty that the Department of Finance will supply the money.

So the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs won’t be choosing between two sources of funding. Its only possible source is the Department of Finance, and its only possible argument is that, unless the taxpayer stumps up, the shame will be too great: the neighbours will realise that we’re all fur coat and no knickers.

Since the creation of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in 2011, we’ve seen a slow striptease, with the government flicking up the corners of its fur coat and gradually hinting at the nakedness underneath.

The setting up of an inter-agency group of treasure hunters was the most explicit acknowledgement that the Irish government could not afford to build the Clones Sheugh. The group included folk from Fermanagh District Council, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, the NI Strategic Investment Board and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, so the burden of treasure-hunting was spread north of the border. But if that constituted the fifth veil — highlighting rather than concealing nakedness — the sixth has now been dropped.

On Tuesday 9 July 2013 the Select Sub-Committee on Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht was concluding its consideration of the revised 2013 estimates for the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (and the National Gallery). Sandra McLellan, Sinn Féin TD for Cork East, said:

I have one more question, on subhead D4, Waterways Ireland. There is a promise of stage payments to Waterways Ireland to begin the process of making the opening up of the Ulster Canal a reality. Planning permission to begin the project was sought and is due to be approved at this month’s Fermanagh District Council planning meeting and permission has already been approved in County Monaghan. Once the Government releases the funding, the process should move quickly and whatever land purchases are needed will be made. Does the Government intend on doing this and will Waterways Ireland have the adequate funding to undertake the project in 2013–2014?

The minister, Jimmy Deenihan [FG, Kerry North/West Limerick], began by talking about planning permissions and compulsory purchases:

At this stage, the planning permissions have been granted. That, in itself, was a challenge because of environmental and other reasons. The next process will be the CPOs to get the land. In many cases, hopefully, we can acquire the land by agreement. That will be the next challenge.

He went on to say why the Irish government couldn’t afford the sheugh:

There is an inter-agency group sitting. It is something I established, where the local authorities and the statutory organisations, North and South, have all come together around a table and are looking for alternative sources of funding too rather than merely funding from the Dublin Government. Originally, the agreement was that this would be funded by Dublin and the funding for it was identified with the sale of property at the time. During the Celtic tiger, the property, down in the docklands, etc., was quite valuable. However, with the collapse of the property market, that potential source of funding was not there to the same extent, although, with the property market now recovering, that property could become valuable again. Hopefully, it will and can contribute to the overall costs.

Note that phrase “rather than merely funding from the Dublin Government”. But there is more to come:

The next stage would be the acquisition of the land in order to provide the canal and the inter-agency group is looking at possibilities. Also, my counterpart in Northern Ireland, the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, Carál Ní Chuilín MLA, is looking at possible funding for the small portion that is in the North. Funding may be available for that from the Northern Executive and, maybe, Westminster. That, obviously, would help. Wherever we can get funding for this, certainly we will be striving to get it. It will be incremental. We will have to approach it on a staged basis but the important point is to get it started.

So the idea that the wealthy and munificent southern government would pay the entire cost of the sheugh, as a present to the benighted and miserable inhabitants of Norn Iron, and as a demonstration of the prosperity to be expected from a united Ireland, has been abandoned altogether. If Carál Ní Chuilín [who is, coincidentally, a Sinn Féin MLA] manages to extract money from her colleagues for that portion of the sheugh lying within Norn Iron, it will mean that the construction is being funded in the same way as other Waterways Ireland capital spending: each government pays for the development within its own jurisdiction.

Will Ms Ní Chuilín manage to persuade her colleagues? In September 2010 I wrote:

[…] I see no evidence whatsoever that the Northern Ireland executive, or Her Majesty’s government, has any intention of ever starting the JCBs rolling along the Ulster Canal. They are happy to support the principle of canal restoration; they are even prepared to allow southern taxpayers to spend money (borrowed from the bond markets) crossing northern soil. It is possible that, if the canal to Clones brings wealth and prosperity to Co Monaghan, the northern executive will rethink. But as it stands, the evidence suggests that the southern taxpayer will be permitted to dig to Clones, and perhaps even to Monaghan and Caledon, but that the canal will never get any further.

It is possible that having a Sinn Féin minister running DCAL will change  economic perceptions, and no doubt Simon Hamilton, the [DUP] Minister of Finance and Personnel, will be easily persuaded. Having an Irishman as UK Chancellor of the Exchequer may help the Sinn Féin cause: the last time that happened, HMG wasted half a million pounds on the Shannon.

But back to the minister:

It is a good North-South project. It links North and South. There also could be some possibilities under European funding, for example, there was funding available for the Ballyconnell canal and some of that was derived from European funding. We will be looking at every possible source of funding in order to get the project off the ground and to complete it over a period of time. Besides, Waterways Ireland, from its own capital budget, may have some small amount of funding available to initiate the project as well. I will be looking at identifying funding from different sources and, hopefully, over a period of time, we can provide the canal.

There are two sets of points in that paragraph. One suggests that the inter-agency group has not yet found the pot of gold, indeed that it has no very firm ideas about where to find it. Waterways Ireland is unlikely to be able to spare more than the price of a few shovels, but even if it devoted its entire capital budget to the Clones Sheugh it would take at least ten years to pay for it.

The other set of points is contained in the first two sentences:

It is a good North-South project. It links North and South.

Any minor boreen could be said to link North and South, but without costing €40 million or so. In fact, though, the Clones Sheugh is not a good project: it is a waste of money. It will link a couple of fields in the middle of nowhere to, er, Clones, which is no doubt a vibrant hub of culture. It will not attract significant numbers of foreign tourists, so it will merely displace waterways activity from elsewhere, and it will not generate new business or employment opportunities except perhaps for part-time summer jobs in a couple of pubs.

I have compared the Irish (and especially Sinn Féin) enthusiasm for canals to a cargo cult, but perhaps a more modern comparison, and one in line with this post’s heading, would be to the Underpants Gnomes (a metaphor I used here about the Shannon in 1792). It will be recalled that the Underpants Gnomes had a three-phase business plan:

  1. Collect Underpants
  2. ?
  3. Profit.

The Irish government’s (and perhaps Sinn Féin’s) devotion to the Clones Sheugh might be explained by their adherence to a similar plan:

  1. Build canal
  2. ?
  3. Peace and prosperity.

But, knickerless, they cannot gird their loins. Maybe Little Miss Higgins‘s video might provide useful advice.

Envoi

The minister’s extensive reply did not stop Sandra McLellan from asking pretty much the same question nine days later, causing me to wonder why the shinners want the sheugh:

Is there something in the St Andrew’s Agreement, or some other bit of northsouthery, that promises a sheugh to Sinn Féin, to enable them to claim credit for some high-profile but non-threatening all-Irelandism? Is the Clones Sheugh the price of SF support for the Police Service of Northern Ireland? I don’t know, but there must be some explanation for the failure to kill off the sheugh.

[h/t to the learned AD, who drew my attention to the meeting of the select sub-committee, which I had not myself noticed. AD is not, however, to be blamed for my views — or for my metaphors]

FF -v- SF on C18 economic development

More from the splendid KildareStreet.com, this time an actual Dáil debate, with real people speaking, on 30 May 2013. The debate was initiated by Micheál Martin [head honcho in FF, Cork South Central], who asked the minister …

… his plans for capital investment in Waterways Ireland in the coming year; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

There are three odd aspects to that question.

The first is that Micheál Martin should already know that the capital expenditure allocation for WI within RoI for 2013 is €4 071 000: I can understand that he wouldn’t have wanted to plough through the vast wodges of budgetary bumpf, but I’m sure he would have read the highlights on this site.

The second oddity is that Micheál Martin must have known that the minister would not himself have any plans for capital expenditure: they would be WI’s plans.

The third oddity is that FF didn’t seem to have any particular reason for asking this question: the rest of the debate (see below) seems rather desultory. Could it be that it’s trying to reclaim the waterways limelight from the Shinners, who’ve been keeping an eye on WI dredging as well as on thon sheugh?

To be honest, it all seems a bit pointless: waterways may be interesting to me, and presumably to readers of this site, but they’re hardly of great national importance. A serious debate, by informed participants, might be useful, but (with all due respect to the contributors) there was little sign of that here.

Jimmy Deenihan did actually give some interesting, albeit minor, details about WI’s plans for this year. I omit the first two paras and the last, which are boring boilerplate bumpf that will be familiar to regular readers.

Jimmy Deenihan [FG, Kerry North/West Limerick]: While the Waterways Ireland 2013 business plan and budget is the subject of ongoing discussions with the co-sponsoring Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in Northern Ireland and will require formal approval by the North-South Ministerial Council, I have provided an indicative funding allocation of €4.071 million to Waterways Ireland for capital projects in this jurisdiction in the coming year. This will facilitate capital works by Waterways Ireland in developing, restoring and improving infrastructure for water based and activity recreation and tourism, consolidating facilitates and improving access to the waterways across the navigations.

I am advised that the Waterways Ireland draft 2013 business plan has a development schedule providing for 1354 m of additional moorings across the navigations. Works planned within this jurisdiction include a range of major projects such as upgrading Bagenalstown Lock on the Barrow; provision of a slipway and stabilisation of the dock walls at Grand Canal Dock, dredging the Grand Canal; development of houseboat facilities at Lowtown and Sallins; lifting the bridge at Tullamore depot; bridge upgrades, works on weirs and locks on the Shannon; and commencement of work on the Belturbet Service Block on the Shannon Erne and purchase of plant and machinery.

I said that I would welcome information about what “lifting the bridge at Tullamore depot” means. The answer was provided in the Comments below; here is a photo of the bridge in question.

The (currently non-lifting) lifting bridge at Tullamore

The (currently non-lifting) lifting bridge at Tullamore

 

Most of the rest is unsurprising.

The FF follow-up came from Seán Ó Fearghaíl [FF, Kildare South], who said:

I welcome the many positive developments to which the Minister referred but one of our concerns is that since 2011 the funding available for Waterways Ireland has been cut from €35 million to approximately €32 million.

Studies over the years have shown that waterways tourism is one of the activities that is most likely to generate return visits. As a regular user of places like the Shannon Navigation, one never ceases to be amazed at the number of non-nationals one meets on that waterway who have been coming back to Ireland year in, year out. I wonder to what extent the funding the Minister has available to him should be augmented by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. These waterways are of immense value to the local populations privileged to live in the catchment area of each amenity, along with their huge tourism importance. What sort of interaction does the Minister have with tourism bodies north of the Border and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport? Is anything planned for the waterways under the auspices of The Gathering?

What has happened in Kildare this week? We had Bernard Durkan [FG, Kildare North] the other day and Clare Daly [Socialist Party, Dublin North, but originally from Newbridge, Co Kildare] a moment ago; now we have a new chap from Kildare South.

Anyway, it can’t have come as any surprise to Mr Ó Fearghaíl that WI’s budget has been cut: so has everybody else’s, and the budgets were announced last December. I note that he didn’t ask how the Clones Sheugh was to be funded, never mind the Cavan Sheugh to Lough Oughter. But his question is the sort that a journalist might ask: vague, unfocused, couched in generalities, lacking in evidence of research into the subject. I would like to know more about his “Studies over the years”, with particular reference to the balance between and the allocation of the costs and benefits of investment in waterways; generating return visits is not in itself terribly useful (I really do not want Great Aunt Maud here again).

Not that the minister offered many hard facts in his reply:

I have seen for myself the provision of moorings at Killaloe and Ballina. Those have made a major difference to both towns in different counties on either side of the Shannon. The result of that investment is obvious and local people would accept that.

As regards involvement from Fáilte Ireland, Waterways Ireland is augmenting Fáilte Ireland’s promotion of the waterways. Waterways Ireland is providing funding on an annual basis for the promotion of tourism on its waterways. It is a North-South body, which is also very important, because Tourism Ireland promotes the entire island and the waterways network of more than 1,000 navigable kilometres can really be pushed on an all-island basis and we are doing that. I have tried to minimise the reduction in funding for Waterways Ireland because of its North-South significance and its potential and considerable work has been done. We have improved facilities for tourists so we are now ready to proactively promote this great facility.

Any, like, figures? Statistics? References to analyses? How much of WI’s budget is being diverted to the tourism bods and what is the benefit?

Next (and last) up was Peadar Tóibín [SF, Meath West], with “now for something completely different“:

A number of groups are actively trying to create a green way along the Boyne from the estuary to its source. The Boyne is littered with internationally recognised heritage monuments and would be a fantastic tourist attraction that would bring people into the region. People who holiday in the region visit Trim Castle and Newgrange on coach trips and as ar result Meath does not get the full value of their tourism. The Boyne Canal runs from Navan to Drogheda. It is not covered by the Waterways Ireland network. Would the Minister agree that such a canal should be brought within the ambit of Waterways Ireland, along with other canals, and would he consider the funds that might be available to help with the development of such a green way along the River Boyne?

The minister’s reply is interesting:

We have no plans to extend the present 1,000 kilometres of navigable waterways. The focus of our investment in capital development will be from Clones to Lough Erne to the value of €35 million.

What? No Cavan Sheugh? No Kilbeggan, Longford or Mountmellick Branch?

Oh, and note that the figure of €35 million is being quoted for the Clones Sheugh, although the last estimate I had form WI was higher than that.

The minister continued:

As regards the green way, I do not have direct responsibility but any way I can help through Waterways Ireland, I will do so. As a keen cyclist and walker, I am all for encouraging green ways wherever possible. If the Deputy has a proposal I can forward to Waterways Ireland for discussion, I will gladly take it.

Well, well. A Monaghan greenway is being developed; why not a Clones greenway too, instead of an expensive canal?

More budget

Here’s a fun bit from the bumpf pile about the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Waterways Ireland’s parent department in roI:

From the Expenditure Report 2013 Part 1

From the Expenditure Report 2013 Part 1

As last year, waterways exist only in the context of northsouthery, which itself is the lowest of DAHG’s priorities. The interesting thing is that DAHG is having its expenditure ceiling raised by €2.2 million, but it’s not going to waterways or even to northsouthery.

Culture for Angela

Culture for Angela

So we’re going to be forcing unfortunate EU leaders to sit through plays and such. But hold on: is there a staging of An Béal Bocht available?

At least the money is not going on the Ghastly Gathering.

Anyway, there will be lots of unspecified savings to compensate, like these:

Sauve qui peut

Sauve qui peut

The two right-hand columns are headed Savings in 2013 and Full Year Savings.

And more to come:

Tomorrow, tomorrow ....

Tomorrow, tomorrow ….

Finally, here’s a bit from the MinFin:

From Michael Noonan's Financial Statement

From Michael Noonan’s Financial Statement

Wouldn’t it be nice if he took the opportunity to abolish green diesel altogether as part of the scheme?

Budget

Vast wodges of bumpf from the government’s budget site, with non-searchable PDFs, god rot ’em. An initial look suggests these points:

  • the Dept of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht’s total allocation to northsouthery, which includes waterways, will be down 6% next year
  • current spending on northsouthery will be down from €38 244 000 to €36 178 000. Waterways Ireland gets the biggest wodge of that, about 60% [see my comment last year] in 2011; I guess that the cuts will be shared pro rata, but I can’t be sure
  • WI’s capital expenditure allocation will be reduced from €4 500 000 to €4 071 000, which may go towards shovels for thon sheugh
  • decisions on northsouthery have to be agreed by the NSMC [Irish government and NI executive].

More as I plough the pile, but the summary (to nobody’s surprise) is less spending on waterways. Maybe Éanna should have pushed ….

WI finances

Robin Evans, chief executive of the Canal & River Trust, was interviewed in the December 2012 issue of Waterways World. CART, a charitable trust, has taken over from British Waterways in England and Wales, but not in Scotland.

Robin Evans pointed out in the interview that, whereas waterways in Scotland get 98% of their funding from the state, CART’s English and Welsh waterways get only 35%. Amongst other things, CART is seeking donations and getting people to volunteer as lockkeepers and in other roles.

I’ll bet the Irish government is looking on with interest.

Northern subsidy?

The Waterways Ireland Corporate Plan 2011–2013 [PDF] tells us how the body is funded:

Waterways Ireland receives grants from money voted by the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Houses of the Oireachtas. At present 15% of recurrent or maintenance funding is provided by the Assembly in Northern Ireland and 85% by the Irish Government reflecting the current distribution of the navigable waterways, while capital development works carried out by Waterways Ireland are funded separately by the jurisdiction where the works are carried out.

This is not new information; I quote it here only for convenience (but note how “the Houses of the Oireachtas” becomes “the Irish Government”).

Now look at these figures from Annex C of the Corporate Plan. They show, for 2011, the proposed budget for current expenditure on each waterway. I have rearranged them in descending order of amount:

  • Grand Canal €4,559,160
  • Shannon Navigation €4,240,398
  • Royal Canal €2,713,052
  • Barrow Navigation €1,296,538
  • Shannon–Erne Waterway €1,269,450
  • Erne System €380,239
  • Lower Bann €375,270.

It would be interesting to compare the value for money offered by each waterway. However, it would be necessary to allow for the non-navigational responsibilities WI has for each waterway: for example, it has to look after a lot more bridges on the Grand Canal than it does on the Erne. I do not have enough information to make valid comparisons.

My immediate interest is in the figures for the Erne and the Lower Bann. Granted, the burdens on WI are in some respects lower than for other waterways. But the two northern waterways are getting a total of €755,509 spent on them out of a waterways total of €14,834,107, which is about 5%. Yet the NI Assembly is paying 15% of WI’s current expenditure.

Perhaps I’m missing something. I would welcome enlightenment.

 

Equal rights for Ulster Scots

I wrote about the government’s expenditure plans for the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht here. At the time, the allocation of current expenditure was not given in detail and I guessed that Waterways Ireland might (subject to the approval of the North-South Ministerial Council) be facing a cut of 5.4% in the 85% of its current budget that comes from the RoI.

A breakdown of the Budget Estimate Allocations for 2012 is now available for download (three .xlsx files). The cut in WI’s current expenditure allocation is about €1.7 million, which is 7% of the figure now given for the 2011 allocation. It is confirmed that the capital allocation is down by 25%, from €6 million to €4.5 million.

The capital allocation to Irish Language Support Schemes stands out: it is being doubled, a rise of 100%, although admittedly from only €100,000 to only €200,000. There is no allocation to Ulster Scots, alas: this absence of parity of esteem may distress Tha Lord Laird o Artigarvan.

 

RoI budget part 1: expenditure on waterways

When Waterways Ireland spends on capital investment in either RoI or NI, the total cost is paid by the jurisdiction in which the expenditure occurs (apart from the decision by the RoI government to pay the total cost of a canal from Lough Erne to Clones, where about half of the route lies in NI).

For current spending, Waterways Ireland gets 85% of its grant income (which is itself accounts for the vast bulk of its total income) from the RoI Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the balance from the NI Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.

The RoI government expenditure plans were announced on Monday 5 December 2011. The Comprehensive Expenditure Report 2012–2014 section on the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht mentions waterways, or matters affecting them, in several places.

Key Outcomes of the Comprehensive Review of Expenditure

As I noted here, waterways are the lowesst priority within the department. It intends to focus on eight activities, and Waterways Ireland and An Foras Teanga are covered in the final point:

  • supporting Waterways Ireland and An Foras Teanga within the context of the implementation of the Good Friday/ St Andrew’s Agreements.

An Foras Teanga covers Foras na Gaeilge and Tha Boord o Ulster-Scotch/The Ulster Scots Agency.

Expenditure and Numbers Ceilings

No mention of waterways, but the department says that steps to be taken in 2012 will save €6 million in each year of 2012, 2013 and 2014, with further savings of €10 million to be made in 2013 and €22 million in 2014. The department’s “total allocations for gross current expenditure” are to be reduced from €232 million in 2012 to €218 million in 2013 and €205 million in 2014. I can’t quite make the numbers match, but never mind.

Estimates 2012: summary of measures

The measures are summarised under five headings, one of which — North-South Co-operation — covers Waterways Ireland and An Foras Teanga. The department expects to save €2.2 million here, but says:

Any savings, in excess of the agreed 3% per annum efficiency savings, for the North/South Implementation Bodies will require the approval of the North/South Ministerial Council. It is envisaged that savings will be achieved through efficiencies and a focus on front-line services.

The 2011 estimate for current expenditure for WI and AFT was €40 982 000; a cut of €2.2 million is about 5.4% of that amount.

Indicative savings areas 2013–2014 to remain within Expenditure Ceilings

This section shows €1 million more saved in each of 2013 and 2014 but says:

Savings, in excess of the agreed 3% per annum efficiency savings,  for the North/South Implementation Bodies will require the approval of the North/South Ministerial Council.

It is not clear whether, in the figures for 2012 and in those for 2013 and 2014, the amounts of €2.2 million, €1 million and €1 million are to be in addition to the “3% per annum efficiency savings” or whether the amounts shown include the 3%.

The introduction to the section on Indicative Savings Areas says:

Reducing overall expenditure in 2013-2014, as required by the expenditure ceilings, will be a significant challenge and require ongoing critical analysis by the Department. The Department’s funding is largely focused on supports to sustain the arts and our cultural institutions, to protect our natural and built heritage and to promote our native language. However, much of this current expenditure is also of strategic importance in sustaining and growing cultural tourism and is making a significant contribution to economic recovery and enhancing our national reputation. All areas of spending will be subject to continued evaluation to ensure that scarce resources are directed towards areas of greatest impact and value-for-money.

This is standard civil service please-spare-our-budget stuff.

2012 Estimates for Supply Services

This section no longer provides a breakdown between An Foras Teanga and Waterways Ireland. In the 2011 Estimates, AFT got roughly 40% and WI roughly 60% of the money for current expenditure; AFT required no capital funding so WI got the whole lot under that heading. I will assume that the same ratios apply for 2012 but, if anyone knows better, I will be happy to amend this.

Current spending (WI)

2010 Estimates: €25 585 000

2011 Estimates: € 24 335 000

2012 Estimates: €22 929 600 (60% of €38 216 000)

Capital spending (WI)

2008 Estimates: €11 000 000

2009 Estimates: €10 300 000

2010 Estimates: €8 000 000

2011 Estimates: €6 000 000 (or €6 002 000)

2012 Estimates: €4 500 000 (or €4 502 000) (100%)

A footnote says that the allocations to northsouthery are subject to the approval of the North–South Ministerial Council.

 

The Ulster Canal: the departmental view

I have received from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht a statement on the funding of the Ulster Canal; I reproduce it here.

This statement seems to me to be more forthright than statements from DAHG’s predecessor department, which is something I welcome, and so I reproduce it without comment. I will, in a few days, offer some thoughts on the canal’s prospects.

Buried at the crossroads …

… but without a stake through its heart. The Ulster Canal is dead, but it’s spinning in its grave. Its parent department has admitted some of the truth about its funding, but Waterways Ireland will be applying for planning permission for the scheme: there’s enough money for that, but not for digging. Nonetheless, Fine Gael TDs have managed to distract attention from the absence of funding by pointing to the planning application, while Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil have not realised that a scheme’s benefits should outweigh its costs. Return of the Son of the Ghost of the Bride of the Ulster Canal on view here.