I have now completed an examination of the proposals for the reconstruction of a section of the Ulster Canal from Lough Erne to the town of Clones in Co Monaghan. My conclusions are linked from this page, which also contains a brief summary of my views.
Ulster Canal 0: overview presents the main points of the argument in about 3,600 words. It does not contain most of the quotations and omits the references; it also omits some sections of the argument. However, it’s about one fifth of the length of the whole thing.
Ulster Canal 1 to Ulster Canal 10 present the argument under ten headings, amounting to about 18,500 words in all. That may be too much for most people. There are no photos or other illustrations, and most of the argument is about economics or politics.
It will be clear that I do not have full information; I will be glad to have Comments from anyone who can fill the gaps or correct anything I’ve got wrong.
For anyone who can’t wait, here is a copy of the summary of my views.
The Irish government has been pushing, since the 1990s, for the restoration of the Ulster Canal. Several studies have been commissioned; all of them show that the project is uneconomic. At no stage has either the UK or the Northern Ireland administration shown any willingness to commit funding to the project. As a result, the Irish government has scaled back its ambitions, proposing to fund the construction of a canal from Lough Erne to Clones in Co Monaghan: it would cross the border several times, but it would pass through no significant conurbation on the northern side.
However, this scaled-back project makes even less sense than the proposal for full restoration, and there is no reason to believe that the canal will ever get any further than Clones. The Irish government might, I suppose, decide to dig on to Monaghan, as a form of famine relief work, but there is no evidence that the Northern Ireland Executive will ever put money into completing the route to Lough Neagh.
The costs of the proposal have not been reexamined for many years (or, if they have, the results have not been published), and the economic analyses may overstate the likely benefits. Even if they are accurate, though, the main benefits seem to come from casual visitors rather than from boaters. The benefits will go to service providers in the area, rather than to the waterways authority, but even if they went to Waterways Ireland they would not pay the running costs, never mind repaying the capital cost. The project has failed every economic test to which it has been subjected: it simply does not provide the sort of return that would justify the project.
There seems to be some doubt over the source of the proposed funding. The Irish government said that it canal to Clones would be paid for by the Irish Exchequer, but it later said that Waterways Ireland would sell surplus assets to pay some or all of the cost. It is not clear that Waterways Ireland’s surplus assets would, in current economic conditions, bring in enough money; nor is it clear that the Department of Finance is willing to make up any shortfall.
There might be something to be said for acquiring the land and creating a walking and cycling route, but the current proposal for a canal to Clones is utterly unjustifiable and should be dropped.