Tag Archives: North/South Ministerial Council

Crossborderality and euroloot

I wrote here about last week’s NSMC meeting. I noted that the inland waterways meeting seemed to have transformed itself into an SEUPB [Euroloot] meeting: it is unusual for spending ministers to represent the government and executive on such occasions and it is also odd that the SEUPB did not have a meeting to itself, given that it is a separate body. I have asked the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform why spending ministers were allowed into the sweetshop unsupervised.

I now learn that this week there will be celebrations of the twentieth anniversary of the reopening of the Junction Canal in the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell Drainage District, now known as the Shannon–Erne Waterway. So watch for messages to the effect that cross-border waterways bring peace and prosperity … improved relationships in these islands … historic visit … peace in our time … as it happens, we have another sheugh up the road … how about it, Angela, another few quid for the other sheugh?




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


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:


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:


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:


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 ….





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.




No Newry is bad news

In October I wrote about a Northern Ireland Assembly debate on a proposed Newry Southern Relief Road. I said:

… the debate was remarkable for its demonstration of cross-party agreement: not so much on the desirability of public works (a desideratum of Irish politicians since the eighteenth century) as on the irrelevance of the Narrowwater bridge.


It must surely be unlikely that there will be two crossings of Carlingford or the Newry River [and canal] within a few miles of each other. But if one option, the Newry Southern Relief Road, helps to relieve Newry and Warrenpoint traffic and the other, the Narrowwater bridge, doesn’t do so, then the first option would seem to be the rational choice.

Yesterday, 12 November 2013, Martin McGuinness [SF, Mid Ulster] reported to the Northern Ireland Assembly on the recent plenary meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council. He and others expressed support for the Narrowwater project. This question is revealing:

Caitriona Ruane [SF, South Down]: Go raibh maith agat agus go raibh maith agat don LeasChéad-Aire as an ráiteas sin. I welcome the statement from the deputy First Minister. Does he agree that the Narrow Water bridge project is a very good project for everyone in the Louth/Down area, that the chambers of commerce are representing every single community — Kilkeel, Warrenpoint and Rostrevor — and that the project went through a very rigorous process in relation to the SEUPB and came out at the top of the competitive process?

She made no mention of Newry; nor did any other contributor to the debate.


Sinn Féin and the Clones Sheugh

Northern Ireland Assembly debate 6 November 2012, via TheyWorkForYou.com:

Phil Flanagan (Sinn Féin): […] Will the Minister provide an update on the restoration of the Ulster canal from Clones to Upper Lough Erne?

Martin McGuinness (Sinn Féin): As I said, there was a presentation on the issue at the North/South interparliamentary forum, and the planning processes are up and running. I understand that, on the Cavan side of the border, it has been successfully concluded. There is still some work to do on this side. Everyone realises, from a tourism point of view, that this is filled with all sorts of potential for us, particularly in the context not only of whatever construction jobs will be created by the project but of the prospects for utilising our waterways in a way that can bring employment to local communities.

For “everyone” read “everyone except irishwaterwayshistory.com and a few other sane people”.

NSMC latest

The joint communiqué from the latest North-South Ministerial Council inland waterways sectoral meeting, held on 9 July 2012, is here as a web page and here as a PDF.

The exciting bits:

  • WI provided more moorings, sponsored 101 events, maintained the waterways [see below], published its restaurant guide and list of events and continued involvement with the Waterways Forward project
  • WI is developing its budget and business plan for 2012 [isn’t that a bit late?]
  • the NSMC “noted” WI’s annual report and draft accounts for 2011
  • the NSMC allowed WI to sell some stuff
  • WI has thought of some funding options for the Clones canal (but citizens can’t be told what they are). An “inter-agency group”, “set up to examine all possible options to advance the project”, will meet in July; the options “will be explored taking account of fiscal constraints”, although it’s not clear whether the unfortunate members of the “inter-agency group” will do the exploring or whether some more authoritative body, like the Troika, will make the decisions. But as the canal is said to be such a good investment, it may be that a public-private partnership will develop it under the Irish government’s €2 billion stimulus package.

The waterways maintenance part includes the claim that “97.5% of waterways remain[ed] open during the months of April and May”. That depends on how you measure things, though. The summit level of the Royal Canal was closed for almost the whole of that two-month period, so the canal (one seventh, about 14%, of WI’s waterways) was impassable throughout.



Monitoring Waterways Ireland

The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure is the Northern Ireland department that shares with the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the responsibility for two north–south bodies, one of which is Waterways Ireland. DCAL’s organisation is described here. And on this page, you can find the minutes of departmental board meetings.

In the minutes of the meeting held on 14 December 2011, we read:

6.0       N/S Bodies Governance (Arthur Scott) (DB 90-11)

6.1       Arthur Scott spoke to paper DB 90-11 which highlights the key differences between the DCAL Sponsorship Manual and the Financial Memorandum for N/S [North/South] Bodies and the challenges this presents for DCAL officials in seeking to draw appropriate levels of assurance for the DCAL Accounting Officer (AO).  The Board were asked to note the key actions being taken to address these challenges.  These included:

6.1.1   Ongoing work with Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (DAHG) to change the focus / nature of Waterways Ireland (WI) monitoring meetings.

6.1.2   Introduction of additional meetings between sponsor departments and the N/S Bodies to gain a better understanding of key issues and to be able to probe officials from the bodies about these.

6.1.3   A commitment by both AO’s to attend meetings about priority issues.

6.1.4   Briefing Ministers about key issues ahead of N/S Ministerial Council meetings.

6.2       The Board discussed governance and accountability arrangements and whether the Sponsorship Manual should apply the same way to N/S Bodies as it does with DCAL’s ALBs [arms-length bodies, I presume].  The Board agreed that the ALB Sponsorship Manual for DCAL, as it stands, should not apply to N/S Bodies.  Instead, a separate document is required with a starting point being the Financial Memorandum.

Action: Sinead McCartan to remove references to N/S Bodies from Sponsorship Manual.

6.3       Rosalie Flanagan said she would meet with her counterpart in DAHG, Joe Hamill, to discuss the Financial Memorandum and how DAHG draw their required assurances from it.

And in those for the following meeting, held on 21 January 2012, we read:

11.0    Quarterly Assurance Statements (Sinead McCartan – DB 7-12) […]

11.3    In relation to the delayed progress on the risk assessment exercise for N/S Bodies as highlighted on the Corporate Services Division QAS, Rosalie Flanagan confirmed that she has met with counterparts in the South and it is proposed that a new governance framework will be prepared for Ministers’ consideration.

Action:  Arthur Scott to incorporate the findings of the N/S risk assessment into the development of a new governance framework.

It seems that DCAL is pushing for tighter control over Waterways Ireland. If DAHG published its minutes [if it does, I can’t find them], we might be able to see what it feels about the matter.





Waterways for peace

From The Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report: Number One by Paul Nolan, published by the Community Relations Council, 6 Murray Street, Belfast BT1 6DN, on 29 February 2012, and downloadable here:

The North–South Ministerial Council sits at the apex of six cross-border bodies, the remit of which is to ‘develop consultation, co-operation and action within the island of Ireland’ on matters of mutual interest. In practical terms this means the management of overlapping concerns on areas such as trade, tourism, waterways, fisheries and transport. Very little political controversy attends the operations of these bodies, and for the most part their activities are conducted in a brisk and business-like way.

The general conclusions of the report are more depressing. The Council lists these ten key points:

1. The political institutions are secure
2. The level of violence is down
3. Paramilitarism still remains a threat
4. The policing deal is not secure
5. The recession is impacting upon the equality agenda
6. Youth unemployment is potentially destabilising
7. A new confident and neutral urban culture has emerged
8. Northern Ireland is still a very divided society
9. There is no strategy for reconciliation
10. No solution has been found for dealing with the past.

But then the southern state hasn’t managed 10 either.




The joint communiqué issued after the last North–South Ministerial Ccouncil  Inland Waterways Meeting, held on 14 February 2012, is available for download here [PDF]. Perhaps the most important part is the set of four recommendations from the review of Waterways Ireland under the St Andrews Agreement:


6. The Council considered four specific recommendations concerning Waterways Ireland and agreed to refer the following recommendations for endorsement to the June 2012 NSMC Plenary:

– Sponsor departments to consider options around the setting up of a Board comprising less than twelve members and to present proposals for consideration at a future NSMC Inland Waterways meeting;

– Sponsor departments to implement as appropriate, through changes to the legislation or other administrative means, a de minimis provision for dealing with Waterways Ireland disposal of a waterway or part of a waterway;

– Sponsor Departments to review the current provisions in relation to Waterways Ireland’s commercial activities to ensure that these are adequate and to report to a future NSMC Inland Waterways meeting; and

– taking account of the current economic and fiscal circumstances, no further action is taken at this time to extend the remit of Waterways Ireland.

Given that British Waterways is to become a trust, with various user representatives on its board, it is hard to see why Waterways Ireland should have no board. I was not convinced by the reasons that Éamon Ó Cuív TD gave me when I asked him about it some years ago.



A slight delay

Keeping up with Waterways Ireland’s corporate publications is a bit of a chore: there doesn’t seem to be any system allowing interested citizens to sign up for alerts, so you have to troll on over to the relevant web page and check for new stuff (I’ll see whether Page2RSS works).

Anyway, I don’t know when the WI Corporate Plan 2011–2013 [PDF] was uploaded, so it may be that everybody has already read it, although it wasn’t approved until October 2011:

This Corporate Plan 2011 – 2013 was approved by the North/South Ministerial Council on 12th October 2011 subject to budgetary considerations by the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Naturally, I had a look for mentions of the Ulster Canal. It’s still there in Business Objective 2, which includes this:

Progress restoration of the Ulster canal from Upper Lough Erne to Clones.

But what isn’t there is any money (other than small change). Annex B shows these amounts of expenditure:

  • 2011: €390,000
  • 2012: €140,000
  • 2013: €390,000

With an expected total cost of €45,000,000, it seems that there won’t be much progress in the next few years.

Thank goodness.