Tag Archives: Northern Ireland

The DUP fightback

I mentioned here that the ridiculous decision by the Sinn Féin Minister for Marching Bands [and Sheughs] to ask the DUP Minister for Finance and Personnel for £46 million for the Lisburn Sheugh might have been intended to annoy the DUP. Most of the Lisburn Sheugh, formerly the Lagan Navigation, ran through unionist territory; the Lagan Valley constituency is solidly unionist, and specifically DUP, in both Westminster and NI Assembly elections. It costs Ms Ní Chuilín nothing to pass on the Lisburn lunacy to the Dept of Finance, leaving it to a DUP Minister to turn down the funding application.

But the DUP has lobbed a neat hand-grenade response back at the Shinner fortress. Brenda Hale, DUP MLA for Lagan Valley, has put two questions to the sheughery enthusiasts:

AQW 48647/11-16 To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what financial support her Department has offered the Lagan Canal Trust, given that their budget has been cut by 11 per cent. [09/09/2015 Awaiting Answer]

AQW 48646/11-16 To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure when the Lagan Navigation Canal Locks where last maintained. [09/09/2015 Awaiting Answer]

Ye’ll no’ fickle Thomas Yownie.

Fair faa ye

The March 2015 edition of The Ulster Scot [PDF] is now available for downloading from the Ulster Scots Agency website (or wabsteid, as they say in Scots Scots).

I do miss the old days, when the Chief Executive of Waterways Ireland was known in Ulster Scots as the Heid Fector. Parity of esteem for the hamely tongue, that’s what I say.

I think my favourite word is bumfly.

 

Saunderson’s Sheugh and the border problem

Castle Saunderson and the border

Castle Saunderson and the border

Saunderson’s Sheugh, the latest manifestation of the proposed reconstruction of the Ulster Canal, would run along a border for much of its length. That’s the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, but there is one important border it does not seem to cross [as far as I can see]: that between counties Cavan and Monaghan.

Has Cavan stolen the sheugh from its northern neighbour? I’m sure that folk in the Monaghan part of the Dáil constituency of Cavan-Monaghan won’t mind, but I wonder whether the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, who is a TD from the Monaghan end and is in charge of Sheughery, is concerned that her Monaghan colleague Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin [Sinn Féin] might turn the situation to his party’s advantage. On the other hand, from Sinn Féin’s viewpoint, the question might be whether any sheugh is better than none.

Of course, as soon as a coalition of Sinn Féin and the Éamon Ó Cuív wing of Fianna Fáil takes power, we’ll have the entire Ulster Canal built immediately. And there will be grants for growing flax, carrying corn to Dublin and draining the Shannon [which might mean that there are no southern boats to visit the Ulster Canal].

I should say, though, that Davy, in two reports out today, is not very worried about what Sinn Féin might do: Finfacts story here; Davy here; the two reports here and here [each of which should open as a PDF; if that doesn’t work, use the links on the Davy or the Finfacts page].

Map: OpenStreetMap; copyright explained here.

Northern Ireland spending on waterways

Sammy Wilson [DUP]: Looking through the list of capital projects, I see lock gates on the Shannon, bridge repairs on the Grand canal, enhancements of the Grand canal towpath, the Shannon Blueway and the multi-activity trail at Carrick-on-Shannon. Nearly every one of these projects is in the Irish Republic. Does the Minister see her role as fighting for projects in Northern Ireland or simply sitting there, handing over our money for projects in the Irish Republic?

Mr Wilson might not have noticed, during his terms in ministerial office, that waterways capital projects in each jurisdiction are paid for by the government of that jurisdiction. So NI money is not spent on capital projects in the republic; if NI politicians want more money spent on waterways improvements [as opposed to running costs] in Northern Ireland, it will have to come from the NI budget.

Unfortunately Mr Wilson’s party colleague, and successor as Minister of Finance and Personnel, Simon Hamilton, does not share Mr Wilson’s enthusiasm for erecting lock gates or towing-paths on the Erne [or whatever it was he wanted], for he has cut DCAL’s Budget [157-page NI budget and 28-page statement, both PDFs] and, in consequence, the amounts to be allocated to Waterways Ireland.

DCAL is wondering how to apply the chopper and is seeking views; a 190-page consultation document can be downloaded here [MS Word *.doc]. Neither DFP nor DCAL makes it easy to find the change from last year’s allocations, but DCAL says that the “savings” to be made by Waterways Ireland will be £468,000. As of today, that’s €630,727.

The Word document points out that

The budgets for the North/South Bodies are agreed by the North South Ministerial Council and are dealt with under different arrangements.  They are therefore outside the scope of this exercise.

So the document can’t say what the “front-line impact” of the cuts to Waterways Ireland’s allocation will be.

15% of WI’s current budget is paid by Northern Ireland and 85% by the republic. If the savings shown above are all to the current budget [which is not clear, though WI’s NI capital budget was pretty small anyway], then the total cut in WI’s current spending will be €5,204,847.

Note again that, without spending a lot more time on this than I currently have available, I cannot say from what base figure the cuts or savings are to be made.

Respondents to DCAL’s November 2014 consultation on the draft budget included only one who discussed waterways:

There was one response who stated that other sectors should be cut and funding to Waterways Ireland should be increased.

That was from an individual; it appears that no organisations commented on waterways issues and I cannot see any inland waterways-related voluntary body listed amongst those who submitted their views. As in the republic, arts folk seem to have been well organised.

The DCAL page contains a link to a surveymonkey page seeking responses.

 

NSMC

The joint communiqué from last week’s North/South Ministerial Council Inland Waterways meeting is now available here. There was an exciting bit:

SECTORAL PRIORITIES

2. Ministers had a discussion on various priorities within their remit and noted that these will be contained in a report to be considered at a future NSMC Institutional meeting as part of the ongoing review into sectoral priorities.

Hmm … what’s cooking there? I do wonder why the NSMC bothers publishing content-free stuff like this. We may have to ask the US NSA to bug the meetings. Oh, hang on ….

Here’s a good bit, though:

PRESENTATION BY WATERWAYS IRELAND

3. Waterways Ireland delivered a presentation to Ministers entitled “Ireland’s Inland Waterways – Building a Tourism Destination”. The presentation provided an overview of the progress being made by Waterways Ireland in placing the waterways and the waterway experience at the centre of the tourism offering both in Ireland and internationally.

Now that is useful and important work. But, as I have pointed out elsewhere [including to Waterways Ireland], the WI draft Corporate Plan 2014–2016 said nothing about tourism. Some years ago, I thought that it was a mistake to have a Marketing & Communications Strategy and a Lakelands tourism initiative that seemed to exist outside the corporate planning process; I am still of the same mind.

I have asked Waterways Ireland for a copy of the presentation, and for a copy of the Strategic Development Plan for the Grand Canal Dock, Spencer Dock and Plot 8 that was mentioned in WI’s progress report. That report also covered:

  • continuing maintenance
  • public consultation on canal bye-laws
  • a Built Heritage Study and a GIS-based navigation guide for the Lower Bann
  • an environmental award for  work in restoring, protecting and promoting the heritage assets that are Spencer Dock and Grand Canal Dock
  • towpath development and work on the cycleway from Ashtown to Castleknock on the Royal
  • donating two barges for “recreational and community use”
  • “partnerships to utilise three unused navigation property for community and recreational use”, which I don’t know anything about.

The important part was this:

BUSINESS PLAN AND BUDGETS 2013 AND 2014 AND CORPORATE PLAN 2014-2016

5. Ministers noted the position with the 2013 Business Plan and budget. They also noted that Waterways Ireland has undertaken a public consultation on the draft Corporate Plan 2014-2016, the preparation of a draft 2014 Business Plan by Waterways Ireland and that the plans will be reviewed after the public consultation is analysed. They also noted that Sponsor Departments will continue to work together with Waterways Ireland to finalise the Business Plans and Budgets for 2014 and the Corporate Plans for 2014-2016 that will be brought forward for approval at a future NSMC meeting.

I read that as showing that the north-south deadlock continues. The 2012 accounts have still not been published and the plans for 2014 won’t be approved until (at the earliest) three quarters of the way through the year.

The NSMC heard something about the Clones Sheugh but has decided not to tell the citizenry anything about it. It agreed to some property disposals and decided to meet again in October. But there was one odd item:

SPECIAL EU PROGRAMMES BODY BUSINESS PLAN AND BUDGET 2014 AND CORPORATE PLAN 2014-16

8. Ministers approved the Special EU Programmes Body Business Plan and Budget 2014 and Corporate Plan 2014-16.

The oddity is that the SEUPB is a separate body and usually gets its own meeting and communiqué. The last six meetings (before this one) have been attended by NI folk from Finance & Personnel and RoI folk from Public Expenditure & Reform (or, before that, Finance).

So who let spending ministers into the sweetshop? And why? Suspicious-minded folk might think that there is a plan to  nick a lot of Euroloot for the Clones Sheugh to get the Irish government off the hook persuade the Europeans of the benefits of investing in the reconstruction of a small portion of the Ulster Canal. We note that, on the previous day, Jimmy Deenihan gave a longer than usual reply to the standard question about the Sheugh, including this:

The Inter-Agency Group has met four times, last meeting on 9 December 2013. The Group continues to examine leveraged funding opportunities for the project. This includes the exploration of EU funding which may be potentially available in the next round of structural funds covering the period 2014–2020.

I have a better idea. Vladimir? There are oppressed Russians in Clones ….

 

 

 

A sheugh would solve it …

… not.

If you’re feeling the need of something to depress you, troll on over to the website of the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council and download the six PDF sections of the third Peace Monitoring Report. Written by Dr Paul Nolan, it is an extremely impressive piece of work — and a welcome counter to the witterings of the peaceprocess feelgoodistas who are so prominent on 2RN these days.

If you would prefer a summary, here is Liam Clarke’s account in the Belfast Telegraph, and here is his commentary; Tomboktu and others pointed to some problems with the headline on the first piece, but I’m more concerned that the focus on education in the headline on Clarke’s account may distort perceptions of what the report and, indeed, the rest of Clarke’s article are really about.

The report uses indicators grouped into four domains:

  • the sense of safety
  • equality
  • cohesion and sharing
  • political progress.

I didn’t find much that was cheering in any of them. Nolan lists ten key points:

  1. The moral basis of the 1998 peace accord has evaporated
  2. The absence of trust has resulted in an absence of progress
  3. There has been some increase in polarisation
  4. A culture war is being talked into existence
  5. The City of Culture year presented a different understanding of culture
  6. Failure lies in wait for young working-class Protestant males
  7. Front line police have been the human shock absorbers for failures elsewhere
  8. The rebalancing of inequalities unbalances unionism
  9. At grassroots level the reconciliation impulse remains strong
  10. No one picks up the tab.

Only the fifth and ninth offer any good news. But, from a waterways perspective, I was struck by the complete irrelevance of the proposed reconstruction of the Ulster Canal, the Clones Sheugh, to solving any of these problems. Yet Waterways Ireland, around whose neck this dead albatross has been hung, is the largest of the cross-border bodies and the sheugh is the largest capital project proposed to be undertaken by any of them. If the Irish government wants to do something to solve the real and continuing problems of Northern Ireland, as outlined in the Peace Monitoring Report, couldn’t it find something more useful to do?

Incidentally, I have not been able to find coverage of the report on the websites of the Irish Times, Irish Independent or Irish Examiner, although that may reflect poor searching on my part rather than any lack of interest on theirs.

Erne

As I understand it, the level of Lough Erne, and the occasional need to use its only lock, at Portora, are both determined by the operations of the Lough Erne hydroelectric scheme, although most of the lake, and the lock, are in Northern Ireland, while the hydroelectric stations, at Cliff and Cathaleen’s Fall, are both in the republic. The Erne scheme is less well known, and has been less often written about, than the Shannon scheme at Ardnacrusha, so it is good to note that two Ballyshannon men, Dessie Doyle and Brian Drummond, have written a book about the Erne scheme.

Unfortunately it is not clear from Messrs Lilliput Press’s website whether the book has already been published or is to appear some time in 2014. No publication date is given, but on the other hand it is not in the list of forthcoming books, but that list does not extend beyond November 2013. I would be glad to be able to carry reliable information, but I regret that I am unable to do so.

Sheughery

I wonder why Sinn Féin asks questions when it does. This one [h/t KildareStreet.com] seems to have been asked at a time that the minister might have welcomed.

Sandra McLellan [SF, Cork East]:

To ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the position regarding the Ulster Canal restoration project; the steps that must be taken to complete the project; the indicative timeline for the completion of the project; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Jimmy Deenihan [FG, Kerry North/West Limerick] [the third para is the interesting one]:

As the Deputy will be aware, in July 2007 the North/South Ministerial Council (NSMC) agreed to proceed with the restoration of the section of the Ulster Canal between Clones and Upper Lough Erne. The then Government agreed to cover the full capital costs of the project, which were estimated at that time to be of the order of €35m.

It was always the intention that the Ulster Canal project would be funded from the Waterways Ireland annual allocations, as agreed through the annual estimates processes in this jurisdiction, as well as the deliberations of NSMC in relation to annual budgets. It was a key consideration throughout the process that the Ulster Canal project would be supported by a significant level of projected income from the commercialisation of certain Waterways Ireland assets. However, the economic downturn has had a negative impact on those plans.

I am continuing to explore all possible options to advance this project within the current fiscal constraints. In this regard, I established an Inter-Agency Group on the Ulster Canal to explore ways to advance the project and to examine possible funding options for it, including existing funding streams and the leveraging of funding from other sources. The Inter-Agency Group last met on 9th October and will meet again next week, on 9th December.

In the meantime, the Ulster Canal project is progressing on an incremental basis. Planning approvals have now been received for the project in both jurisdictions. Compulsory Purchase Order land maps are in preparation and consideration is being given to how the construction work and other technical aspects of the project will be structured once the necessary lands have been secured. The timeline for completion of the project will be determined when these preparatory steps have been completed.

I welcome these developments, which, I am sure the Deputy will agree, are a significant milestone for the project.

Hmm. The inter-agency group first met on 20 September 2012 and its second meeting was to take place in May 2013 or thereabouts. Now it’s going much faster, with meetings on 9 October and today, 9 December. Does this suggest that the group has found a pot of gold? Is there any link to the cancellation of SEUPB funding for the Narrow Water project?

And what has been going on in (and around) the North/South Ministerial Council? At its June 2013 meeting the Council approved or noted:

  • the business plan for 2012 (which had ended six months earlier)
  • the budget for 2012
  • the annual report for 2012
  • the draft accounts for 2012.

That suggests to me that there was either a major disagreement between the northern and southern ministers or a serious problem that rendered ministers unable to approve the WI budget and business plan until 18 months after the documents were required. Could it be that the northern minister, Carál Ní Chuilín [SF], like other NI politicians, had been looking for something from the waterways sector that hasn’t been delivered so far?

Note also that Jimmy Deenihan said

[…] consideration is being given to how the construction work and other technical aspects of the project will be structured once the necessary lands have been secured.

I understand that the design and construction of the Clones Sheugh was to be put out to tender but I wonder whether keeping the work in house might help WI to meet its increasing wage costs with a declining budget.

 

 

 

Hands across the water

Another bit of northsouthery seems to be crumbling around its proponents’ ears, according to a report in today’s Irish Times [which will disappear behind a paywall at some stage]. It seems that, in July, TPTB approved the spending of €18.3 million on a bridge at Narrowwater [or Narrow Water], upstream of Warrenpoint and downstream of Newry (and of Victoria Lock). However,

The leading bid has costed the bridge at over €30 million […].

I presume that inflation does not account for the 66% increase but I am surprised that the proponents’ estimate was so far off. Perhaps omitting the opening span (intended to cater for the small number of tall vessels that use the Ship Canal to visit Newry) would save a few quid.

There is a discussion of the bridge project here and some useful information here; there isn’t here, although you might expect it.

It is certainly true that anyone wanting to drive from, say, Greenore or Carlingford to, say, Kilkeel or even Warrenpoint faces a long drive around Carlingford Lough. What is not clear to me is whether very many people want to do that: I haven’t investigated the matter, so I don’t know, but the main north/south traffic passes to the west and there are crossings at Newry.

A ferry service might be cheaper; it might also allow the real strength of demand to be gauged. Ferry terminals might be constructed by the local authorities and leased to an operating company.

And the service would probably be more useful than the Clones Sheugh: I see that yet another member of Sinn Féin got to ask about that in the Dáil recently, as did a Fianna Fáil chap from the area; they elicited the standard answer. The minister may be hoping that the cost estimates for the sheugh are more robust than those for the Narrowwater bridge.

DCAL

I have been searching the website of Northern Ireland’s Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure [DCAL to its friends] for the minutes of the meetings of its departmental board. Unfortunately I have not been able to find any link to them on the site. The site search engine will find them, but in an unpredictable order. It may be best, therefore, to use these terms in your favourite web search engine:

dcalni “departmental board meeting”

The most recent minutes I found were those for January 2013.

I can’t find anything similar for the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, alas.