Tag Archives: North South Ministerial Council

RoI Budget 2016 for 2017

The Irish government’s Expenditure Report 2017 Parts I to III is available here [PDF]. The Department of Fairytales [aka Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs] gets a 1% increase for Programme D, North-South Co-operation, subject to the approval of the North/South Ministerial Council.

This programme includes certain language bodies and, more importantly, Waterways Ireland. The estimate for capital expenditure, almost all (if usual patterns prevail) for Waterways Ireland, is the same as for 2016, at €2799000, which suggests that the good people of Clones won’t be getting a sheugh any time soon, although judging by today’s Irish Times [possible paywall], they don’t seem to be expecting one.

The Programme D estimate for current spending is up from €34925000 to €35166000, making for an overall increase of one per cent.

The department’s overall capital allocation is down, but changes in departmental functions and the ending of the special anniversary funding make it impossible to say anything useful about that. Looking forward, the department’s Gross Voted Capital Expenditure is shown as €119 million for 2017, €115 million for 2018 and €118 million for 2019.

Waterways are funded only in order to promote northsouthery:

The aim of this Programme is to maintain, develop and foster North-South co-operation in the context of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. Under this Programme, the allocation for 2017 will:

– Through Foras na Gaeilge and the Ulster-Scots Agency, promote the Irish and Ulster Scots language and culture; and
 Through Waterways Ireland, maintain the waterways for some 15,000 registered boat users.

I presume Waterways Ireland will get extra funding to work out a system of border controls for the Shannon–Erne Waterway.

More budget stuff here.


Thon Sheugh and WI’s budget

A Sinn Féin MLA, whose party colleague is one of two ministers responsible for Waterways Ireland, has expressed concern about WI’s financial position:

Phil Flanagan: Is the [North South Ministerial] Council aware of the stark financial difficulties facing Waterways Ireland as a result of not only sustained budget cuts but the currency fluctuation because of the weakened euro? Let me point out some of the figures: compared with 2013, the 2014 budget was down by €290,000; and, in 2015, it was down by €875,000, solely because of the weak euro. Was that matter discussed? What potential solutions may ensure that Waterways Ireland is returned to a sustainable financial footing?

I had not realised the extent of the problems caused by the euro.

Replying, Martin McGuinness — also Sinn Féin — said

The fluctuation of the euro was not discussed at the meeting.

Obviously, it does represent a serious challenge, given the fact that the euro has been very weak over recent times. I note that it has strengthened over recent days. Certainly, on foot of the Member highlighting this, we can give it further consideration.

Mr McGuinness went on to provide some information about Saunderson’s Sheugh (which we’re pretending is the Ulster Canal):

It is important to point out that the work of Waterways Ireland is nearing completion, including the dredging of the River Finn between Upper Lough Erne — that will be of interest to the Member — and Castle Saunderson as part of phase 1 of the restoration of the Ulster canal.

Design plans for the new bridge at Derrykerrib are also at an advanced stage. I understand that there are some contractual issues with the site that, combined with high water levels, have led to delays.

However, Waterways Ireland is working with local councils and other interested parties to secure EU funding under the INTERREG sustainable transport programme. The proposed greenway would run from Smithborough village to the Monaghan town greenway and on to Armagh. The point that the Member raised is important and will be considered by the Council.

Given that that was irrelevant to the question, I presume that Mr McG wanted to get this information on the record.

I would like to know more about the “contractual issues with the site”. I do hope they won’t mean that we miss getting photos of the northern and southern ministers, wearing yellow hard hats and lifejackets, claiming credit for the work. After all, there is an election coming up.


WI and the RoI budget for 2016

Budget documents [available here] include the Part IV Estimates for Public Services 2016 [PDF]. The Summary of Gross Expenditure (Capital and Current) by Ministerial Vote Group shows that the Department of Fairytales [aka Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht], RoI parent of Waterways Ireland, is to get an increase in its budget.

Its forecast outturn for 2015 matches its estimate for the year at €277,434,000, of which €215,854,000 is current and €61,580,000 is capital spending. However, the estimates for 2016 show €234,430,000 current + €76,000,000 capital = €310,430,000 total, an increase of €32,996,000. Current spending is up 8.6% and capital by 23.4%; total spending is up by 11.9%. Perhaps the extra €14,420,000 in capital spending is to extend Saunderson’s Sheugh to Clones?

Skipping the numerous tables that repeat more or less the same gen in different ways, and skipping too the unimportant government departments, we zoom forward to the details of the Department of Fairytales estimates.

But there we find, alas, that while the department as a whole has secured lots of extra lolly — and it’s going to be shovelling 18% more to the luvvies [Arts, Culture and Film], 11% more to heritage and 3% more to the BéalBochters — it intends to cut spending on North-South Cooperation, which is where Waterways Ireland gets its money.

The 2015 estimate for NSCoop current expenditure was €35,072,000; the 2016 estimate is €34,925,000, which is a cut of only about half of one per cent. But capital spending on NSCoop is down almost 20%, from €3,487,000 to €2,799,000, and total spending down 2% from €38,559,000 to €37,724,000.

The NSCoop figures are “subject to the North-South Ministerial Council”, which means that the (southern, Fine Gael) Minister for Fairytales has to persuade the (northern, Sinn Féin) Minister for Marching Bands that the cross-border language and waterways bodies aren’t getting any increase in their funding from the Free State, at least not while there is an election to be won. However, HM Devolved Administration didn’t seem too keen on allocating extra money to waterways last time I looked.

Regular readers will not need to be reminded that 85% of WI’s current budget is supplied by the RoI government and 15% by the NI administration, while capital expenditure is paid for by the state in which it occurs.

The estimates figures as shown don’t tell us the precise impact on Waterways Ireland’s current budget: the money is divided between WI and the language shamrock but the document doesn’t tell us which gets how much. [The last time a breakdown was given was in 2011, when WI got roughly 60% of the total.] However, most of the department’s NSCoop capital expenditure is undertaken by WI, and little or none of it by the language shamrock, so we can say that the 20% cut in NSCoop capital spending means a 20% cut in capital spending on waterways in the Free State.

The breakdown of the Multi-Annual Capital Investment Framework confirms that: in 2015 €3,368,000 of the €3,487,000 NSCoop capital budget (96.5%) went to WI, and in 2016 WI will get €2,680,000 of the €2,799,000 NSCoop capital budget (95.7%). I imagine that the language folk prefer sitting i dtóin an tí and don’t want fancy buildings.

WI’s capital budget for RoI is down from €11,000,000 in 2008.

According to the Multi-Annual Capital Investment Framework 2016 to 2021 (Table 1), the Department of Fairytales as a whole is getting an unusually large amount, €76,000,000, of Exchequer Capital Funding in 2016; the total is to fall back to €45 million in 2017 and €43 million in 2018, before rising to €46 million in each of the years 2018, 2020 and 2021. So, in a year in which the department is getting much more money for capital spending, NSCoop and, specifically, waterways are getting significantly less.

Looking at the breakdown (Table 2), it seems that the big changes in the department’s capital spending are:

  • a major cut in the grant-in-aid to the Crawford Gallery (€12,100,000 to €6,100,000)
  • cuts of €1,312,000 to the National Parks and Wildlife Service and €1,000,000 to Údarás na Gaeltachta
  • a cut of €688,000 to WI
  • an extra €1,150,000 for Teach an Phiarsaigh under the Decade of Centenaries heading
  • a new thing called Built Heritage Jobs Leverage Scheme gets €2,000,000
  • another new thing called Cork Event Centre gets €5,000,000
  • and, the biggest of the lot, Decade of Centenaries 1912–1922 gets an extra €15,270,000, to bring its capital budget to €28,800,000, by far the largest item in the budget.

There are a few other minor changes, but the increased allocation of €15,270,000 to the main Decade of Centenaries item has more than swallowed the extra €14,420,000 allocated to the department. Three other significant items — Teach an Phiarsaigh, the Cork Event Centre and the Built Heritage Jobs Leverage Scheme, which between them have been given an extra €8,150,000 — have been funded by the reduced allocations to the Crawford Gallery, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Údarás na Gaeltachta and Waterways Ireland.

So there’s no money for Sinn Féin’s beloved Clones Sheugh.

Hurrah for the red, white and orange

Colour discrimination seems to be rampant in Ireland. Of the sets of colours [red, white and blue] and [green, white and orange], there is Official Endorsement of two, green and blue, while red, white and orange are ignored. Even the North/South Ministerial Council has got in on the act, with a whole page on its website about greenways and blueways. They must have been overdosing on the Erne flag. Their page is a list of links, sort of plonked there without context or explanation, but there’s probably some hands-across-the-borderism or something going on.

I read in the Guardian today of a proposal for a greenway on the former railway line between Roscrea and Portumna via Birr. And a jolly good thing too, but how many greenways and blueways can one small island accommodate? How thinly will the tourists be spread? And what about those of us who hate walking, cycling, kayaking and other such energetic pursuits?

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.


Minister talks through her hat

I originally had a rather more rude heading …. The Minister for Waterways and Other Stuff has decided to have the River Finn dredged to aid her reelection campaign shut up the Shinners promote peace and prosperity. The “shutting up the Shinners” bit means pretending that this is a restoration of the Ulster Canal, whereas it avoids the canal altogether in favour of dredging the river as far as Castle Saunderson, in Co Cavan, instead of going to Clones, in Co Monaghan. According to NorthernSound

Minister Heather Humphreys says the project will provide a wonderful recreational facility for local communities and will act as a significant draw for tourists.

That, minister, is a load of old bollocks: the locals have plenty of waterway already and the tourists are not going to be drawn by another bit of river. Still, Saunderson’s Sheugh is better than the Clones Sheugh, but it is worrying that

The project is expected to cost in the region of €2 million euro and will be funded by Waterways Ireland.

According to its Business Plan 2015, approved by the North South Ministerial Council on 18 December 2014, Waterways Ireland’s budget for sheughery in 2015 is €1000. So, if it is to spend €2 million on Saunderson’s Sheugh, and if the Treasure-Seekers have failed to find any money, will this mean that WI’s budget for maintaining and repairing the existing navigations will be cut?

I see that

The Minister says construction should begin in the final quarter of 2015.

I wonder when the next election is.

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.

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.


Saunderson’s Sheugh and northsouthery update

I’m trying to catch up on things I was too busy to cover late last year.

Saunderson’s Sheugh 1

For new readers: the proposed rebuilding of the Ulster Canal started off in the 1990s with the idea of rebuilding the whole thing and thus linking Lough Erne and Lough Neagh. It became clear that that would be ridiculously expensive (even by politicians’ standards: to my mind anything more than sixteen and thruppence farthing would be too much) so TPTB decided to look at rebuilding the two ends, leaving the BITM (as WRGies might say) until gold was discovered in Monaghan or something. Then that got shot down but the heroic Irish government, rolling in the profits of property development, volunteered to pay the entire cost of rebuilding one end, from Lough Erne to Clones. This, known as the Clones Sheugh, was held up when the property boom bust; after that the Irish government has asked a group of treasure-seekers to find money. The group doesn’t seem to publish reports, but in recent months we’ve had whispers from two directions:

  • the Irish government seems to think that making the Finn navigable to Castle Saunderson would be a good idea: thus Saunderson’s Sheugh. And see this
  • Her Majesty’s Devolved Administration has been constructing a Business Case to show that it would be a very good idea for (a) the Irish government, (b) the British government, (c) the European Union, (d) Santa Claus or (e) anyone else, really, to do something that is so far unspecified. Actually, that’s guesswork on my part: I don’t know what’s in the business case (see below) but if it’s anything like the last one ….

Hands across the border

The North South Ministerial Council (waterways) met on 27 November 2014. Highlights:

  • WI wants Euroloot (don’t we all)
  • there is to be consultation on new Erne byelaws
  • repairs are taking most of the capital budget
  • there is “a new cruise hire business on the Shannon-Erne Waterway” [someone tell me more, please]
  • there is a Blueway
  • the ministers agreed the “indicative” [I don’t know what that is] budget for 2013. In November 2014. Which must have been helpful in budgeting. Maybe the 2013 accounts will be published soon
  • the “2013 indicative budget of €29.47m (£24.17m)” will be “a baseline for 2014-2016 draft budgets”, one third of that period having expired
  • the amount of the indicative budget for 2013, €29.47m, is 30% down on WI’s total income for 2012, as shown in its income and expenditure account for y/e 31 December 2012. I don’t know whether those figures can be compared directly, so please correct me if I’m wrong, but 30% is a hell of a cut in one year. And that’s without taking account of the increased cost of pensions
  • the 2014-2016 Corporate Plan isn’t available to citizens yet but the NSMC “noted” WI’s “draft Business Plan and Budget provision” for 2014 and 2015 and Corporate Plan for 2014-2016; they have to be approved at some future NSMC meeting
  • no info about the Sheugh was included in the minutes.

More hands across the border

As if all that wasn’t enough excitement, there was a Plenary NSMC meeting on 5 December 2014. That’s where lots of ministers go along: I make it 14 from north and 15 from south. They had their eyes on PEACE and INTERREG Euroloot, assuming the entire EU economy hasn’t collapsed by spring 2015. Apart from that, the only interesting bit was:

Waterways Ireland has developed the Shannon Blueway, Ireland’s first Blueway (a multi-activity trail running alongside water) between Drumshanbo and Carrick-on-Shannon in Co Leitrim in conjunction with the National Trails Office, Canoeing Ireland, Leitrim County Council and Leitrim Tourism. The Body continue to engage with relevant organisations, interested in further development of Blueways or Greenways including exploring opportunities that may exist for EU funding.

There are cycling, walking and canoeing routes along parts of the Ulster Canal: getting Euroloot for them would be a far better idea than making the thing navigable for cruisers.


The Stormont House Agreement was signed on 23 December 2014. Slugger O’Toole has the text, a link to the NIO and a summary.

Most of it is very boring, except for the provision that the Ulster Canal is to be restored as an Orangeway, along which all Orange parades will henceforth be routed, giving the marchers entire freedom to do or say whatever they want. It is understood that an abandoned railway will be given to Green marchers for the same purpose.

No, of course not: that’s a joke. The bits that might become interesting are:

60. A reduction in the number of departments from twelve to nine should be made in time for the 2016 Assembly election, with the new allocation of departmental functions to be agreed by the parties.

Will DCAL survive?

70. On the St Andrews Agreement Review, the NSMC (meeting in Institutional format) will agree before the end of February 2015 a report on new sectoral priorities for North/South cooperation, identified during Ministerial discussions since November 2013. A report on new sectoral priorities will be a standing item for future meetings of the NSMC meeting in Institutional format.

Will waterways be affected?

Saunderson’s Sheugh 2

Something is moving in the undergrowth. Every so often I have asked DCAL for news of the development of its business case for the Ulster Canal. On 2 January 2015 I said:

I would be grateful if you could:

– tell me whether the Ulster Canal Restoration Lough Erne – Clones Section Addendum to 2007 Business Case is now complete and available for release

– let me have a copy if it is available

– tell me the revised expected release date if it is not available.

DCAL has very kindly written to say:

The updated business case for the Ulster Canal restoration is currently with our colleagues in the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in the south as co sponsors of Waterways Ireland. They are seeking approval from the Irish Government for the updated business case. Until such time as this approval is granted the business plan cannot be released. Unfortunately I am not able to put a specific date on when this will be, but I am hopeful it will be sooner rather than later. I will ensure that you are advised as soon as the approval is granted.

I must say it seems odd to me that an Irish government department should be seeking Irish government approval for a business case prepared by a Northern Ireland department. But the Shinners want a Sheugh, for reasons best known to themselves [although I suspect it’s because their economic and political thinking stopped in 1797], and the Irish department is now headed by a minister from Sheughland. The prospects for a sane decision look slim.

Addendum: this suggests that the shinners’ main interest may be in getting something — anything — crossborderish built, even if it makes no sense. The Narrow Water Bridge project is like that. What’s really needed up there is a southern bypass of Newry, but that would be entirely within Northern Ireland. So Sinn Féin would prefer an “iconic” bridge in the middle of nowhere that happens to span the border.

Uninformative press release aboot thon sheugh

Plans to restore the Upper Lough Erne to Clones section of the Ulster Canal are being pursued by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht

it says here. The official NSMC version is here. No mention of the inter-agency treasure-seekers; perhaps the swag is in here:

Progress on the development of the new INTERREG V and PEACE IV Programmes for the period 2014 – 2020 was discussed. The Council noted that the draft Programmes had been submitted to the EU commission by the deadline of 22 September 2014.

I see that WI employee payments for pensions are going up:

16. Ministers also acknowledged the ongoing work in relation to reform of the North South Bodies Pension Scheme, including recently approved amendments to ensure the Scheme complies with employment legislation and best practice in both jurisdictions and to increase employee contributions.

Someone with a tin ear (perhaps someone who doesn’t do crosswords) wrote this:

driving a shift to public and more sustainable modes of transport and the potential for shared cross border public transport services in border areas.

Driving would be right, especially in Donegal. But what about parity of esteem?

development of cross border Greenways

Why no Orangeways?