Tag Archives: dcal

Ulster Canal restoration: a history

Ulster Canal 01 whole_resize

Studies 1994–2000

Ulster Canal 02 whole_resize

Socio-economic summary report and feasibility study 2006

Ulster Canal 03 whole_resize

North/South Ministerial Council agreement 2007, with the Irish government to pay the full cost

Ulster Canal 04 whole_resize

DCAL business case to DAHG 2015

Exhaustive coverage begins here but use the search facility for updates. More to come.

WI budget

I mentioned the Northern Ireland budget and its effects on Waterways Ireland here; Nelson McCausland [DUP] gives an overview of the effects on DCAL here, including this:

The North/South language bodies and Waterways Ireland, while outside the scope of this budget reduction exercise, will see their budgets fall by over £1 million collectively, as agreed at the relevant North/South Ministerial Council (NSMC) meetings.

 

A quick bit of sheughery

Here, read this. I haven’t time to take it all in at the moment, but the minister’s “An updated business case was recently completed for my Department” is, as far as I know, misleading: that business case was completed by DCAL in Northern Ireland and sent to Dublin. Thus, as the SF TD Mr Ó Snodaigh probably knows, the “business case” (which is not a cost-benefit analysis) came from a Sinn Féin minister’s department.

It seems our designation of “Saunderson’s Sheugh” was spot on.

Northern Ireland spending on waterways

Sammy Wilson [DUP]: Looking through the list of capital projects, I see lock gates on the Shannon, bridge repairs on the Grand canal, enhancements of the Grand canal towpath, the Shannon Blueway and the multi-activity trail at Carrick-on-Shannon. Nearly every one of these projects is in the Irish Republic. Does the Minister see her role as fighting for projects in Northern Ireland or simply sitting there, handing over our money for projects in the Irish Republic?

Mr Wilson might not have noticed, during his terms in ministerial office, that waterways capital projects in each jurisdiction are paid for by the government of that jurisdiction. So NI money is not spent on capital projects in the republic; if NI politicians want more money spent on waterways improvements [as opposed to running costs] in Northern Ireland, it will have to come from the NI budget.

Unfortunately Mr Wilson’s party colleague, and successor as Minister of Finance and Personnel, Simon Hamilton, does not share Mr Wilson’s enthusiasm for erecting lock gates or towing-paths on the Erne [or whatever it was he wanted], for he has cut DCAL’s Budget [157-page NI budget and 28-page statement, both PDFs] and, in consequence, the amounts to be allocated to Waterways Ireland.

DCAL is wondering how to apply the chopper and is seeking views; a 190-page consultation document can be downloaded here [MS Word *.doc]. Neither DFP nor DCAL makes it easy to find the change from last year’s allocations, but DCAL says that the “savings” to be made by Waterways Ireland will be £468,000. As of today, that’s €630,727.

The Word document points out that

The budgets for the North/South Bodies are agreed by the North South Ministerial Council and are dealt with under different arrangements.  They are therefore outside the scope of this exercise.

So the document can’t say what the “front-line impact” of the cuts to Waterways Ireland’s allocation will be.

15% of WI’s current budget is paid by Northern Ireland and 85% by the republic. If the savings shown above are all to the current budget [which is not clear, though WI’s NI capital budget was pretty small anyway], then the total cut in WI’s current spending will be €5,204,847.

Note again that, without spending a lot more time on this than I currently have available, I cannot say from what base figure the cuts or savings are to be made.

Respondents to DCAL’s November 2014 consultation on the draft budget included only one who discussed waterways:

There was one response who stated that other sectors should be cut and funding to Waterways Ireland should be increased.

That was from an individual; it appears that no organisations commented on waterways issues and I cannot see any inland waterways-related voluntary body listed amongst those who submitted their views. As in the republic, arts folk seem to have been well organised.

The DCAL page contains a link to a surveymonkey page seeking responses.

 

The contagious cargo cult

Readers will be saddened to learn that Ireland’s cargo cult, the delusion that canals bring prosperity, is spreading. It may even be that an increasing frequency of political references to Saunderson’s [né the Clones] Sheugh means that the devotees are about to engage in sympathetic magic by attempting to dig a sheugh.

The sheugh was mentioned in both legislative assemblies on the island on 20 January 2015. In Dublin, Gerry Adams [SF, Louth] said:

I remind the House that the peace process is the most important political project on this island at this time and it needs to be nurtured, protected and enhanced. It must be at the top of the Government’s agenda alongside other priorities.

I wonder how many priorities can dance on the head of an agenda ….

I welcome the financial commitments that have been made, including €25 million in annual funding for the A5 road project, which will assist people in Tír Chonaill, Derry, Fermanagh and Tyrone. I welcome additional funding for reconciliation under the European Union’s PEACE and INTERREG programmes and the Government’s renewed commitment to the Narrow Water bridge and Ulster Canal projects. These are important developments which need to be delivered.

If the Shinners are going to prioritise such nitwitted public spending projects, Goldman Sachs will never allow them into government [assuming that Goldman Sachs cares what happens in Ireland, which they might not, pace Peter Sutherland]. Nobody else mentioned the sheugh in that debate, but several Norn Iron politicos seem to have succumbed to the delusion. They had a debate on “Ulster Canal: Tourism Benefits“, which is like having a debate about the nature of unicorn excrement without first checking to see whether unicorns exist.

Note, in what follows, the complete absence of any quantification of benefits, with only a single mention of costs and with an unwavering belief that canals bring prosperity, even if they lack any interesting features (apart from the engine shed in Clones). There is no attempt at identifying why tourists would be attracted to the sheugh, no discussion of the mechanism by which public spending is translated into tourism revenue and then into local or national benefit.

Not that southern politicians are any better, of course.

Anyway, back to the NI Assembly. Sean Lynch [SF] “asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment for her assessment of the potential tourism benefits of re-opening the Ulster canal”. Note that he didn’t say how much of the canal he wanted.

Arlene Foster [DUP] [for it was she] said

The waterways of Northern Ireland have the potential to become an integral part of the tourism experience in Northern Ireland. The proposed Ulster canal development could provide opportunities for canal boating as well as supporting infrastructure to support walking and cycling, all of which would benefit our visitors and the local area.

All of which is waffle. She provided no assessment.

Although the project is being led by DCAL, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) continues to work with the Ulster canal inter-agency group through the Destination Fermanagh steering group and with the Clones Erne East Blackwater project to try to maximise the tourism benefit that this project could bring.

Nice to hear that the treasure-seekers, the “inter-agency group”, still exist. I wonder what they do.

So far, Arlene seems to be sticking to her script and hasn’t given much away: the sheugh could do this, that or the other, but there’s nothing concrete. But Mr Lynch asks a follow-up question:

I thank the Minister for her somewhat encouraging answer. Does she agree that, because the canal goes through Monaghan, Fermanagh, Cavan and Tyrone, both tourism boards on the island of Ireland should work closely together to ensure that it is a success?

If it were worth doing, why would the tourism boards have to “work closely together”? Would not hundreds of thousands of foreigners, from lands without canals, come flocking to the sheugh and to the irresistible attractions of Clones? What more could the tourism boards do to sell the thing? “Visit a short canal in the middle of nowhere leading to Clones”?

Mr Lynch may just have been trying to trap Ms Foster into agreeing to some tourism crossborderality. But she seems to have been doing a bit of crossborderality of her own:

The TD for Cavan-Monaghan, Heather Humphreys, has taken a particular interest in the matter, as you would imagine. It is in part of her constituency, as it is in part of ours; therefore, she is keen to move the project forward. When I last spoke to her, she again mentioned the need to push ahead on the Ulster canal.

Oh dear.

So, I think, generally, there is support for the project. I suppose that the big challenge for us all is funding. The Northern Ireland Tourist Board — or Tourism Northern Ireland, as we should now call it — will work with its counterparts to assist and make sure that all the tourism benefits are put into any business case that is put forward.

When ministers are asked questions by members of their own parties, I wonder whether the questions were arranged beforehand in order to allow the ministers to make certain points.

William Humphrey [DUP] said “The Minister is quite right that the primary responsibility lies with the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.” The minister knew that already. But then he asked two questions. The first was:

Is Fermanagh District Council taking a collaborative approach to the cross-border element?

That might be intended to sell the prospect of further local government crossborderality to DUP supporters. The minister answered:

As I understand it, Fermanagh District Council is part of the Clones Erne East partnership, which seems to be driving this initiative. Of course, the Erne East councillors will be part of that partnership.

Humphrey’s second question, which elicited an interesting answer, was:

Obviously, in the current economic climate, budgets are tight. Has the Department looked at the possibility of funding from the European Union, given that it is a cross-border venture?

Ms Foster said

I simply do not know is the answer, because DCAL leads on this issue. However, I do know, and I have been advised, that some €54 million would be needed to secure the project to get it completed within 21 to 24 months. It is a large sum of money. If there are options to look elsewhere for funding, we would of course be supportive of them being explored.

Now, what is that €54 million for? Irish ministers have been quoting a figure of €35 million for years, even after 2011 when I was given a revised estimate of €45 million [overview of the history here]. That was to get to Clones. Is Clones now to cost €54 million? Or is that to Castle Saunderson? Or to Lough Neagh? Probably not the last. Note that these cost increases have come even before anybody starts digging anything.

Why does Clones deserve €54 million? Its population seems to be slightly below 3000; why not give every man, woman and child €15,000 each to forget about the sheugh, thereby saving €9 million?

Back to the Assembly. Basil McCrea [UUP], who may be the most sensible MLA, suggested, as he has suggested before, that users of inland waterways pay “for example, through a boat tax” something towards the cost of the waterways “provided that the money is used specifically for enhancing inland waterways?” Ms Foster said that was not her business and added

I want to encourage more people to come and use the inland waterways. Of course, I want them to use Lough Neagh and Lough Erne in particular.

I wonder why she omitted the Lower Bann, the Shannon–Erne Waterway and the various derelict navigations — including Saunderson’s Sheugh.

 

 

 

 

 

DCAL and water recreation

Noting that the NI Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure [DCAL] has a Water Recreation Development Programme, I emailed the department to find out more:

I would be grateful if you could let me have a copy of your 2013-14 Inland Waterways Water Recreation Development Programme and of any subsequent equivalent programmes, policies or documents. I have been unable to find anything on your website.

I am grateful for the reply, which read:

[…] we wish to advise you that we do not have a formal Water Recreation Development Programme document. How the Water Recreation Development Programme is operated is that we apply each year for capital funding. If successful, we then go out to local authorities seeking to work in partnership with them and other public bodies to co or match fund appropriate and inclusive capital projects. Such projects should provide water related access: for example riverside paths, canoe steps or other similar facilities on public owned land which is free for the public to access and use.

The process we follow is when we receive details of the projects from local authorities we complete an assessment of the project taking into account the following criteria

  1. Does the project provide water access
  2. Are there funding or delivery partners
  3. How the project links to the community
  4. How will the project be maintained in the future
  5. Does it enhance or improve disability access
  6. How does it promote social inclusion.

If DCAL is content that these criteria are met we would then consider funding for the project.

During the 13/14 year we had a capital fund and we were able to support six projects; however due to budget constraints we do not have a capital fund this year 14/15.

The Water Recreation Development Programme appears to be distinct from the Water Recreation Programme covered here and to apply to waterways other than those managed by Waterways Ireland.

This site has what purports to be the department’s business plan for 2013–4. I expected to find it here on the DCAL site but that page seems not to have been updated for some years. If anyone can point me to a link on the DCAL site, I would be grateful for guidance.

I cannot, therefore, be certain that the purported plan is actually DCAL’s plan, but I quote it anyway.

DCAL Inland Waterways

In partnership with local authorities and the voluntary and community sector, DCAL continued to manage canal towpaths in 2012-13. In addition, under the Inland Waterways Water Recreation Development Programme, in conjunction with local councils the Department grant aided 6 projects which included a canoe slalom, interpretative signage and the installation of an outdoor exercise ‘Trim Trail’. These facilities are free for everyone to use and it is a stipulation of the Programme that projects address social exclusion. The Water Recreation Programme is continuing in 2013-14. Funding was also made available to the Lough Neagh Partnership to engage with local rural communities around the lough to explore how they could develop the cultural and leisure tourist potential of the Lough.

In 2013-14, key challenges include work towards registration of assets on the Lagan Canal and investigations into the provision of a safe system of navigation markers for Lough Neagh. DCAL will also be considering the outcomes of a study into the potential for re-opening the former Lagan Navigation.

DCAL’s target for y/e 31 March 2014 was:

By 31 March 2014, to fund at least 5 water recreation projects which provide accessible opportunities for all and target those experiencing poverty and social exclusion.

Its “opening allocations” for 2013–4 were:

  • Inland Fisheries and Waterways: current £5.87m, capital £0.17m
  • North/South Body – Waterways Ireland: current £5.42m, capital £0.25m.

 

Uninformative press release aboot thon sheugh

Plans to restore the Upper Lough Erne to Clones section of the Ulster Canal are being pursued by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht

it says here. The official NSMC version is here. No mention of the inter-agency treasure-seekers; perhaps the swag is in here:

Progress on the development of the new INTERREG V and PEACE IV Programmes for the period 2014 – 2020 was discussed. The Council noted that the draft Programmes had been submitted to the EU commission by the deadline of 22 September 2014.

I see that WI employee payments for pensions are going up:

16. Ministers also acknowledged the ongoing work in relation to reform of the North South Bodies Pension Scheme, including recently approved amendments to ensure the Scheme complies with employment legislation and best practice in both jurisdictions and to increase employee contributions.

Someone with a tin ear (perhaps someone who doesn’t do crosswords) wrote this:

driving a shift to public and more sustainable modes of transport and the potential for shared cross border public transport services in border areas.

Driving would be right, especially in Donegal. But what about parity of esteem?

development of cross border Greenways

Why no Orangeways?

 

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.

 

 

Jim Allister and WI’s business plans

I noted here that Jim Allister, Traditional Unionist Voice MLA, had been asking questions about the “regularity” and “legality” of certain amounts granted to Waterways Ireland and the cross-border Language Body by the NI Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. His two questions to the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure were answered last week.

AQW 35466/11-15: To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, in light of the Comptroller and Auditor General qualifying her Department’s Resource Accounts for 2013/14, whether she accepts that grant payments of over £8m made by her Department’s North/South Bodies were irregular; and if she will seek approval from the Department of Finance and Personnel for all such payments in accordance with the statutory requirements of the North/South Co-operation (Implementation Bodies) (Northern Ireland) Order 1999. [Priority Written]

Answer: The accounts for both agencies of the North South Language Body and Waterways Ireland for the 2013 and 2014 years have not yet been completed and audited.

My Department’s Accounting Officer reported that during the 2013/14 year, DCAL incurred irregular spend in respect of grants to the Language Body and Waterways Ireland as the business plans for these respective periods have not been approved. Draft business plans were in place against which the performance and budget of the bodies were monitored, and Corporate Plans for the period 2011- 13 for Waterways Ireland and both agencies of the Language Body, which were approved by Sponsor Department Ministers; both Finance Ministers and the NSMC Ministers were in place.

That’s a lesson in how to avoid answering the questions you were asked.

AQW 35541/11-15: To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure whether she will place into the Assembly Library, a copy of the documentation received from the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP), or otherwise recording DFP approval, which verifies the claim by her Department’s Accounting Officer in the Resource Accounts 2013/14 that DFP approval of grants to North/South Bodies was given for the amount of the grant at estimates or efficiency stage negotiations. [Priority Written]

Answer: The 2013/14 Main Estimate is published on the Department of Finance and Personnel’s website (http://www.dfpni.gov.uk/main-estimates-2013-14.pdf). My Department included within the 2013/14 Main Estimate on specific lines entitled “Language Body” and “Waterways Ireland” an estimate of the grants (before any efficiency savings were applied) my Department intended to allocate to the North South Bodies during 2013/14.

Estimates are prepared by departments and examined by DFP Supply to ensure that they meet Assembly propriety requirements and are consistent with the Executive’s expenditure plans.

After approval by DFP Supply the Estimates are presented and recommended (as required by Section 63 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998) to the Assembly by the DFP Minister who moves the Supply Resolution/s summing up the requests for Supply for each body.

On the basis of legal advice, the Department considers that the process and published Main Estimate document shows approval by DFP for the grants allocated to the North South bodies. DFP did not approve the final business plan which has resulted in the grants being deemed irregular.

It would be nice to see that legal advice.

Last week’s Phoenix magazine had an article headed “Flanagan falls flat on face” [not online] about severe constipation in the business of the Northern Ireland Executive. It includes this paragraph:

The DUP have plunged the [NI] institutions into a blast freezer since May when unionist ultra Jim Allister, staunch opponent of the GFA [Good Friday Agreement], got 75000 votes in the Euro elections. His party won thirteen council seats the same day. That sent a high voltage chock through the party. They stopped doing business with Sinn Féin, fearful of losing votes in next year’s British election.

But the WI/Language Body business plans problem surely began before May 2014.

NI21 and waterways charges

Basil McCrea is MLA for Lagan Valley and leader of NI21. He is a member of the NI Assembly’s Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure. He has asked two questions of the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure:

AQW 35965/11-15: To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to detail the Department’s total expenditure to Waterways Ireland in (i) 2012; (ii) 2013; and (iii) 2014 to date.

AQW 35966/11-15: To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure whether there is legislative provision for her Department to impose a charge on users of waterways.