Tag Archives: department of arts heritage and the gaeltacht

Minister talks through her hat

I originally had a rather more rude heading …. The Minister for Waterways and Other Stuff has decided to have the River Finn dredged to aid her reelection campaign shut up the Shinners promote peace and prosperity. The “shutting up the Shinners” bit means pretending that this is a restoration of the Ulster Canal, whereas it avoids the canal altogether in favour of dredging the river as far as Castle Saunderson, in Co Cavan, instead of going to Clones, in Co Monaghan. According to NorthernSound

Minister Heather Humphreys says the project will provide a wonderful recreational facility for local communities and will act as a significant draw for tourists.

That, minister, is a load of old bollocks: the locals have plenty of waterway already and the tourists are not going to be drawn by another bit of river. Still, Saunderson’s Sheugh is better than the Clones Sheugh, but it is worrying that

The project is expected to cost in the region of €2 million euro and will be funded by Waterways Ireland.

According to its Business Plan 2015, approved by the North South Ministerial Council on 18 December 2014, Waterways Ireland’s budget for sheughery in 2015 is €1000. So, if it is to spend €2 million on Saunderson’s Sheugh, and if the Treasure-Seekers have failed to find any money, will this mean that WI’s budget for maintaining and repairing the existing navigations will be cut?

I see that

The Minister says construction should begin in the final quarter of 2015.

I wonder when the next election is.

Saunderson’s Sheugh and the border problem

Castle Saunderson and the border

Castle Saunderson and the border

Saunderson’s Sheugh, the latest manifestation of the proposed reconstruction of the Ulster Canal, would run along a border for much of its length. That’s the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, but there is one important border it does not seem to cross [as far as I can see]: that between counties Cavan and Monaghan.

Has Cavan stolen the sheugh from its northern neighbour? I’m sure that folk in the Monaghan part of the Dáil constituency of Cavan-Monaghan won’t mind, but I wonder whether the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, who is a TD from the Monaghan end and is in charge of Sheughery, is concerned that her Monaghan colleague Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin [Sinn Féin] might turn the situation to his party’s advantage. On the other hand, from Sinn Féin’s viewpoint, the question might be whether any sheugh is better than none.

Of course, as soon as a coalition of Sinn Féin and the Éamon Ó Cuív wing of Fianna Fáil takes power, we’ll have the entire Ulster Canal built immediately. And there will be grants for growing flax, carrying corn to Dublin and draining the Shannon [which might mean that there are no southern boats to visit the Ulster Canal].

I should say, though, that Davy, in two reports out today, is not very worried about what Sinn Féin might do: Finfacts story here; Davy here; the two reports here and here [each of which should open as a PDF; if that doesn’t work, use the links on the Davy or the Finfacts page].

Map: OpenStreetMap; copyright explained here.

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.

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Greyways and the Black Bridge

Martin McGuinness [SF] was asked recently, in the Northern Ireland Assembly, about blueways:

Leslie Cree [UUP]: It was interesting to read that Waterways Ireland has developed this first blueway in the Carrick-on-Shannon area. Can he share with us if, in fact, Waterways Ireland has developed any projects for the Erne waterway itself?

Mr McGuinness said:

These projects are under ongoing consideration by Waterways Ireland, as the development of blueways and greenways could add to our tourist potential. It is clear from how greenways have been used, particularly in the west of Ireland, that they have huge health benefits for those now walking and cycling and involved in physical activity.

There is a proposal for another greenway from Derry city to County Donegal. Blueways and greenways offer important tourist potential, and it is exciting to see that Waterways Ireland is considering the linkage in the Leitrim area and how it can be extended to Lough Erne.

But, if I might remind TPTB, not everybody likes walking, cycling and physical activity; not everybody is going to be rolling around in a kayak or paddling a canoe. There are older folk, there are those who rightly view exercise with the gravest of suspicion and there are those whose interests simply lie elsewhere.

The Greyway concept

It is for such folk that I have developed the Greyway [TM]  concept. It’s the same as a blueway or a greenway but without the sweating or the lurid dayglo clothing.

The basic idea is that you form a “route” or “way” as a marketing concept to get more people using your existing assets. Your expenditure is low: research, product development, marketing and information provision rather than infrastructure; self-guided rather than staffed user experiences. Direct income might be low too, although there may be ways to extract cash from users; there might also be spin-off opportunities for other providers. [All my usual reservations about small-scale providers apply here too.]

There might be Greyways catering for

  • walkers: gentle walks with opportunities for sitting down, drinking tea and getting a taxi back to the start
  • drivers: long-distance routes taking in several sites
  • boaters: most of Waterways Ireland’s sites are accessible by water and by road. Furthermore, some trip boats might use elements of the Greyway material in providing information for their passengers.

Themes

You need a theme to attract people: “come and walk/drive the X Greyway and see all the lovely/interesting Ys”. No doubt there are several possible values for Y: bunnies, trees, fish, bogs, hills …. But the main thing that Waterways Ireland has to sell, and that it does not currently sell, is its industrial heritage. The Shannon, in particular, exists as an improved navigation only because of (a) steam, (b) the British industrial revolution, (c) Irish agriculture and (d) low politics. And industrial heritage is something that interests some at least of the older folk. Package it into routes and sell it for grey pounds, euros or dollars.

There is all sorts of interesting stuff along the Shannon, mostly just lying there, and it should be put to work. The most concentrated section is along the old Limerick Navigation, from Limerick to Killaloe: for instance, last time I looked seven of the original twelve milestones were still present. [The distance was 12 Irish miles, approx 24 km or 15 statute miles.] It’s a walkable route and it includes

  • the neglected Black Bridge at Plassey, whose very existence reflects the Victorian version of Just-in-time delivery
  • the bridge and artefacts at O’Briensbridge
  • the richest waterways heritage site in Ireland at Killaloe.

But there could also be driving tours along the middle Shannon, between Portumna and Athlone, where there is lots to see, and from Lanesborough upwards. Shannon Harbour might eventually house a museum ….

ERIH

What I’m suggesting is that Waterways Ireland should designate the Shannon as the first route (as opposed to site) in Ireland within the European Route of Industrial Heritage [ERIH] framework. ERIH’s website includes descriptions of the route system and of anchor points, which may be too advanced for present use, but why not a European Theme Route in Transport and Communication? Ireland might even make a case for the use of advanced (or at least interesting) transport technology (steamers) in carrying agricultural produce to industrial markets.

Furthermore, if CIE were to cooperate, the railways might be brought in too, and the livestock trade, and Dublin Port, and a regional route linking to Liverpool and the railway to Manchester ….

There is an interesting story to be told about the Shannon and its links to the east coast and beyond; its industrial heritage could be used to attract tourists and entertain natives.

 

 

 

From the [UK] Civil Service Quarterly

An interesting article [h/t celr] about the setting up of the Canal & River Trust, which runs (it says itself) 2000 miles of waterway in England and Wales. The article is not, perhaps, to be seen as an objective evaluation of the benefits of the UK’s Public Bodies Reform Programme, but the idea of transferring a large operation to the voluntary sector is an interesting one, as is the scope for volunteer donations and involvement (British Waterways, C&RT’s predecessor, had nothing like as high a proportion of lockkeepers as Waterways Ireland has).

I have occasionally been asked, by British folk, whether the possibility of transferring Waterways Ireland to the voluntary sector is being considered here. I have explained (a) that WI has nothing like as significant an independent (non-grant) income as BW had and (b) that any such transfer would require the rewriting of the Good Friday, St Andrew’s and (now) Stormont House Agreements. So we are stuck with the current arangements, which at present are leaving WI at the mercy of budget cuts, a disastrous pensions arrangement, disputes between its two governing departments and a nitwitted demand, from Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil and perhaps from Fine Gael too, for a pointless canal reconstruction.

 

Saunderson’s Sheugh and northsouthery update

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.

Stormont

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.

Saunderson’s Sheugh

The Minister for  Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht [who is also a Fine Gael TD for Cavan–Monaghan] spoke at the meeeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht on 25 November 2014. She said:

In addition to progressing North-South co-operation, my key priority is progressing the first stage of the Ulster Canal project from upper Lough Erne to Castle Saunderson, near Belturbet, County Cavan. I am working on this with the Government and other key partners, including the North-South Ministerial Council and Waterways Ireland. […]

It sounds, then, as if the minister intends to get work started on the Clones Sheugh, but only as far as Castle Saunderson, where there is a scouting establishment. The route from Quivvy Lough (location of the Quivvy Marina) is along the Finn River; the first 5.5 km of the route would be in the river and the last 8.5 km to Clones in a canal. The route to Castle Saunderson would, I imagine, require dredging and the removal of rocks as well as work on [or replacement of] Derrykerrib Bridge [I have not read all the details].

It would, of course, be faster to get there by road, but no doubt lots of people will travel from Foreign Parts for the excitement of seeing Castle Saunderson from the water and paying tribute to the memory of a stout Orangeman and founder of the Irish Unionist Alliance.

No mention of the treasure-hunting group who are to find the money, but there’s an election in the offing so money won’t be a problem. Until afterwards.

Quivvy to Castle Saunderson [OSI ~1840]

Quivvy to Castle Saunderson [OSI ~1840]

The minister also said:

Regarding the Ulster Canal, which stretches from upper Lough Erne to Castle Saunderson, we hope to get the project started on that section because that is the one part of the inland waterway system that has not been developed. If we get that done, the Ulster Canal will connect into Lough Neagh. That means we will have a complete network of waterways in Ireland, which is very important. It is also a cross-Border project, and there is a peace dividend in terms of that project. It is very important in terms of cross-Border relationships. It is one shovel-ready project that can be progressed.

The minister said that “a complete network of waterways in Ireland […] is very important”. She did not say why and I can think of no possible economic justification for the creation of such a “network”. Nor is it clear what the “peace dividend” is. But the phrase that evoked most terror is “shovel-ready project”, which I take to mean something that might buy votes in the next election.

The minister’s predecessor, Éamon Ó Cuív, a Fianna Fáil TD for Galway West, said:

I welcome the Minister’s continuation of the work on the Ulster canals. There was quite a bit of work done on that in my time and I was very anxious to see it progress on a step-by-step basis. I was going to bring it to Clones, I am not sure whether the place the Minister mentioned is further or nearer than that.

The minister interjected:

It is not as far as Clones. We will start it anyway and we will get it there.

And Mr Ó Cuív continued:

I take the view that even if she were to get it half a mile, we should just nibble away at it until we get it finished. It is of strategic national importance and if we could connect Coleraine, where I was the other day and where my poor car is getting mended, all the way down the coast through Lough Neagh down to Shannon and back up the canals, it would be a fantastic facility for the island. I will not be heard complaining in any way that it is in the Minister’s constituency – that just happens to be a happy coincidence in this case.

Actually, although both Quivvy Marina and Castle Saunderson are in the Free State, most of the River Finn route is in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

It seems that I must cease to speak of the Clones Sheugh: it’s Saunderson’s Sheugh. I suppose that, if reaching Castle Saunderson were enough to shut up the Shinners, who seem to be madly keen on Sheughery for some reason that is hidden from me, that might be a bargain: it would certainly be better than going all the way to Clones.

My OSI logo and permit number for website

 

Euroloot

I see there’s a new scheme for Euroloot: a €300 billion investment fund to save the European economies. Actually it seems there is only €5 billion in real money and Constantin Gurdgiev is properly scathing. It will be interesting to see whether Ireland can make the Clones Sheugh fit within the criteria.