Tag Archives: department of culture arts and leisure

The DUP fightback

I mentioned here that the ridiculous decision by the Sinn Féin Minister for Marching Bands [and Sheughs] to ask the DUP Minister for Finance and Personnel for £46 million for the Lisburn Sheugh might have been intended to annoy the DUP. Most of the Lisburn Sheugh, formerly the Lagan Navigation, ran through unionist territory; the Lagan Valley constituency is solidly unionist, and specifically DUP, in both Westminster and NI Assembly elections. It costs Ms Ní Chuilín nothing to pass on the Lisburn lunacy to the Dept of Finance, leaving it to a DUP Minister to turn down the funding application.

But the DUP has lobbed a neat hand-grenade response back at the Shinner fortress. Brenda Hale, DUP MLA for Lagan Valley, has put two questions to the sheughery enthusiasts:

AQW 48647/11-16 To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what financial support her Department has offered the Lagan Canal Trust, given that their budget has been cut by 11 per cent. [09/09/2015 Awaiting Answer]

AQW 48646/11-16 To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure when the Lagan Navigation Canal Locks where last maintained. [09/09/2015 Awaiting Answer]

Ye’ll no’ fickle Thomas Yownie.

Northern nutters

I suppose this might be a Shinner ploy to annoy the DUP, but it is eloquent testimony to the pointlessness of the Northern Ireland Executive. It is unable to get its own act together, it can’t agree a budget — but one of its ministers thinks it should waste yet more of HMG’s money on yet another useless canal restoration proposal.

The Lagan Canal Trust is, it appears, funded by DCAL to enable it to draw up funding applications to DCAL ….

Saunderson’s Sheugh and northsouthery

Northern Ireland Assembly written question AQW 42836/11-15 tabled 25 February 2015

Mr Cathal Ó hOisín [SF, East Londonderry]: To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to outline the North South co-operation and coordination involved in the recently announced Ulster Canal restoration project.

Ms Carál Ní Chuilín [SF, North Belfast; Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure]: Arising from the Agreement establishing the North South Implementation Bodies Waterways Ireland was tasked with progressing the possible restoration and development of the Ulster Canal. Waterways Ireland, in conjunction with my Department and The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht as sponsor Departments north and south, identified the progression of the project in a phased approach as the preferred option. The recent announcement refers to phase 1 of the restoration, which will be capital works along the River Erne from Quivvy Lough to Castlesaunderson. Waterways Ireland intends to commence the works in April 2015.

Sort it yourself, Heather

No, that’s not me saying it: that’s the message from Enda Kenny to Heather Humphreys about Saunderson’s Sheugh. Recall that Ms Humphreys’s Northern Ireland counterpart has been pressing her to do something about the Ulster Canal:

Moving to implementation would have a positive impact on wider North/South relations. It would provide delivery on a commitment given by the North South Ministerial Council in 2007 in the context of the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive following a five year hiatus. It had not been possible to make visible progress up to now in the absence of planning permission. However, now that the necessary preparatory work has been completed and the required planning permissions are in place, failure to proceed to implementation could be viewed as tantamount to retracting the commitment given in 2007 and reported on regularly at North South Ministerial Council meetings since then.

Strange words to find in a business case, but that’s where they are: in the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht’s Restoring the Ulster Canal from Lough Erne to Clones: Updated Business Case February 2015. They read to me as if they might have been written by Carál Ní Chuilín’s Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in the draft they sent to DAHG; it might have been tactful to remove them, as they smack of the message I envisaged here:

[…] I suspect that Sinn Féin put a gun to someone’s head: “We’re fed up waiting for our sheugh. Start digging or the baby gets it.”

Presumably, then, Ms Humphreys went to her government colleagues and asked for money to buy a few shovels. It is clear that the government took a decision on the matter:

The Government also remains committed to the Narrow Water bridge project and to developing the Ulster Canal. The Government made a decision in regard to an element of that project today.

That was Enda Kenny in the Dáil on 24 February 2015. Later in the same discussion, he said:

This morning, on a recommendation from the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the Government approved a recommendation from Waterways Ireland to allocate €2 million from its resources to address a 2.5 km section of the Ulster Canal. It is a stand-alone project which will demonstrate further evidence of great co-operation. I understand a further 11 km are due for assessment after that.

Now, I am quite ready to believe Mr Kenny’s assertion that Waterways Ireland volunteered to have its already tattered budget cut by another €2 million to pay for dredging the River Finn; I also believe Mr Kenny’s assertions about economic recovery and about the existence of unicorns. I’m less certain that having the southern state pay the entire cost can be called “evidence of great co-operation”. But I am happy to note that no decision has been taken to dig a further 11 km of sheugh to Clones.

It seems, though, that — despite its commitment to sheughery — Mr Kenny’s government does not intend (at least until that economic recovery is further advanced and the unicorn mating season is over) to pay an extra penny or cent to cover the costs. That is very wise, but I suspect that it left Ms Humphreys swinging in the wind: forced to do something to satisfy DCAL and Sinn Féin but unable to extract any extra money from the government. Waterways Ireland then — without, I am sure, any prompting — nobly volunteered to reduce the spending levels agreed in its business plan just two months before, and to sell some unidentified property, to come up with €2 million to save its southern minister.

I have asked DAHG for a list of those government departments to which the business case was sent; I’ll then ask them what they said about it. As it stands, it seems that DAHG’s work of imaginative literature failed to convince the Irish government.


Why DCAL shoved the Sheugh?

It is possible that the NI Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure has been putting pressure on the republic’s Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, to get it to start shovelling Saunderson’s Sheugh, because DCAL was aware of its own impending demise. According to Peter Robinson, speaking to the Northern Ireland Assembly on 2 March 2015:

The Stormont House Agreement of 23 December 2014 included a commitment that the number of Departments should be reduced from 12 to nine in time for the 2016 Assembly election, with the new allocation of departmental functions to be agreed by the parties. […]

The Department for Communities will combine the existing functions of DSD with most DCAL functions, with the exceptions being inland fisheries and waterways. […]

The Department for Infrastructure will exercise the existing responsibilities of DRD, but will also take on a range of functions from other existing Departments: vehicle regulation, road safety and Driver and Vehicle Agency functions from DOE; the Rivers Agency from DARD; inland waterways from DCAL; and, from OFMDFM, the strategic investment unit and several regeneration sites, including the Crumlin Road Gaol.

I’m sure that, for some waterways folk, it would be a relief to be back in with engineers. And, if the Department for Infrastructure goes to a Unionist in 2016, all sorts of things might change. But by then there might be enough Sheughery to get Carál and Heather reelected, and it might not matter if there were no more money after the River Finn had been dredged to Castle Saunderson.

They’re taking the [bodily fluid]

Of the cost of land to be acquired for a canal to Clones:

We understand that the costs of land acquisition are based on the purchase of 46 hectares of land (equivalent to approx. 114 acres), the majority of which is poor quality agricultural land for a total estimated cost of €6m. This is equivalent to an average price for acquisition of just over €52,500 per acre, although the total acquisition costs would also include legal costs associated with the process.

Nevertheless, an average price of €52,500 would appear to be very high compared with the average price at which agricultural land is currently sold in the area. If an average price of €25,000 per acre (including legal costs) was applied, then total land acquisition costs would be reduced to €2.85m. This is still a generous assumption. The average RoI price of agricultural land in 2014 was less than €10,000. [Irish Farmers’ Journal Agricultural Land Price Report 2013 January 2014]

That’s from Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Restoring the Ulster Canal from Lough Erne to Clones: Updated Business Case February 2015. Hats off to Fitzpatrick Associates for checking and for leaving the information in the final report. I have written to Waterways Ireland to ask for more information:

I would be grateful if you could let me have a list of

  • the names and addresses of the owners of the land you propose to buy to build a canal to Clones

  • map references or maps showing the location of that land

  • the size and nature of each plot of land you propose to acquire

  • the amount you propose to pay for each plot

  • the justification for each such amount.

Actually, I have the list of landowners in Co Monaghan, because it’s in the planning application. I can’t find the equivalent on the NI Planning Service’s website because I can’t work out how to search by applicant.

The stony grey soil of Monaghan must be worth more than one might think. Either that or this proposal is a steaming dunghill.

Waterways Ireland and Erne Bye-laws

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

Shagging the Shannon to shovel the sheugh

On 24 February 2015, the Irish Times published an article headed

First stage of Ulster Canal restoration due to begin in April
Some €2m will be spent on a section of the Shannon-Erne waterway

It ended with these sentences:

The €2 million will be drawn from the funds of Waterways Ireland, a north-south implementation body. It will carry out the dredging of a 2km section of the Erne river and the construction of a new navigation arch at Derrykerrib Bridge to accommodate boat traffic, with a target completion date of April 2016.

It may be that the Irish Times doesn’t know very much about waterways. If it did, it might have been aware that, on 18 December 2014, the North South Ministerial Council approved Waterways Ireland’s Business Plan 2015, which included this Action:

3.6 Progress the restoration of the Ulster Canal on an incremental basis. €1,000

So on 18 December 2014 the North South Ministerial Council — which for all practical waterways purposes consists of Heather Humphreys, the southern minister for waterways and other stuff, and Carál Ní Chuilín, her northern counterpart — approved the allocation of €1,000 to the Ulster Canal in Waterways Ireland’s 2015 plan. Yet, just over two months later, they expect Waterways Ireland to spend about €2 million on the blasted thing, about €1.5 million of it in 2015.

The southern government’s party of treasure-seekers seems to have disappeared entirely: at any rate it doesn’t seem to have found any money. And the two ministers’ departments have presided over successive years of cuts in Waterways Ireland’s current and capital budgets, cuts whose effect has been worsened by the woefully inadequate provision for an ever-increasing pensions bill. Waterways Ireland’s Corporate Plan 2014–2016 shows a cumulative increase of €984,000 in pension costs over the period of the plan, which wipes out a lot of savings in other areas.

I suppose that curiosity is a weakness in journalism. Were it not so, two questions might have struck the Irish Times:

  • how is Waterways Ireland to come up with €2 million out of an ever-decreasing budget?
  • why has Waterways Ireland’s Business Plan been so violently disrupted only two months after it was approved? The €2 million is half WI’s total capital budget spending in for the republic in 2015; it will be recalled that the republic, in a fit of more than usually nitwitted arrogance, undertook to pay for a canal to Clones, which is what the powers-that-be are pretending Saunderson’s Sheugh is.

I can answer the first question, at least for 2015, during which WI expects to spend €1,416,000:

  • €166,000 will come from Heather Humphreys’s department
  • €900,000 will (WI hopes) come from the sale of property assets
  • €150,000 will come from the postponement of an IT programme
  • €220,000 will come from the postponement of non-navigation works on the Shannon
  • €90,000 will come from postponing development of the Barrow Blueway.

I don’t know what property assets WI can sell to bring in the requsite amount. It seems that damage to everyday navigation has been avoided, but the Shannon and the Barrow are to suffer to pay for dredging a river that merely provides a small extension of the Erne navigation.

As for the second question, I suspect that Sinn Féin put a gun to someone’s head: “We’re fed up waiting for our sheugh. Start digging or the baby gets it.” The baby might have been Heather Humphreys’s Dáil seat or it might have been something more important. And the gun was, I suspect, a message accompanying the “business case” prepared by the northern department and sent to the southern. [I have asked both departments for copies and other information.]

Arthur Aughey, then lecturer in politics at the University of Ulster, wrote in Magill magazine in February 2001:

Puritanical republicans grieve at the thought that the hunger strikers [of 1981] died to achieve the Waterways Ireland Implementation Board.

I suspect that the less puritanical republicans, those who operate in the devolved institutions of Northern Ireland, are now demanding that the southern government deliver, through the “Waterways Ireland Implementation Board”, what nitwitted previous governments promised. It’s a pity that Sinn Féin and those previous governments couldn’t have come up with a more sensible list of waterways and other infrastructural projects.


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.