Tag Archives: bye-laws

Waterways Ireland and Erne Bye-laws

Waterways Ireland gets slightly tougher. Basil McCrea will be disappointed.

Backing Basil

Can it be that there are two sane politicians on the island of Ireland? If so, that would be the highest number since Morpeth and Mulgrave.

Down here in the Free State we have the Sainted Leo Varadkar [KH, I see]; Oop North, where it’s grim, they have Basil McCrea [BRA] of NI21. Basil has another Written Question for Carál Ní Chuilín, NI Minister for Waterways Ireland [and Lambeg drumming, according to some of her fellow-MLAs]. Basil’s question is:

To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure whether her Department is considering the introduction of an annual fee for boat users to fund and improve boating infrastructure.

The only problem with that is that — at least for the Waterways Ireland navigations — the fee is needed not to improve the infrastructure but to keep the lights on, get the equipment repaired and buy basic consumables. It seems to me that boat-owners either don’t know or don’t care how bad the financial situation is. I presume that the owners who are helping themselves to free moorings around Lough Derg are in the don’t-care category.

Barbara Lewis Solow, in The Land Question and the Irish Economy 1870–1903 [Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts 1971], shows that the problem with Irish agriculture in the late nineteenth century was that rents were too low and there were not enough evictions. Much the same could be said of Irish waterways: charges are pretty well non-existent and even such few rules as there are are widely ignored.

In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

What Waterways Ireland and the Irish waterways need, fast, is a new set of strict byelaws, with significant user charges and strict enforcement mechanisms, preferably empowering the tax authorities to seize income and property.

The ministers should stop faffing around and get on with it.

 

 

Canal tourists or canal pensioners?

The Village at Lyons 265_resize

La Serre

Nibbling yesterday on a morsel of cured salmon, with fennel and apple salad, lemon crème fraiche and lavender jelly, at the excellent La Serre restaurant at the Village at Lyons, I looked forward to walking outside afterwards, on to the canal bank, to view the many boats that would undoubtedly be moored there, above the thirteenth lock, as their owners lunched at La Serre’s sister institution, the Canal Café.

The thirteenth lock (and its wonderful O)

The thirteenth lock (and its wonderful O)

Judge of my surprise, then, when I found not a single boat outside. I realised, though, that boaters probably walked from nearby Hazelhatch and even from Sallins. For we know, do we not, that boaters are vital to tourism? Even Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party tells us so, which means that they must be out and about along the canals, spending money (and where better to spend it than at the Canal Café?).

The Canal Café, mere feet from the canal bank

The Canal Café, mere feet from the canal bank

But a difficulty has struck me. Mr Higgins’s position is that boaters have money available for discretionary expenditure, but Senator John Kelly tells us that most boaters are “retired couples from England who are receiving small English pensions”. So one politician tells us that boaters have disposable incomes and that they should not pay money to Waterways Ireland because they spend money in pubs and restaurants along the canals; another politician tells us that boaters should not pay money to Waterways Ireland because they have none to spare.

I find it difficult to reconcile these two positions.

 

Shinners losing patience over sheugh

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin [SF, Cavan-Monaghan] in the Dáil on 5 February 2014:

There is no excuse for either the British or the Irish Governments to stand over any delay in advancing with key cross-Border infrastructural projects such as the Carlingford Narrow Water bridge and the Ulster Canal. With regard to the Ulster Canal, I have been in touch with the office of the Northern Ireland Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, Carál Ní Chuilín MLA, my party colleague. She assures me that both she and her counterpart here, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, are fully committed to this project, and I welcome that affirmation. As I pointed out in the debate on the Six Counties last year, the North-South Ministerial Council agreed to proceed with the Ulster Canal project in 2007. In the intervening period, we have seen the economic collapse in this State and a parallel contraction in the North. Despite this, the Ulster Canal project was kept alive.

Permission was granted last year for the Northern section by Environment Minister, Alex Atwood, and by Clones Town Council and Monaghan County Council for the section in this jurisdiction.

The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, has advised that the earliest the contract could be awarded would be late 2014 with a completion date in spring 2017. I urge the Minister to do all in his power to expedite this process and to encourage his colleagues to do so. I also urge him to maximise the possible EU funding for the project from the Peace IV programme.

The Ulster Canal project is about greatly enhancing one of the finest landscapes in Ireland for locals and tourists alike, regenerating rural areas that have long been neglected and delivering a tangible peace dividend to Border communities that were neglected for far too long. It is time to get the work on the ground under way.

Yes …. Sinn Féin’s faith in the economic potential of canals is touching, if slightly worrying for anyone who believes that the world economy has changed since the late eighteenth century.

But wait: as far as I can see, SF is one of the few groups that has not asked Jimmy Deenihan about Waterways Ireland’s proposed new byelaws, which might force boaters to pay slightly more of the cost of their hobby. Perhaps SF is secretly hoping that user charges on the Clones Sheugh will be high enough to pay at least the interest on the construction cost? That would be nice.

 

English pensioners

How useful it is to have such well-informed politicians as John Kelly, a Labour Party senator from Co Roscommon. He was able to tell us that there are 300–400 people “moored on our canals and waterways”, which is rather fewer than WI thinks, what with there being over 8000 boats registered on the Shannon. The learned Senator Kelly was also able to tell us that, of those 300–400 people,

Most of them are retired couples from England who are receiving small English pensions. This proposal will drive them off the water and back to England. They are contributing hugely to local economies throughout this country.

Most of them? For, I presume, certain values of most — and certain values of 300–400.

Maybe whoever is briefing politicians could make sure they can read their briefs properly …. It was almost a relief to turn to the more conventional Trottery from Joe Higgins. I imagine that his intervention will certainly sway Fine Gael.

Addendum: Senator Kelly did it again next day, but at least he had changed most to many.

Approximately 400 families in this country currently paying only €126 per year in respect of mooring will if these by-laws are introduced now be faced with charges of €3,500 per annum. Many of the people concerned are retired English couples and families who cannot afford housing.

The concept of a range of prices seems to be unfamiliar to the good senator, so he takes the top rate, for the largest size of boat in the best location with the highest level of services, and says that that applies to all. And he seems to be unaware that many boats are parked by people who do not live on them.

Had the good senator had able to read Waterways Ireland’s document, he would have seen that proposed mooring fees range upwards from €160 for non-residential moorings (many boats are not lived on) and €1250 for residential. Claiming that the highest value is the only one is seriously misleading.

 

 

Relationships: guest post by Adele Picard

I invited Adele Picard to write a piece explaining why canal-based boaters are distrustful of Waterways Ireland. I am very grateful to her for agreeing to do so. The post’s appearance here does not mean that Adele and I agree on all the issues, but we are agreed that relationships are important and that the relationship between WI and canal-based boaters needs to be improved.

The Comments facility has been switched off. bjg

Relationships between WI and canal boaters

I have been asked to write this piece to explore a range of issues faced by canal users in recent years.

I set up home in 2003 when my partner and I bought our first narrow boat Chimwemwe. We lived in Lowtown and were enjoying life so much that we bought a wide-beam barge Rigmarole in 2005. We moved ashore in 2007 and soon after got married and started a family. Fortunately my two little boys are just as mad about the boat as we are and we enjoy cruising all over Ireland on the inland waterways.

In this piece I will be talking about issues that I have witnessed myself as well as first-hand accounts that have been related to me by others. I would like to point out at this stage that what follows is my personal opinion and is in no way claimed to be representative of views that may be held by any Irish boating organisations I may be a member of.

Lack of regulation and enforcement of bye-laws has always been a contributing factor to the issues experienced by users of the canals and River Barrow. In the current times as Waterways Ireland (WI) attempts to throw down the gauntlet and assert some kind of control over the navigations, a deepening of these issues is inevitable.

Control = a means of limiting or regulating something in order to mitigate any inherent risk that may occur.

At the moment Waterways Ireland’s reputational risk among the boaters on the canals has been realised but can this risk now be mitigated?

Taking control of the electricity

During my time as a liveaboard in Lowtown, a lot of boaters availed of the precious electricity supply, regardless of distance from their vessel to the power points. This resulted in long leads being run down the towpaths. When the clampdown started on this sort of thing by WI in 2006, a warning was shot across the bows and soon after the electricity was removed. In some cases this action resulted in vulnerable people being left without shore power. People felt that this situation could have been handled better by WI. On the other hand, everybody knew that, underneath it all, this situation represented a serious health and safety violation. This for me was the first indication that WI was putting controls in place to minimise their exposure to risk.

The Lowtown fiasco

In early 2012, after WI pulled out of a deal with Robert Few and Vita Marine on the expansion of Lowtown Marina, a meeting was held with the residents, a representative from WI and the management of Vita Marine. What came out of that meeting was that everybody moored there had to leave within the following 30 days due to health and safety concerns.

This is where we as a boating community started to engage with WI on the issues, mostly through the Property and Legal section. The frustration of going back and forth with emails and letters with no clear answers forthcoming from WI was disheartening. Furthermore the action led to the desolation and abandonment of Lowtown. This is when we started to open our eyes to the lack of willingness from WI to engage with the boating community. Legal proceedings began shortly afterwards, and we got very little information after that.

Rollout of new permits

The introduction of new permits in 2012 was at first to me a positive step, as one of the main issues on the canal is the number of sunken vessels; there was a real need to implement controls where every vessel is registered so owners can be contacted.

Then you go a little deeper and realise that these permits come with new issues. I would like to make it very clear that I have no problem paying for permits, but the following issues have not been dealt with to my satisfaction:

  • the legality of the new indemnity clause
  • the lack of an appeals process when and if there is action taken
  • the need for a deposit
  • the lack of a dispute resolution mechanism.

Although WI will say that they are within their rights to introduce reasonable changes to the terms and conditions of their permits, in my opinion these changes are not reasonable. Furthermore, the complaints procedure is frustrating due to a weak corporate governance structure.

Extended Mooring Permit (EMP)

It was after I had given up the liveaboard lifestyle, although still using the boat regularly, that I noticed that far fewer of the usual gang were travelling by boat to attend social gatherings along the waterways. I subsequently found out that the commonly accepted gentlemen’s agreement that many liveaboards have in relation to their spots had been broken. A boater returning from a rally had their spot taken. This kind of behaviour added to the already problematic lack of movement of some boats which has raised debate before. People were afraid to move!

The addition of the EMP, I felt, could stop this situation, but friends of mine bought one in 2013 to find that when they went out for the day their spot was occupied on their return. A WI official said nothing could be done. The EMP is now not fit for the purpose intended.

Also for those of us who like to move around the system there seemed to be no options: we didn’t really need an EMP as we would be in many different locations over the season and one location in the winter.

Then the stickering started in selected areas on the canal for those in breach of the five-day rule. In one instance boats were being stickered for the breach in Lowtown, while less than a mile down the road in Robertstown boats that hadn’t moved for years were not stickered.

Furthermore boats that wanted to move on the Royal were encountering their own problems in relation to low water levels, canal closures and the difficulties lifting Newcomen bridge.

Of course a barrage of correspondence ensued from boaters with WI on all these issues only to be met with what was becoming the standard with WI: more emails and unclear answers. It’s hard to explain this frustration but what it feels like is someone just shrugging their shoulders at you and saying “I don’t know”. Not a good way to treat your customer base in these times of expected transparency and professional standards in public service.

Liveaboards

I think on the whole liveaboards in general would welcome regulation on mooring as long as the terms and conditions are not too harsh and the price is right. I think the terms and conditions that are currently on offer at this present time are too stringent and could be improved with some consultation with the users.

For example during the planning process on the proposal to build jetties in Sallins Harbour submissions were made to Kildare County Council in August 2012 asking that Sallins should not go down the same road as the jetties in Shannon Harbour and Grand Canal Dock, which were lying empty at the time.

Following this WI did actively consult with the boating community and a deal was struck. This shows how a positive approach and engagement can make a real difference to our waterways and the communities on and around them.

The Sallins lockout

This positive development now has a shadow lying over it. Subsequent to the start of the consultation period on the 2014 proposed bye-law amendments, a campaign was launched on social media by concerned boaters and support grew rapidly. A peaceful protest was planned for Sallins on 25 January 2014. What follows are a series of actions by WI:

  • on Friday 24 January a Marine Notice issued stating that the canal at Sallins would be closed from Monday 27 January
  • on the Friday morning WI blocked the western entrance to the harbour and removed the racks from lock 14 on the eastern side, stranding 6 boats between locks 13 and 14
  • a Marine Notice issued after the fact stating that WI were now closing the canal on 24 January.

There was a serious risk to those stranded boats not only from a health and safety viewpoint but also because most of them were too big to turn around on that stretch of canal.

Conclusion

My opinion on the events of the recent past is that WI has a lot to do in order to improve communication with canal boaters. If the true purpose of these bye-law amendments is to …

develop the canals as a vibrant recreational waterway for all users by enhancing Waterways Ireland’s ability to manage the investment in infrastructure and facilities on the canals for both the navigational and recreational user

… the only way forward is for WI to actively engage with the communities both on and around the waterways.

© Adele Picard 2014

Quick work

Since some time yesterday (after 3.00pm, I presume) WI’s website has said:

Waterways Ireland ​undertakes Public Consultations as required under the legislation.
There is currently one consultation open:
1) Waterways Ireland Draft Corporate Plan 2014-2016 […]

Verb sap.

The cost of parking a boat

On the east side of Dublin

Poolbeg: €280 per metre for a year plus membership; €20 a night for visitors.

Dun Laoghaire: €435 per metre with facilities for a year, €290 per metre without; €3.60 per metre per night for visitors.

Howth: €81 per metre per month; daily rate €3,20 per metre, minimum daily charge €20.

On the west side of Dublin

Grand or Royal Canal: current maximum €278 per year, irrespective of boat length, less than Dun Laoghaire charges per metre (for a berth with no facilities).

Admittedly you can go to more places from Dun Laoghaire (like, er, Holyhead), but on the other hand you can go boating from west Dublin in all but the most extreme conditions and there are more pubs along the way.

Comments closing

Very large numbers of new readers have visited this site in recent days and have read my posts about the draft WI canals byelaws. I am grateful to them and even more grateful to those who took the trouble to comment.

I have spent pretty well the whole week on this, between reading the legislation and draft byelaws, writing up posts and responding to comments. I have fallen behind with other work, and accordingly I need to turn my attention to other issues.

I have invited one person to write a guest post on an aspect of the byelaws issue that I think is important, but that apart I won’t be adding new material on the subject for some time. Furthermore, later this evening I will close the existing posts to comments. Those posts, latest first, are:

Draft canals byelaws: comments on what I sent to WI as my contribution to the consultation process

Bang em’ up? Alas, no more on the enforcement mechanisms

Pull the plug: drain the canals on WI’s financial situation. I hope it is clear that I don’t really want to see them drained, but that I do think action is needed

Asleep at the wheel on why the production of new draft byelaws should not have come as a surprise.

The posts themselves and the existing comments will remain visible.

I hope that readers have found the discussion and information useful — even those who didn’t agree with my views.

My next substantial post will be on the Dublin & Kingstown Canal.

If you are interested in the mix of contemporary and historical waterways matters, you are welcome to subscribe to the site’s RSS feeds or by email. Note that the site is non-commercial and does not carry advertisements.

Draft canal byelaws: comments

I have sent to Waterways Ireland my comments on the proposed canals byelaws, on everything from the structure of the document to the finer points of wording. Here is a summary of what I said about the more important points.

Legal basis

I am not a lawyer, but as far as I can see the draft byelaws are, and are being made, in accordance with the provisions of the Canals Act 1986 and the Maritime Safety Act 2005.

The structure of the new byelaws document

I suggested that the structure of the document would be improved, and the document would be easier to follow, if each new concept had:

  • a definition
  • a mention in a byelaw
  • an entry, giving the charge, in the schedule.

As it is, eight concepts (excluding Waterways Ireland) are introduced in the definitions section:

  • annual canals cruising permit
  • annual extended canals mooring permit
  • annual houseboat mooring permit
  • Barrow open fishing boat licence
  • continuous cruising
  • fixed payment notice
  • houseboat
  • visitor cruising permit.

The second and third concepts are implicitly, but not explicitly, covered by Byelaw 3. Its heading includes fishing but the text does not. The sixth concept, the fixed payment notice, is covered in Byelaw 7 and the seventh concept, the houseboat, is covered in Byelaw 4.

However, the three cruising concepts, two of which have permits, and the Barrow licence are not discussed in any of the draft byelaws, although the concepts are just as novel as those of the various mooring permits. That leaves the attentive reader wondering why some new concepts are covered by, or discussed in, byelaws and other are not.

I suggested that it would be better to

  • group the cruising concepts together, and then the mooring concepts, in the definitions
  • devote at least one byelaw to each set of concepts, treating them in the same order as in the definitions
  • follow the same order in the schedule of charges.

Apart from being easier to follow, that would ensure that all the new concepts have the same level of legal cover: at present some are covered by byelaws and others are not.

I suggested therefore that Byelaw 3 might cover the use of the canals and Barrow for navigation and Byelaw 4 might cover their use for the mooring of boats. Each byelaw would list the types of use that Waterways Ireland is providing for, state the permit required and state that the charge is set out in the schedule.

For the moorings, the byelaw would also state that WI will designate the areas or stretches of canal bank that may be used for each type of mooring; it might also state that those areas or stretches may not be used by boats without the appropriate permits. And it would make it clear that WI can set different rates depending on the size of boat, location and services provided.

Both byelaws should, as at present, give the legal basis, but I recommended sticking closely to the wording of the appropriate parts of Section 7 (1) of the Canals Act 1986.

Categories of cruising activity

The draft envisages permitting three types of cruising activity:

  • year-long cruising
  • continuous cruising
  • visitor cruising.

The definitions seem to be slightly contradictory: the annual canals cruising permit is said to be required by all boats but the definitions for the other two forms suggest that those activities may be undertaken without an annual canals cruising permit.

I suggested that the concept of continuous cruising be dropped. It describes the cruising permitted to holders of visitor permits, which Byelaw 5 can deal with adequately. Given that real continuous cruising is barely possible on the canals and Barrow, especially in the winter, providing for it seems pointless, and it might tempt customers to try to avoid paying for mooring permits.

I suggested that Waterways Ireland include a provision empowering itself to issue cruising permits for designated journeys, as in Byelaw 6 of the 1988 byelaws. The provision could be phrased so as to allow (but not require) Waterways Ireland to offer special permits, perhaps at discounted rates, to boats or groups of boats undertaking specific journeys, perhaps taking longer than one month, or travelling to specific events.

For example, a boat might not be able to complete the round trip from the Shannon to Dublin via the Royal, and back via the Grand, within one month, given the restricted schedule of bridge lifts, but WI might like to encourage boaters to undertake that trip by offering discounts on tolls. Similarly, if a waterside community were organising a festival, it might like to encourage boaters to travel there and WI might support the event by offering a package deal to festival-goers.

Categories of mooring

I noted that, as far as I can see, the Combined Mooring and Passage Permit will no longer exist. I take that to mean that there will be no uncontrolled mooring on the canals and Barrow. The definitions envisage permitting three types of mooring:

  • annual extended canals mooring permit (perhaps the word “extended” could be dropped)
  • annual houseboat mooring permit
  • Barrow open fishing boat licence. I asked (again) about the difference between licence and permit (I don’t understand the answer I got last time) and why open non-fishing boats should not be licensed too.

I suggested that the byelaw should state that WI can designate moorings for boats that are touring, visiting or cruising (or whatever the appropriate term is) and also state that other boats may not use those moorings without permission.

I said that the byelaw, rather than (or as well as) the schedule, should make it clear that WI can set different rates depending on the size of boat, location and services provided; it should also cover the annual and daily charges for the Grand Canal Dock and Spencer Dock.

I am not clear whether it is intended that a houseboat should hold the annual extended canals mooring permit as well as the annual houseboat mooring permit. The first is said to be required of all boats not navigating or continuously cruising, and that definition includes houseboats. I suggested that houseboats should not be required to hold both permits and that the definitions and byelaws should make that clear. If, on the other hand, it is intended that houseboats should hold both permits, that too should be made clear.

I said that the definition of houseboat must be fireproof, as must the power to decide what is and what is not a houseboat. The current definition, I felt, invites endless argument about the definition of “principal” and about whether or not the sleeping practices of the owner or occupant mean that the boat is a principal residence.

Finally, I suggested considering a canals equivalent of the Shannon’s winter mooring scheme, albeit with higher charges, or perhaps an annual permit that combined cheaper winter with more expensive summer mooring. That would cater for boats that spend the winter on the canals (presumably near their owners’ homes) and the summer on the Shannon. In winter, they could use visitor moorings or bank moorings near Dublin with little likelihood of their depriving anyone else of access.

Navigations

I suggested that it be made clear that “canals” includes “Barrow navigation”. Neither the Canals Act 1986 nor the existing byelaws make that clear.

The definition of the visitor cruising permit confines it to boats “visiting the canals from another navigation”. I asked whether the Liffey, the tidal Barrow and indeed the sea come within the term “navigation”.

Compliance and enforcement

I have given my interpretation here.

Price and revenue

I said that I do not imagine that WI knows, or could find, the price elasticity of demand for the various types of moorings. As a result, I suggest that WI should retain the maximum flexibility in price-setting and should be willing to change prices year by year to discover the best price points.

I have no objection to the rates shown in the first schedule but I wonder whether they make sufficient allowance for any future inflation. I raised some minor points about the Dublin passage charges; in particular I suggested that the per-boat charge for the Newcomen railway bridge should be changed to a per-lift charge to encourage numbers of boats to travel together and thus to reduce the number of lifts required.