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.