Tag Archives: Fianna Fail

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.


Political parties: update

I said that I had asked many political parties whether they had asked the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs [now the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht] for costings for the Clones Sheugh (aka the Ulster Canal). Those I asked were:

Christian Solidarity Party
Fianna Fáil
Fine Gael
Fís Nua
Green Party
People before Profit
Sinn Féin
Socialist Party
South Kerry Independent
Workers and Unemployed Action Group [WUAG]
Workers’ Party

I have so far had responses from Fís Nua, the Green Party and Labour; it seems that none of them made the request. I have emailed a reminder to the others and I await their responses.

Political parties

Regular readers will know that I sent and FOI request to the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs [now the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht] looking for files on the Clones Sheugh (aka the Ulster Canal). One of the grounds on which I was refused access was that certain files related to “the costing, assessment or consideration or any proposal of a political party carried out for or on behalf of that party”.

While my appeal against that refusal continues on its course, I thought I might as well ask the political parties directly for the information that might be in those files — in the process, of course, establishing which of them had Clones Sheugh proposals in mind.

Party time

As far as I can see, the parties that contested, or were eligible to contest, the 2011 general election were:

Christian Solidarity Party
Fianna Fáil
Fine Gael
Fís Nua
Green Party
People before Profit
Sinn Féin
Socialist Party
South Kerry Independent
Workers and Unemployed Action Group [WUAG]
Workers’ Party.

Accordingly, I decided to email them all, enquiring whether they had asked the [then] Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs for information “relating to the costing, assessment or consideration of the restoration of some or all of the abandoned Ulster Canal”. I added that, if they had done so, I would be grateful for a copy of the query they put to the department and of the response they received. I told them that I was sending my query to all political parties that contested the 2011 general election (or at least to all those for which I could find an email address).

That was not quite true: I omitted the South Kerry Independent Alliance, on the grounds that its interest in the Clones Sheugh was likely to be limited (I am of course open to correction on this). Furthermore, I was unable to find any website or email address for WUAG so I did not send my request to them.

Fianna Fáil logic

All of the other parties had websites and email addresses — except one: Fianna Fáil. Now, strictly speaking it falls outside the range of parties in which I might have been interested: not just for the obvious reasons but because it was in government at the time and would automatically have had full access to the civil service costings (such as they were). But I was interested to note that Fianna Fáil did not provide an email address on its website: interested enough to ring it and ask for an email address for its press office. The polite receptionist asked someone and told me that the address to be used was pressoffice@fiannafail.ie.

So I sent my query to that address. And I got back an autoresponse saying

This email is not monitored. For urgent queries you can contact the FF Press Office on 087 955 5600.

Well I never. What was the point of that?

Labour gains

Anyway, the results so far put Labour in the lead: I got an almost immediate informal response from Dermot Lacey, saying that he didn’t think Labour had contacted the department; I also got a more formal response next day, from Mags Murphy, Director of Councillor Services and Training, saying:

Labour did not include a specific commitment to the development of the Ulster Canal in our manifesto in the 2011 Election.

However, Labour is keen that all practical possibilities for cooperation, reconciliation and mutual benefit, including maximising tourism potential from a development of the Ulster Canal would be considered seriously as part of our deep commitment to the Good Friday agreement.

To this end, the Labour members of the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement committee visited the Ulster Canal, Enniskillen and Clones with their cross-party colleagues for a range of meetings on 27 September 2012 with Waterways Ireland officials, local councillors and community groups.

Oh dear. Still, brownie points for responding.

What is the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement committee?

Where are the others?

I am still awaiting responses from the other political parties.

Declaration of non-interest

I did not vote for any of those parties.


Devolution, Sinn Féin and the Clones canal

Sinn Féin takes more interest in the Ulster Canal than does any other political party. It may not be coincidental that the government seems to be trying to get two local authorities, on both of which Sinn Féin is the largest party, to solve the canal’s funding problem.

Buried at the crossroads …

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

Splashing the (marine) cash

Extract from the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Act 2000:

Advances by Minister for marine or natural resources based tourism or heritage projects.

46.—The Minister may, from time to time, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, advance to a person, out of monies provided by the Oireachtas, for the purposes of marine or natural resource based tourism or heritage projects, such sums, by way of grant or loan, as the Minister may determine and upon such terms and conditions as he or she considers necessary.

That provision has nothing whatsoever to do with marine casualties. It seems to allow ministers to splash the (taxpayers’) cash to anyone they favour. The provision should be repealed immediately.

I presume that the minister, at the time when the act was introduced, did not notice the oddity of this inclusion.

Something in the water?

Readers may have realised that I don’t think much of the proposal to restore or rebuild the Ulster Canal. But I have to admit that it is not the most insane canal restoration proposal to have been made in the last few years. Even the restoration of the Strabane Canal doesn’t merit that accolade.

No: the outright winner has to be the Erne Canal proposal. Happily, despite support from Mary Coughlan, TD for the area and Tánaiste (deputy prime minister), the proposal doesn’t seem to have got anywhere.

What do all three of these proposals have in common?

Northsouthery, that’s what.

The Clones dudes

The Comments section on the Clones Regeneration Partnership blog is still not working, so my posting still hasn’t appeared. They seem to be using the free version of WordPress; maybe I should offer to help them ….

Anyway, they have been busy posting new stuff of their own to the blog. The Chairman of the Partnership has written a long post about the importance of the Irish taxpayer’s spending at least €35 million on the Clones Canal and urging the electors of Monaghan to demand that their representatives support the thing. In fact, he wants them to ensure that the entire Ulster Canal is reopened, all the way to Lough Neagh.

Wishing won’t make it so. I have written many pages explaining (a) why this is a bad idea and (b) why it’s most unlikely to happen (Ulster says no) and there is no point in my repeating them here. I’ll just note that I feel sorry for the good people of Clones: they have been misled by the campaign, conducted by the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs, to impose a bit of northsouthery on Northern Ireland.

From the point of view of Clones folk, spending €35 million on a canal to Clones may make sense. The canal itself is likely to be pretty well useless, but the pubs of the area are likely to benefit from the beer money of the construction workers. That, though, doesn’t mean that this is a good deal for the Irish taxpayer: in fact it’s a rotten deal.

Risks of investing in waterways businesses

But even if it does happen, the good people of Clones should be wary of committing any of their own money to setting up businesses. Towards the bottom of this page you’ll see photos of the Sliabh-an-Iarainn Sunset and the Gertie, trip-boats that operated on the Shannon–Erne Waterway for some time; neither now operates there. And here are two small boats, which were hired out by the day from Ballinamore.

Former day-hire boats at Ballinamore

If you don’t think you can recoup your investment back in three years, forget it.

The Chairman says

The restoration of the Ulster Canal would bring direct economic benefits to the towns and villages in close proximity throughout the Ulster Canal corridor. It would provide the economic engine for a whole region to regenerate, as has been shown from the experience of the restoration of the Ballinamore/Ballyconnel Canal, where populations in those areas adjoining that Canal have grown for the first time in many years.

The benefits won’t be any greater because of being spread more widely (and thus thinly). This seems like an attempt at drumming up support from outside Clones.

The economic benefits cannot be understated.

I think he means “cannot be overstated” or perhaps “should not be understated”: they have been consistently overstated, for many years, by the canal’s proponents. It’s the sort of “ah sure it’ll be grand” thinking that has ruined the Irish economy: an unwillingness to accept, or even to think about, anything other than the most optimistic scenario. You decide on what you want to do; then you look for some evidence you can quote to support your decision — and you ignore all evidence to the contrary, or suggest that sceptics should commit suicide.

Remember, this project has been consistently backed by the Fianna Fáil government, the one that brought you ghost estates, empty office blocks, uncompleted retail developments, vacant hotels and an enormous amount of debt that citizens will be paying off for years to come. But for some reason they think a canal, built when the boat-hire industry is contracting, is a good investment ….

Welcome new readers

I suspect that the Clones Project Coordinator, Gerry Darby, has been reading this site, because he has today posted a page headed See cost benefit analysis of Ulster Canal by Marion Shields. Gerry (whose position is funded by the Department of Community, Equality and Gaelteacht Affairs — the very people pushing the Ulster Canal project) may have been following in my footsteps, because many months ago I tried to see if there had been any cost-benefit analysis of the proposal. There should have been one, according to one Brian Cowen, former Minister for Finance, but I couldn’t find one.

I did find Marion Shiels’s piece. It may be necessary to explain, to persons unfamiliar with the traditional usages of the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin, that a Senior Sophister, which is what Marion Shiels was at the time, is a final-year undergraduate student. Her piece, in other words, is not the work of a professional, and does not purport to be such.

But the other point to be made about the document is that it is not in fact a cost-benefit analysis: more a discussion of such analysis. Note, for instance, that there are very few figures, especially for benefits, yet

The guiding principle is to list all parties affected by an intervention and place a monetary value of the effect it has on their welfare as it would be valued by them.

Statements like “Hence, the revenue that could be expected from these fleets is enormous ….” don’t constitute analysis of benefits.

If there is a proper cost-benefit analysis out there, I’d like to see it.

And, of course, I’d like to know where Gerry’s funders intend to get the money to pay for the Clones Canal.