More from the splendid KildareStreet.com, this time an actual Dáil debate, with real people speaking, on 30 May 2013. The debate was initiated by Micheál Martin [head honcho in FF, Cork South Central], who asked the minister …
… his plans for capital investment in Waterways Ireland in the coming year; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
There are three odd aspects to that question.
The first is that Micheál Martin should already know that the capital expenditure allocation for WI within RoI for 2013 is €4 071 000: I can understand that he wouldn’t have wanted to plough through the vast wodges of budgetary bumpf, but I’m sure he would have read the highlights on this site.
The second oddity is that Micheál Martin must have known that the minister would not himself have any plans for capital expenditure: they would be WI’s plans.
The third oddity is that FF didn’t seem to have any particular reason for asking this question: the rest of the debate (see below) seems rather desultory. Could it be that it’s trying to reclaim the waterways limelight from the Shinners, who’ve been keeping an eye on WI dredging as well as on thon sheugh?
To be honest, it all seems a bit pointless: waterways may be interesting to me, and presumably to readers of this site, but they’re hardly of great national importance. A serious debate, by informed participants, might be useful, but (with all due respect to the contributors) there was little sign of that here.
Jimmy Deenihan did actually give some interesting, albeit minor, details about WI’s plans for this year. I omit the first two paras and the last, which are boring boilerplate bumpf that will be familiar to regular readers.
Jimmy Deenihan [FG, Kerry North/West Limerick]: While the Waterways Ireland 2013 business plan and budget is the subject of ongoing discussions with the co-sponsoring Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in Northern Ireland and will require formal approval by the North-South Ministerial Council, I have provided an indicative funding allocation of €4.071 million to Waterways Ireland for capital projects in this jurisdiction in the coming year. This will facilitate capital works by Waterways Ireland in developing, restoring and improving infrastructure for water based and activity recreation and tourism, consolidating facilitates and improving access to the waterways across the navigations.
I am advised that the Waterways Ireland draft 2013 business plan has a development schedule providing for 1354 m of additional moorings across the navigations. Works planned within this jurisdiction include a range of major projects such as upgrading Bagenalstown Lock on the Barrow; provision of a slipway and stabilisation of the dock walls at Grand Canal Dock, dredging the Grand Canal; development of houseboat facilities at Lowtown and Sallins; lifting the bridge at Tullamore depot; bridge upgrades, works on weirs and locks on the Shannon; and commencement of work on the Belturbet Service Block on the Shannon Erne and purchase of plant and machinery.
I said that I would welcome information about what “lifting the bridge at Tullamore depot” means. The answer was provided in the Comments below; here is a photo of the bridge in question.
The (currently non-lifting) lifting bridge at Tullamore
Most of the rest is unsurprising.
The FF follow-up came from Seán Ó Fearghaíl [FF, Kildare South], who said:
I welcome the many positive developments to which the Minister referred but one of our concerns is that since 2011 the funding available for Waterways Ireland has been cut from €35 million to approximately €32 million.
Studies over the years have shown that waterways tourism is one of the activities that is most likely to generate return visits. As a regular user of places like the Shannon Navigation, one never ceases to be amazed at the number of non-nationals one meets on that waterway who have been coming back to Ireland year in, year out. I wonder to what extent the funding the Minister has available to him should be augmented by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. These waterways are of immense value to the local populations privileged to live in the catchment area of each amenity, along with their huge tourism importance. What sort of interaction does the Minister have with tourism bodies north of the Border and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport? Is anything planned for the waterways under the auspices of The Gathering?
What has happened in Kildare this week? We had Bernard Durkan [FG, Kildare North] the other day and Clare Daly [Socialist Party, Dublin North, but originally from Newbridge, Co Kildare] a moment ago; now we have a new chap from Kildare South.
Anyway, it can’t have come as any surprise to Mr Ó Fearghaíl that WI’s budget has been cut: so has everybody else’s, and the budgets were announced last December. I note that he didn’t ask how the Clones Sheugh was to be funded, never mind the Cavan Sheugh to Lough Oughter. But his question is the sort that a journalist might ask: vague, unfocused, couched in generalities, lacking in evidence of research into the subject. I would like to know more about his “Studies over the years”, with particular reference to the balance between and the allocation of the costs and benefits of investment in waterways; generating return visits is not in itself terribly useful (I really do not want Great Aunt Maud here again).
Not that the minister offered many hard facts in his reply:
I have seen for myself the provision of moorings at Killaloe and Ballina. Those have made a major difference to both towns in different counties on either side of the Shannon. The result of that investment is obvious and local people would accept that.
As regards involvement from Fáilte Ireland, Waterways Ireland is augmenting Fáilte Ireland’s promotion of the waterways. Waterways Ireland is providing funding on an annual basis for the promotion of tourism on its waterways. It is a North-South body, which is also very important, because Tourism Ireland promotes the entire island and the waterways network of more than 1,000 navigable kilometres can really be pushed on an all-island basis and we are doing that. I have tried to minimise the reduction in funding for Waterways Ireland because of its North-South significance and its potential and considerable work has been done. We have improved facilities for tourists so we are now ready to proactively promote this great facility.
Any, like, figures? Statistics? References to analyses? How much of WI’s budget is being diverted to the tourism bods and what is the benefit?
Next (and last) up was Peadar Tóibín [SF, Meath West], with “now for something completely different“:
A number of groups are actively trying to create a green way along the Boyne from the estuary to its source. The Boyne is littered with internationally recognised heritage monuments and would be a fantastic tourist attraction that would bring people into the region. People who holiday in the region visit Trim Castle and Newgrange on coach trips and as ar result Meath does not get the full value of their tourism. The Boyne Canal runs from Navan to Drogheda. It is not covered by the Waterways Ireland network. Would the Minister agree that such a canal should be brought within the ambit of Waterways Ireland, along with other canals, and would he consider the funds that might be available to help with the development of such a green way along the River Boyne?
The minister’s reply is interesting:
We have no plans to extend the present 1,000 kilometres of navigable waterways. The focus of our investment in capital development will be from Clones to Lough Erne to the value of €35 million.
What? No Cavan Sheugh? No Kilbeggan, Longford or Mountmellick Branch?
Oh, and note that the figure of €35 million is being quoted for the Clones Sheugh, although the last estimate I had form WI was higher than that.
The minister continued:
As regards the green way, I do not have direct responsibility but any way I can help through Waterways Ireland, I will do so. As a keen cyclist and walker, I am all for encouraging green ways wherever possible. If the Deputy has a proposal I can forward to Waterways Ireland for discussion, I will gladly take it.
Well, well. A Monaghan greenway is being developed; why not a Clones greenway too, instead of an expensive canal?