Tag Archives: northsouthery

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.


War over waterways: Sinn Féin -v- the Free State

I reported here that, in June 2013,the North South Ministerial Council (in inland waterways format) approved, on the same day, Waterways Ireland’s business plan and budget for 2012 as well as its annual report and draft accounts for that year. In other words, it approved the budget and plan eighteen months after the start of the year to which they applied; it approved the plans for 2012 and, on the same day, approved the outcomes.

Furthermore, by November 2013, 88% of the way through 2013, it had not approved the budget for that year (I don’t know whether it has yet done so). And, as of today (22 January 2014), WI’s annual report for 2012 has not yet been published.

I wrote:

Is it possible that one minister wants to spend very much more or less on waterways than the other does? As the total current expenditure is fixed at 85%/15%, it seems to me that one side might very well come up with a figure that the other didn’t like.

Is it possible that DCAL, run by Mr Adams’s party colleague Carál Ní Chuilín, is more keen on cross-border bodies than is DAHG, run by Fine Gael minister Jimmy Deenihan? Or are both of them struggling to find savings to pay for the Clones Sheugh, or at least as a deposit for the SEUPB?

Or could it simply be that WI is having great difficulty in cutting its expenditure to fit within the limits imposed by the RoI budget?

I then sent enquiries to Waterways Ireland, the (NI) Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL), the (RoI) Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the North South Ministerial Council. From the repsonses, and from yesterday’s statement to the NI Assembly by Carál Ní Chuilín MLA, NI Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, it is clear that I was right in my first para; it is possible that the first sentence of the second para is right too.

There is a major disagreement between the northern and southern departments about the level of cuts to be applied to Waterways Ireland’s budget and it is not clear what mechanism can be used to resolve it. DAHG, applying Irish government policy, wants bigger cuts than DCAL does.


After each North South meeting, the secretariat issues a rather bland communiqué; the inland waterways ones are here. I suppose that the secretariat can’t be expected to write “There was a blazing row at yesterday’s meeting, skin and hair flying, and the ministers aren’t speaking to each other”. I mean, they wouldn’t write that even if it were true, which I’m sure it isn’t.

On 9 December 2013 I wrote to NSMC (I omit salutations and irrelevancies here):

Are you able to say anything about why the NSMC Inland Waterways did not approve the 2012 business plan and budget for Waterways Ireland until eighteen months after the start of the year in question? As far as I can see from the minutes for meetings since 2007, that is a highly unusual degree of lateness.

NSMC replied on 11 December (with a copy to the RoI Department of Foreign Affairs):

[…] this is an issue for both Sponsor Departments and they can be contacted directly.

On the same day I asked:

Have you any responsibility for seeing that the terms of the WI Financial Memorandum [PDF] are observed? It seems to me that they have been ignored in this case.

Despite a reminder, I have not yet received a reply.


I wrote to DCAL on 10 December 2013:

I would be grateful if you could help me to understand why the North/South Ministerial Council did not approve the 2012 budget and business plan until 18 months after the start of the year to which it applied.

DCAL responded on 11 December 2013:

Waterways Ireland had submitted a draft 2012 Business Plan detailing the activities required to achieve goals set out in their 2011/2013 Corporate Plan. Recognising the challenges presented by the economic climate there were extended negotiations to agree the 2012 budget. The DCAL Minister raised concerns about going beyond the required savings advised by both Finance Departments. Minister Ní Chuilín therefore sought, and received, assurances from Waterways Ireland that frontline services would be maintained.

I sent follow-up queries on 16 December:

I am not entirely clear on the implications of your third sentence: “The DCAL Minister raised concerns about going beyond the required savings advised by both Finance Departments.”

Do you mean that Waterways Ireland proposed to cut its spending by more than the percentage cuts suggested by the Finance Departments? Or to spend less than it received (or expected to receive), in euro, from the two sponsor departments? If so, why did WI want to do that?

I would also be grateful if you could tell me what WI’s “frontline services” are and why they are deemed to be more important than other services.

And I would be grateful for more information on the reason for the extended delay in approving the busiess plan and budget: eighteen months after the start of the year, which was presumably even longer after the plan was drafted. I would be surprised to find that seeking and receiving assurances took eighteen months.

Did the delay result in a breach of the terms set out in the Financial Memorandum governing WI’s affairs?

I would also be grateful if you could tell me what delayed the approval of WI’s 2013 budget. I note from the NSMC minutes that it was not approved in June 2013; the matter is not mentioned in the minutes of the November 2013 meeting but, on 19 November 2013, the RoI Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform replied to a written question from Gerry Adams TD saying, inter alia, that “The 2013 Budget allocation to the Body are subject to on-going discussion by the two Sponsor Departments.”

That suggests that approval of the 2013 budget is at least eleven months late. I note too that the 2014 business plan and budget, and the Corporate Plan 2014-2016, were not approved at the November NSMC meeting. And I note that An Foras Teanga [Foras na Gaeilge + Tha Boord o Ulstèr-Scotch], the other North-South body sponsored by your department and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, was also, in November, awaiting approval of its 2013 budget.

There are two further items on which I would be grateful for information:

(a) is it proposed that the Hutton recommendations be applied to Waterways Ireland (and other bodies in the North-South pension scheme)? If so, what is the expected effect on WI’s budget and on staff take-home pay?

(b) WI’s accounts for 2011 (the latest I have seen) suggest that your department paid less than 15% of the money WI received from its sponsor departments. Did your department pay 15% in 2012 and 2013 and will it do so in 2014? And how do you take account of the effect of currency fluctuations on WI’s income denominated in its working currency, the euro?

Despite a reminder, I have as yet received no reply.


I wrote to DAHG on 26 November 2013 with several questions; I include below only that relevant to this posting.

On 19 November 2013, in a written answer to Gerry Adams, Jimmy Deenihan said […]: “The 2013 and 2014 Budget allocations to the Bodies are subject to ongoing discussion by the two Sponsor Departments and will require, of course, formal approval by the NSMC.”

I would be grateful if you could tell me (a) why Waterways Ireland’s budget had not been finalised when 88% of the year had passed and (b) how that affected budgetary management in the Body.

The department replied on 3 December 2013:

As you are aware, Waterways Ireland is co funded by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Northern Ireland.   The 2013 Business Plan and budgets have been discussed by Ministers at NSMC Inland waterways meetings and key priorities for 2013 identified.  Indicative budgets have been provided by the Departments to Waterways Ireland as a pragmatic measure for business planning and operational purposes and the body is operating within these indicative allocations.

On 9 December I replied:

Thank you. That answers my question (b) pretty well. However, you haven’t answered (a): why Waterways Ireland’s budget had not been finalised when 88% of the year had passed.

I would be grateful for information on the causes of this extraordinary delay.

I have been wondering whether the problems of WI’s budget were very difficult to resolve or whether there was some major disagreement between the northern and southern ministers. If there was such a major disagreement, what was it about?

The department replied on 17 December 2013:

The Departments are still in discussions to agree the budgets.  The position is The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in Northern Ireland is not prepared to agree a 2013 budget for the Body in excess of a minimum efficiency saving of 3% set out in the two Departments of Finance Funding Framework for the North South Bodies. As you are aware from the Parliamentary Question Reply this Department’s REV provision for Waterways Ireland for 2013 is €25.463m, a 6% efficiency saving on 2012. Given the pressures on the public finances and on the Departments budget allocation, the Department is not in a position to provide any additional funding that would maintain the proportionality of funding. 85% of current funding is provided by Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and 15% by Department of Culture,  Arts and Leisure, Northern Ireland.

I responded on 18 December 2013:

[…] Just to make sure I understand you properly: when you say “a 2013 budget for the Body in excess of a minimum efficiency saving of 3%” am I right to presume that the phrase “in excess” applies to the savings or cuts rather than to the budget itself?

I also asked three questions about items of background information relevant to this topic:

1. I am less familiar with the NI Executive’s budgetary process than perhaps I should be. I gather that there are multi-year budgets, linked to a programme for government, with annual estimates and possibly supplementary estimates. The multi-year element seems to be stronger than in Irish budgets, but I wonder whether (aside altogether from the current economic situation) it is difficult to make decisions within the constraints of the different budgetary timescales.

2. I have not yet checked all Waterways Ireland annual reports, but reading that for 2011 suggests that DCAL paid slightly under 14%, rather than 15%, of WI’s current expenditure. Are minor deviations from the 85/15 ratio unavoidable? Do they balance over time?

3. Do currency fluctuations affect the amounts actually paid by the two departments? If so, how are the effects taken into account?

I have not yet received a reply.

Waterways Ireland

On 6 January 2014 I wrote to WI:

I would be grateful if you could tell me the effect on Waterways Ireland of the continuing dispute between its sponsor departments over WI’s budgets and business plans.

On 8 January WI said:

Waterways Ireland enjoys a supportive and positive relationship with both departments.

On 14 January I said:

I am very glad to hear it, but I don’t recall asking a question about that.

I repeated my original question, to which I have not had a reply. As with NSMC, I don’t really expect WI to be able to say anything undiplomatic. However, I would have thought that there must be some inconvenience in working to “indicative allocations”. I wonder whether they are based on DCAL’s preferred level of cuts, DAHG’s preferred level or some compromise. And if compromise is possible on the indicative allocations, why can’t the main issue be sorted out?

Furthermore, the delay in publishing the 2012 accounts suggests that there has been some real difficulty in operating under the indicative allocations regime. Or perhaps there is some other row altogether.

NI Assembly

Reporting yesterday to the NI Assembly on the November NSMC meeting, the NI Minister confirmed that there was disagreement.

Karen McKevitt [SLDP, South Down]: […] The chief executive set out a strategic direction for Waterways Ireland for 2014-16. In that, she mentioned budget efficiencies. Can the Minister highlight to the House what those might be?

Carál Ní Chuilín [SF, Belfast North]: The Member is right: the new chief executive gave us a very good and detailed presentation. Indeed, the Member will be aware — if she is not, she will be when I finish my answer to her question — that there have been additional pressures on everybody across the board in achieving efficiencies. However, as I have repeated to the Member and to other Members, and despite the meetings that I have had with Minister Deenihan around any proposed additional efficiencies that the Irish Government are saying are required, I am totally reluctant to go above and beyond any efficiencies that we agreed previously, and I have stated that to the chief executive of Waterways Ireland. That is the position. Following that, the Finance Departments and, indeed, officials and Ministers will hopefully be submitting additional or new budget plans very soon. I think that issues relating to any agreement to additional efficiencies lie beneath the Member’s question, but I can categorically state that I have not agreed to those.

“Efficiencies”, by the way, means “cuts”.

The importance of waterways to Sinn Féin

I have remarked several times here that Sinn Féin asks many Dáil questions about waterways, notably the Clones Sheugh, with Maureen O’Sullivan providing recent competition. I wrote elsewhere recently:

Waterways Ireland is a political creation: its very existence reflects a nationalist and republican desire to show the benefits of all-Ireland institutions — and a unionist desire to confine such institutions to areas of minor importance. […]

In prosperous times, managing recreational waterways is a feelgood activity, combining opportunities for local and national politicians to get their photos in the papers with relatively low risk of political controversy. Nonetheless, WI had to tread warily, especially in its early years; it has almost (but not quite) entirely avoided such controversy.


I don’t know if there is ever a good time for disputes between your paymasters, but it’s not as if Waterways Ireland, and its new CEO, didn’t already have enough to worry about. To quote again from the same piece:

Compared with British Waterways and C&RT, Waterways Ireland has very little real property from which it might derive an income — and very few other sources of income. According to its accounts for 2011 (the latest available), its total income was over £38 million but it earned less than half a million pounds from licences, property, interest, operating income (including charges to waterways users) and other sources. The rest came from its two sponsor departments.

Charges to boaters have traditionally been low or non-existent: zero for a boat kept on the Erne or on one of the Shannon lakes, with modest charges for passing through Shannon or Shannon–Erne Waterway locks; on the Grand, Royal and Barrow, an annual charge of €128 covered lock passages and mooring. There was no licence fee. Waterways Ireland has begun to impose slightly higher larger charges but may meet resistance.

But there is no immediate prospect of imposing charges high enough to make a significant difference to Waterways Ireland’s budget. That budget is set by the North South Ministerial Council: each government pays for capital works (eg harbour improvements) carried out in its own jurisdiction, while the running costs are paid in a ratio intended to reflect the proportion of the waterways in each: 15% by the Northern Ireland Executive and 85% by the republic’s Government.

Some difficulty may be caused by different timings of the budgetary processes in the two jurisdictions, but a greater problem is that the fixed ratio can lead to deadlock. WI’s budget for 2012 was not set until July 2013, eighteen months late: its budget, business plan, annual report and draft accounts for 2012 were all set on the same day. Final accounts for 2012 had not been published and WI’s budget for 2013 had not been agreed by December 2013.

The cause of the delay was that the republic’s government wanted to cut the budget by more than the Northern Ireland Executive did. The Irish economy has had severe problems in recent years and the government was unable to honour its undertaking to pay for the restoration of the Ulster Canal from Lough Erne to Clones (a short stretch that crosses the border several times). Public expenditure has been cut for all government departments and public bodies but the scale of the cuts is larger than the Northern Ireland minister wants to see. If the republic’s government gets its way, by 2016 WI’s budget will be one third lower than it was in 2010.

That is not the only financial problem that WI faces. Staff transferred to it from Irish government departments carried with them their entitlements to pensions of half of final salary plus retirement lump sums of one and a half times final salary. And, as is the norm in the civil service, the pension system was unfunded. WI had quite a few staff in their fifties and, as they now retire, their pensions and lump sums have to be met out of WI’s normal income from its sponsor departments. The pace of retirement may even by accelerated by a desire to avoid charges arising from the Hutton pension proposals.

During the era of the Celtic Tiger, Waterways Ireland prospered: it acquired much new equipment, built new offices and developed and improved facilities for boaters and other users. It now faces a much more difficult financial future and it is hard to see how it can avoid reducing its level of service. At the same time, its new CEO is — rightly — determined to continue widening the appeal of the Irish waterways to more types of users: walkers, cyclists, anglers, canoeists and others.

Maybe the two ministers might get their act together.

I will report later on other items covered in Ms Ní Chuilín’s statement; the bad (if unsurprising) news is that she is still stuck on the sheugh, but perhaps she can persuade the Imperial Treasury to pay for it.


SEUPB, the Special European Union Programmes Body, has withdrawn its offer of funding for the Narrowwater bridge about which I wrote here and here.

Perhaps the scheme’s proponents might now consider a Newry Southern Relief Road instead. It might not be iconic, but it would be considerably more useful.

And I really don’t think it needs an opening span to cater for a couple of yachts going up the Newry Ship Canal.

It seems that the SEUPB wants to reallocate the money to a project that could be completed by December 2015. A cross-border sheugh, maybe?

Northsouthery and sheughery

The North South Ministerial Council secretariat has been remarkably quick to publish the joint communiqué from today’s plenary meeting. They must have adopted the Quaker practice of agreeing the minutes before the meeting ends (as opposed to the diplomatic practice of agreeing them before the meeting starts). The short version is that nothing happened; the only excitement was another brainfart from Our Glorious Leader, which occurred before the NSMC meeting.

Cavan-Monaghan FF TD Brendan Smith has been wasting civil service time again, asking about the Clones Sheugh:

Brendan Smith [FF Cavan-Monaghan]: To ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if he will indicate the current stage of the proposed restoration of the Ulster Canal; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Jimmy Deenihan [FG Kerry North/West Limerick]: 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.

In the meantime, the Ulster Canal project is progressing on an incremental basis. Planning approvals have now been secured for the project in both jurisdictions. I welcome these developments, which, I am sure the Deputy will agree, are a significant milestone for the project.

I am continuing to explore all possible options to advance this project within the current fiscal constraints. In this regard, an Inter-Agency Group on the Ulster Canal has been established to explore and examine 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, including EU funding options.

What news of the Inter-Agency Group? Has it found a rainbow with a pot of gold buried beneath it?

I do not find the minister’s statement that …

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 […].

… to be entirely consistent with the historical record or even with his further statement that …

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.

The plan seemed to be to sell the WI assets, thus using capital to fund what might laughingly be described as a capital asset (as opposed to a millstone around WI’s neck), rather than to rely on income from the use of its surplus assets. Maybe allowing the Corpo to run the Dublin “docklands” [Irish Times report, which will disappear behind a paywall at some stage; the Corpo’s website doesn’t yet cover this] will restore the overvaluations of the recent bubble and allow WI to flog off its three sites and splurge on the Clones Sheugh.

That seems to be what ThemUns in the Northern Ireland Assembly are expecting, if we are to judge by the discussion held on 21 October 2013, when several shinners, and a few others too, enthused about the “potential” of canals:

Phil Flanagan [SF] asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure [SF] for an update on the current funding position on the re-opening of the Ulster canal.

Carál Ní Chuilín [SF]: I thank the Member for his question. Work by Waterways Ireland on the restoration of the Ulster Canal has been solely focused on the section from Upper Lough Erne to Clones. The project will be advanced in line with available resources. The Ulster canal interagency group has been tasked to examine all possible options for financing the project. DCAL economists are reviewing the business case to update the estimated costs and identify social as well as economic benefits for the first section of the canal. The Ulster canal interagency group is exploring funding options with the Special EU Programmes Body.

Phil Flanagan [SF]: Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as ucht a fhreagra. I thank the Minister for her answer. I welcome the Minister’s continuing commitment to the Ulster canal, particularly the section from Upper Lough Erne to Clones. However, one of the difficulties that it faces is an absence of funding. Will the Minister provide more information on potential funding options for completing the work on that section of the canal?

Carál Ní Chuilín [SF]: The work of the interagency group is focused not just on funding options but on what we can do with current available funding. It is really important that we look at the Ulster canal with a view to how we can open up waterways to improve tourism and the local economy. It is important that we get started on the restoration of the Ulster canal in that area because it has experienced a lack of investment for decades.

We are looking not just towards the Irish Government, within DCAL and towards Europe but at other opportunities, possibly through the Lottery Heritage Fund and many others to see whether we can get this started by looking at options to bring the work forward, rather than waiting until all the money is in. We can do that only on the basis of secured funding. Once that happens, I will be happy to make a statement to the House that will be a bit of good news that the Member and other Members for that area have been waiting to hear for a long time.

I suspect that “what we can do with current available funding” is “buy a shovel”, there being no large amounts available from the Free State. But perhaps the reason that the Clones area “has experienced a lack of investment for decades” is that it is not possible to make any adequate (legal) return on investment there; a policy of assisted emigration might be best. But it is gratifying to learn that SF is trying to get the Free State government off the hook of its rash promise to pay for the sheugh and is hoping to raise the money from within HM Realm.

There was a hint of a sensible question from the UUP.

Tom Elliott [UUP]: I thank the Minister for that update. Will she tell us how much the overall project was estimated to cost, based on the business case, and what income it projected?

Carál Ní Chuilín [SF]: Overall, it goes into tens of millions of pounds. I believe that the business case needs to be updated, and that will be part of discussions involving me, Minister Deenihan, and Minister McGinley. Some of the work that is being done by DCAL economists is bringing a fresh approach to the economic appraisal. We are sharing that with our Irish Government colleagues and the interagency group. That is because I believe that, rather than waiting for all the money to be secured at once, we need to look at the potential for phased approaches. It is good news that we now have full planning permission across all the councils and from our Planning Service here.

We now need to look at what capital moneys are available, what we can do and our plan to secure additional funds for that area. As I said to Phil Flanagan, it is really important — I am sure that the Member is more aware of this than I am — that we get parts of that canal opened and try to get some construction work done on it.

Unfortunately Mr Elliott did not insist on getting an answer to his question about the projected income, which I expect to be nil.

Joe Byrne [SDLP]: Can this issue be raised at the next meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council? What potential does she expect could accrue to the areas of Fermanagh and Tyrone in future tourism?

Carál Ní Chuilín [SF]: The Member should take comfort in knowing that this is always raised at the North/South Ministerial Council. Certainly, within the waterways sectoral aspect of DCAL’s North/South arrangements, it is constantly brought up. The key here is to look at what we can do now for rural communities and what moneys are available. I appreciate that, when the Irish Government said that they would fully fund the project, they were in different economic circumstances. However, they still remain committed to doing something.

In DCAL, I am looking at a new economic appraisal to see what the real costs are and what parts of the work I could try to start, possibly in conjunction with Ministers Deenihan and McGinley. There is a lot of expectation around the project, and rightly so, no more so than among the people who live and work in the surrounding area and those who are waiting for work on the restoration of the canal.

Anna Lo [Alliance]: Parts of the UK and many other countries have reinvented canals as tourist facilities and attractions. What lessons does the Minister intend to adopt from other people’s experiences?

Carál Ní Chuilín [SF]: Certainly, we regularly receive reports from Waterways Ireland about tourist potential. The royal canal has brought great potential. There are festivals across all the canals and waterways the length and breadth of this island. Unfortunately, those are some of the very few opportunities that people who live in rural communities near waterways have of generating a local economy. So the tourist potential is absolutely huge. Not only is it huge for people who live on this island; it is huge for those who want to visit here and travel. There is big interest, particularly in Europe, in canals and waterways. It is incumbent on us to do what we can to get the project financed. We need to make a start on it. We do not have all the funds yet, but it is time to make a start on it rather than sit and wait on free money coming. People who are looking for tourists and have a tourist product to offer and people who are willing and able to work look to us for opportunities to get this moving. I think that is what it could do.

Ms Lo’s question should be enough to deter people from voting Alliance. Note that Ms Ní Chuilín’s answer was all about potential: we have no cost-benefit analysis of the restoration of the Royal Canal and indeed no idea what the restoration cost, but I do not believe that the economic benefits will be significant. And while it may be that …

There is big interest, particularly in Europe, in canals and waterways.

… the prospect of travelling to Clones by water is not significantly more enticing than that of travelling there by road.




Northsouthery minus northsouthery

I noted here what the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht had to say about Waterways Ireland’s budget — or at least that portion of it paid by the RoI government — for 2014. The minister listed WI’s “core activities and targets” and various other things it should be doing:

  • promoting increased use of the waterways resource for recreational purposes
  • developing and promoting the waterways
  • attracting increased numbers of overseas visitors
  • stimulating business and regeneration in these areas
  • increasing recreational access along the routes of waterways
  • keeping the waterways open for navigation during the main boating season.

Note that WI is not expected to promote, engage in or achieve anything in the realm of northsouthery. That’s slightly odd when it receives [the larger] part of the northsouthery budget of the minister’s department.

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.


Vast wodges of bumpf from the government’s budget site, with non-searchable PDFs, god rot ’em. An initial look suggests these points:

  • the Dept of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht’s total allocation to northsouthery, which includes waterways, will be down 6% next year
  • current spending on northsouthery will be down from €38 244 000 to €36 178 000. Waterways Ireland gets the biggest wodge of that, about 60% [see my comment last year] in 2011; I guess that the cuts will be shared pro rata, but I can’t be sure
  • WI’s capital expenditure allocation will be reduced from €4 500 000 to €4 071 000, which may go towards shovels for thon sheugh
  • decisions on northsouthery have to be agreed by the NSMC [Irish government and NI executive].

More as I plough the pile, but the summary (to nobody’s surprise) is less spending on waterways. Maybe Éanna should have pushed ….

All sheugh up

Thinking about the exciting news from the North South Ministerial Council plenary session about the Clones Sheugh, I was reminded of the even more exciting news of the first meeting of the North/South Inter-parliamentary Association.

Strangely, its meeting received little publicity in the great world. I asked Messrs Google to search for it but to omit links from the Oireachtas and the Northern Ireland Assembly, as well as those from politicus.org and flickr.com. It found only 42 hits, of which the first seven were links to the site of a Labour senator called Mary Moran. (I won’t provide a link to her site as she’s obviously perfectly capable of generating all the links she wants.)

Anyway, the first meeting of the North/South Inter-parliamentary Association seems to have passed almost unnoticed. You can read about it on InsideIreland.ie, which seems to be a news site run by an advertising agency.

From Ciarán Hanna’s account, I deduce that the North/South Inter-parliamentary Association is an entirely pointless body. I note that it won’t meet again until April 2013. And perhaps the Irish government’s support for the Clones Sheugh is because it gives this pointless body something to discuss, thus keeping it from commenting on anything important.

Northsouthery latest

The joint communiqué issued after the June 2012 plenary meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council is available on the NSMC website. The waterways bits:

5. The Council noted the Progress Report prepared by the NSMC Joint Secretaries on the work of the North South Bodies and in the other NSMC areas for co-operation and welcomed the following key developments: […] preparation by Waterways Ireland of options for advancing the Ulster Canal project […].

I have asked Waterways Ireland for a copy of the options document ….


10. Ministers endorsed the following recommendations concerning North South Bodies:

Waterways Ireland

  • sponsor departments to consider options around the setting up of a Board that would deliver the benefits of improved accountability and governance for Waterways Ireland but 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.

So the Newry and Portadown folk will be disappointed and those on the Lagan will be relieved. WI will get a bit more freedom in property and commercial operations but will have a Board (whose relationship with the sponsor departments will be interesting).

The communiqué also says:

11. Ministers noted that work is progressing on a review of the Financial Memoranda of the North/South Bodies with the aim of having the review completed by end-December 2012. In relation to shared services, it was noted that work has commenced on exploring the potential for providing efficiency savings within the North/South Bodies with a view to a report to the NSMC in Autumn 2012.

That will be nice, though the southern government seems to have ignored the provisions of the existing memorandum in its proposal (which ran aground in the property crash) to grab some of WI’s assets to pay for the canal to Clones.

Finally, the communiqué says:

12. The Council noted that the First Minister, deputy first Minister, Taoiseach and Tánaiste will reflect and consult on Terms of Reference 2 and 3 with a view to decisions being taken at the November 2012 Plenary meeting.

That’s about another part of the St Andrews Agreement Review. The report that made the four recommendations discussed earlier was a report on the first of three terms of reference; the other two have not yet been tackled. They are:

2. To examine objectively the case for additional bodies and areas of co-operation within the NSMC where mutual benefit would be derived; and
3. To input into the work on the identification of a suitable substitute for the proposed Lights Agency of the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission.

The review was agreed upon five years ago, so speed doesn’t seem to be of great importance in these matters.

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.