Tag Archives: Shannon-Erne Waterway

Pssst! Wanna buy a …

marina [slightly used]?

Are the Sheughers …

seeing sense?

A cynic (not that there are any of them around here) might say that DAHG feels that it has done as much as it’s going to do (admittedly at Waterways Ireland’s expense) by dredging the River Finn and that it has told Monaghan Council that, if it wants any more Sheughery for Clones, it will have to pay for it itself. The Council might like a canal, but only if someone else pays for it, so it will have to be content with a greenway.

And rightly so.

 

Shannon–Erne Waterway traffic

I have reported regularly on Shannon traffic figures [most recently here] but I have paid relatively little attention to the Shannon–Erne Waterway [SEW]. I am therefore grateful to Waterways Ireland for supplying me with the last five years’ monthly traffic figures for Locks 1 and 16 on the SEW. I had some queries about the figures for certain months and I have put them to Waterways Ireland, but I presume that the annual figures are OK.

Shannon–Erne Waterway traffic 2010–2014

Shannon–Erne Waterway traffic 2010–2014

Clearly, not all boats go all the way through: if they did, the figures for Locks 1 and 16 might be the same. The hire bases for Locaboat, Riversdale and Corraquill were all on the Erne side of the summit level; does Lock 1’s excess of traffic over Lock 16 suggest that hirers, perhaps wishing to minimise the number of locks they passed through, headed for the Erne rather than the Shannon? The figures, which I presume are gathered automatically, do not distinguish between private and hired boats.

The other point that strikes me is that the level of traffic is actually quite low. I put in the figures for Pollboy and Athlone locks to allow comparison. SEW traffic is greater than that on the Lough Allen Canal, but it is not much greater than that on the River Suck to Ballinasloe. In that case, WI is [according to its Business Plan 2015] considering automating Pollboy Lock to reduce costs.

Pollboy lock passages 2005–2014

Pollboy lock passages 2005–2014

The SEW locks are already automated, but the costs and benefits may have to be re-examined, especially now that Locaboat has moved from Ballinamore to Quigleys Marina at Killinure on Lough Ree: I presume that that will result in less traffic on the SEW.

Pollboy and the CLones Sheugh

In 2006 Pollboy traffic was used as the basis for estimating likely traffic to Clones on the Ulster Canal’s “SW section”:

The total number of boat parties/groups for the SW section is assumed to be 600. This is based on a comparison with another “offshoot” like the Suck Navigation which had around 1,250 boat parties/groups in 2005 (obtained by dividing the passages through Pollboy Lock by 2) in a much busier section of the whole system. So, for the SW section, a level of around 50% (ie. 600) is regarded as a reasonable assumption.

Waterways Ireland Socio economic Summary Report for the NE and SW Sections of the Ulster Canal Final Report February 2006

Now that Pollboy’s traffic is half what it was in 2005, no doubt the estimate for the number of boats that would visit Clones, if a canal ever reached it, has likewise been halved, which would give an average of about ten boats a week over a seven-month season: four boats every Saturday and one a day for the rest of the week. Folk intending to build restaurants to cater for the cruiser traffic might be wise to reassess their investment plans:

In overall terms, the benefits of waterway restoration derive from the fact that these can facilitate a variety of leisure and recreational activity, that the users will benefit from this activity, and that there will also be wider spin-off benefits in the areas, e.g. facilities such as restaurants etc built to service canal traffic.

Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Restoring the Ulster Canal from Lough Erne to Clones Updated Business Case February 2015

There’s not enough business there for a burger van, never mind a restaurant.

The magic of the Shannon–Erne Waterway

But if Pollboy, the River Suck and Ballinasloe are no longer cited as support for the construction of a Clones Sheugh, the Shannon–Erne Waterway is still used as an example, in that and in other contexts. Take, for example, this:

Shannon–Erne Waterway magic

Shannon–Erne Waterway magic

I’ve nicked that from a slide show called Economic, Recreational and Social Benefits of Rural Waterways in Ireland, which was to be delivered [PDF] by Garret McGrath of Waterways Ireland at the World Canals Conference [PDF] in Milan in 2014.

Now, if the Shannon–Erne Waterway had caused all that construction activity, we’d have to drag Waterways Ireland before the Irish banking enquiry. Skipping lightly over the question of the ghost estates, and the departure of Locaboat from Ballinamore, we come to the real problem with this sort of stuff: the post hoc fallacy. We are invited to believe that

  • a waterway was built
  • prosperity followed
  • so the waterway must have caused the prosperity.

Well, maybe it did and maybe it didn’t, but the argument presented in the slide show isn’t sufficient to prove it. You would have to check to see whether there were any other possible explanations: any other changes that might have resulted in all that construction.

Along the Shannon–Erne Waterway, I can think of two other possible factors: Sean Quinn’s business empire and the Upper Shannon Rural Renewal Scheme, a tax dodge that applied in Leitrim, Longford, Roscommon, Cavan and Sligo, five of the six counties that had the highest rates of vacant housing (excluding holiday houses). So there are two problems here:

  • much of that construction activity may have been driven by tax breaks rather than by the existence of a nearby waterway
  • the construction itself may not have had beneficial effects.

You can read more about that here, noting in particular, on the map, the areas around the upper Shannon and the SEW with vacancy rates of over 25%; you might wonder whether Waterways Ireland is wise to claim credit for housing over-development.

But my main concern here is a different one: that, if you want to claim credit for economic benefits that followed waterways development, you have to measure the benefits and subtract those attributable to other factors, such as Sean Quinn and the Rural Renewal Scheme. Then it would be useful if you compared the remaining benefits with the cost of constructing your waterway: it might then be possible to say that waterways development is a good investment.

It may be that such a study has been done on the SEW, but if it has I don’t know where it is; I would like to see it if it exists. Until then, I regard this sort of thing, from DAHG’s Business Case, as drivel:

The broad existence and nature of the potential socio-economic benefits of canals and restored waterways are therefore well established and not really at issue.

Sorry, minister: that’s rubbish. As far as I know no proper evaluation has ever been carried out on the costs and benefits of any restored or new-built Irish waterway. So you’re not getting away with that one.

 

Shagging the Shannon to shovel the sheugh

On 24 February 2015, the Irish Times published an article headed

First stage of Ulster Canal restoration due to begin in April
Some €2m will be spent on a section of the Shannon-Erne waterway

It ended with these sentences:

The €2 million will be drawn from the funds of Waterways Ireland, a north-south implementation body. It will carry out the dredging of a 2km section of the Erne river and the construction of a new navigation arch at Derrykerrib Bridge to accommodate boat traffic, with a target completion date of April 2016.

It may be that the Irish Times doesn’t know very much about waterways. If it did, it might have been aware that, on 18 December 2014, the North South Ministerial Council approved Waterways Ireland’s Business Plan 2015, which included this Action:

3.6 Progress the restoration of the Ulster Canal on an incremental basis. €1,000

So on 18 December 2014 the North South Ministerial Council — which for all practical waterways purposes consists of Heather Humphreys, the southern minister for waterways and other stuff, and Carál Ní Chuilín, her northern counterpart — approved the allocation of €1,000 to the Ulster Canal in Waterways Ireland’s 2015 plan. Yet, just over two months later, they expect Waterways Ireland to spend about €2 million on the blasted thing, about €1.5 million of it in 2015.

The southern government’s party of treasure-seekers seems to have disappeared entirely: at any rate it doesn’t seem to have found any money. And the two ministers’ departments have presided over successive years of cuts in Waterways Ireland’s current and capital budgets, cuts whose effect has been worsened by the woefully inadequate provision for an ever-increasing pensions bill. Waterways Ireland’s Corporate Plan 2014–2016 shows a cumulative increase of €984,000 in pension costs over the period of the plan, which wipes out a lot of savings in other areas.

I suppose that curiosity is a weakness in journalism. Were it not so, two questions might have struck the Irish Times:

  • how is Waterways Ireland to come up with €2 million out of an ever-decreasing budget?
  • why has Waterways Ireland’s Business Plan been so violently disrupted only two months after it was approved? The €2 million is half WI’s total capital budget spending in for the republic in 2015; it will be recalled that the republic, in a fit of more than usually nitwitted arrogance, undertook to pay for a canal to Clones, which is what the powers-that-be are pretending Saunderson’s Sheugh is.

I can answer the first question, at least for 2015, during which WI expects to spend €1,416,000:

  • €166,000 will come from Heather Humphreys’s department
  • €900,000 will (WI hopes) come from the sale of property assets
  • €150,000 will come from the postponement of an IT programme
  • €220,000 will come from the postponement of non-navigation works on the Shannon
  • €90,000 will come from postponing development of the Barrow Blueway.

I don’t know what property assets WI can sell to bring in the requsite amount. It seems that damage to everyday navigation has been avoided, but the Shannon and the Barrow are to suffer to pay for dredging a river that merely provides a small extension of the Erne navigation.

As for the second question, 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.” The baby might have been Heather Humphreys’s Dáil seat or it might have been something more important. And the gun was, I suspect, a message accompanying the “business case” prepared by the northern department and sent to the southern. [I have asked both departments for copies and other information.]

Arthur Aughey, then lecturer in politics at the University of Ulster, wrote in Magill magazine in February 2001:

Puritanical republicans grieve at the thought that the hunger strikers [of 1981] died to achieve the Waterways Ireland Implementation Board.

I suspect that the less puritanical republicans, those who operate in the devolved institutions of Northern Ireland, are now demanding that the southern government deliver, through the “Waterways Ireland Implementation Board”, what nitwitted previous governments promised. It’s a pity that Sinn Féin and those previous governments couldn’t have come up with a more sensible list of waterways and other infrastructural projects.

 

Saunderson’s Sheugh

The Minister for  Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht [who is also a Fine Gael TD for Cavan–Monaghan] spoke at the meeeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht on 25 November 2014. She said:

In addition to progressing North-South co-operation, my key priority is progressing the first stage of the Ulster Canal project from upper Lough Erne to Castle Saunderson, near Belturbet, County Cavan. I am working on this with the Government and other key partners, including the North-South Ministerial Council and Waterways Ireland. […]

It sounds, then, as if the minister intends to get work started on the Clones Sheugh, but only as far as Castle Saunderson, where there is a scouting establishment. The route from Quivvy Lough (location of the Quivvy Marina) is along the Finn River; the first 5.5 km of the route would be in the river and the last 8.5 km to Clones in a canal. The route to Castle Saunderson would, I imagine, require dredging and the removal of rocks as well as work on [or replacement of] Derrykerrib Bridge [I have not read all the details].

It would, of course, be faster to get there by road, but no doubt lots of people will travel from Foreign Parts for the excitement of seeing Castle Saunderson from the water and paying tribute to the memory of a stout Orangeman and founder of the Irish Unionist Alliance.

No mention of the treasure-hunting group who are to find the money, but there’s an election in the offing so money won’t be a problem. Until afterwards.

Quivvy to Castle Saunderson [OSI ~1840]

Quivvy to Castle Saunderson [OSI ~1840]

The minister also said:

Regarding the Ulster Canal, which stretches from upper Lough Erne to Castle Saunderson, we hope to get the project started on that section because that is the one part of the inland waterway system that has not been developed. If we get that done, the Ulster Canal will connect into Lough Neagh. That means we will have a complete network of waterways in Ireland, which is very important. It is also a cross-Border project, and there is a peace dividend in terms of that project. It is very important in terms of cross-Border relationships. It is one shovel-ready project that can be progressed.

The minister said that “a complete network of waterways in Ireland […] is very important”. She did not say why and I can think of no possible economic justification for the creation of such a “network”. Nor is it clear what the “peace dividend” is. But the phrase that evoked most terror is “shovel-ready project”, which I take to mean something that might buy votes in the next election.

The minister’s predecessor, Éamon Ó Cuív, a Fianna Fáil TD for Galway West, said:

I welcome the Minister’s continuation of the work on the Ulster canals. There was quite a bit of work done on that in my time and I was very anxious to see it progress on a step-by-step basis. I was going to bring it to Clones, I am not sure whether the place the Minister mentioned is further or nearer than that.

The minister interjected:

It is not as far as Clones. We will start it anyway and we will get it there.

And Mr Ó Cuív continued:

I take the view that even if she were to get it half a mile, we should just nibble away at it until we get it finished. It is of strategic national importance and if we could connect Coleraine, where I was the other day and where my poor car is getting mended, all the way down the coast through Lough Neagh down to Shannon and back up the canals, it would be a fantastic facility for the island. I will not be heard complaining in any way that it is in the Minister’s constituency – that just happens to be a happy coincidence in this case.

Actually, although both Quivvy Marina and Castle Saunderson are in the Free State, most of the River Finn route is in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

It seems that I must cease to speak of the Clones Sheugh: it’s Saunderson’s Sheugh. I suppose that, if reaching Castle Saunderson were enough to shut up the Shinners, who seem to be madly keen on Sheughery for some reason that is hidden from me, that might be a bargain: it would certainly be better than going all the way to Clones.

My OSI logo and permit number for website

 

Shannon traffic figures to July 2014

I am grateful to Waterways Ireland for letting me have the Shannon traffic figures for July 2014. All the usual caveats apply:

  • the underlying figures do not record total waterways usage (even for the Shannon) as, for instance, sailing, fishing or waterskiing on lakes or river stretches, which did not involve a passage through a lock or Portumna Bridge, would not be recorded
  • the passage records would not show, for instance, a change in the balance of types of activities from those in larger cruising boats to those in smaller (sailing, fishing, waterskiing) boats
  • figures like these, for a small number of months, will not necessarily be representative of those for the year as a whole. The winter months, January to March, see little traffic in any year; for April, May and June, the weather can have a large influence on the amount of activity especially, I suspect, in private boats.

On the other hand, the figures do include the Shannon’s most significant tourism activity, the cruiser hire business. And they are our only consistent long-term indicator of usage of the inland waterways.

Shannon all boats Jan to Jul 2014

Total (private + hired) traffic for the first seven months of each year

Traffic in 2013 was up a bit on 2012; 2014 is down slightly below the 2012 level. It’s the lowest seven-month figure in the series (ie since 2003), which is a bit of a surprise: I thought that the good weather would encourage more boating.

The changes are small, so their importance must not be exaggerated, but they’re not cause for celebration. Let’s see whether the drop was amongst private or hired boats (or both).

Shannon private boats Jan to Jul 2014

Private-boat traffic for the first seven months of each year

Private traffic is up a bit on 2012 but down on 2013.

Shannon hired boats Jan to Jul 2014

Hire-boat traffic for the first seven months of each year

Hire-boat traffic is down on both previous years, but the pace of decline seems to have slowed.

Shannon private and hired -v- 2003 Jan to Jul 2014

Changes since 2003: private and hired boats

Hire-boat traffic seems to be levelling off at 40% of its 2003 figure: a massive loss of business. I do not know whether anyone is trying to, or could, recover that amount of business. I am not aware of any new Shannon-based tourism business that could compensate for the losses in the cruising (hire-boat) business, but I would be glad to hear from anyone who knows of such projects. Something with high growth potential is required.

Private traffic is wobbling either side of its 2003 figure: the increases during the Celtic Tiger years have been lost.

Shannon private -v- hired boats Jan to Jul 2014

Still roughly 50/50

In the year to July 2014, hire-boat traffic was just above private traffic, but there is very little in it. Private traffic is now comparatively more important to Waterways Ireland [which may be why it is now trying to establish its economic importance] but it does not bring in much money from outside the two jurisdictions, so the case for public spending on waterways becomes much weaker.

And, quite clearly, opening more waterways doesn’t work: as this chart showed last month, the branches off the main lines of the Shannon, Erne and SEW are little used. The Lough Allen Canal, the Suck and the navigation to Limerick are very little used and I see no sign that the reopened Royal Canal has attracted many visitors to Ireland. What is needed is more intensive usage of the main waterways, not further dilution by the opening of more branches [to Clones or anywhere else].

SnnNav JanJun 6

High and low usage

Finally, I thought it might be interesting to see whether the monthly pattern of usage has changed since 2003. To avoid an over-cluttered chart, I included only four years: 2003, 2003 +5, 2003 + 10 and 2014. The chart is for all boats, private and hired.

Shannon all boats by month selected years Jan to Jul 2014

Monthly traffic, selected years

The season seems to have got going earlier in 2003 and even in 2008. Was the weather better in those years?

 

New guide to Shannon and Erne

In German. Bit of a coup for Sven and Anita, I think. Hawthorn‘s bow appears in one photo.

Some of Ireland’s competitors on this and the next two pages.

The hire business, as we know and love it …

… is screwed.

That is my interpretation [and not, I should stress, to be attributed to the report’s authors, sponsors or supporters] of the results of the June 2014 report Ireland’s Inland Waterways – Review & Outlook  prepared by  Tourism & Transport Consult International for the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation “with support from the Irish Boat Rental Association (IBRA)” and downloadable here [PDF].

The report is well worth reading. I’ve been charting the decline in the cruiser hire industry, as indicated by Shannon lock passages, for some time now; a source within the industry told me recently that the decline was actually worse than those figures indicated. The report shows that the IBRA fleet size went from 388 in 1992 to a peak of 533 in 1997 but down to 225 in 2013.

The fleet refinancing problems look to be horrific and it doesn’t seem to me that more marketing (if marketing is taken to be Promotion rather than any of the other Ps) is going to be enough: another P, Product, needs to be redefined rather more usefully than in Tourism Ireland’s segmentation waffle about “Great Escapers” and the “Culturally Curious”. Tourism is good for waterways, but products other than (or as well as) straightforward cruising need to be offered.

And consider this:

Over the past 10 years upwards of €200 million in state expenditure has been invested in upgrading infrastructural facilities along the waterways. The investment has helped to transform the quality and quantity of moorings, navigational aids, signposting. Mooring capacity has been doubled over the period as well as the developments of several integrated harbors including berths with associated on-shore facilities including toilet and shower blocks, picnic and play areas, looped walks, etc. Such developments have taken place at locations on the Shannon and Grand Canal, including Boyle, Clondara, and Killaloe.

No wonder WI’s budget is being cut, if €200 million went to subsidising the Irish bourgeoisie rather than to bringing in more tourists. Of course if the Clones Sheugh were reconstructed tourists would come flocking from Germany, Austria and Switzerland: indeed from all around the world.

And the report says of the Lakelands and Inland Waterways Initiative, about which I have expressed scepticism,

The relevance of the well intentioned initiative and proposed branding to the cruising business was diluted by the large area encompassed by the new regional initiative and the less than adequate resources invested in effective marketing in key source markets. Unfortunately the results of the marketing effort do not appear to have raised the profile of Shannon and linked waterways.

I did think it odd that Abbeyleix got funding ….

This report is a very welcome dose of realism. I want to give it more thought before commenting on individual points, so I’ll come back to it again, but in the meantime I urge everyone to read it (it’s pretty short).

h/t Antoin Daltún

[amended]

 

And then there were …? [updated]

IBRA and IMF

In the original version of this post, I wrote:

I don’t know whether the Irish Boat Rental Association [IBRA] still exists. I can’t find a website for it, although there are references to it, and information about it, on other websites. The online Eircom phone book doesn’t have an entry for it, although the Yelp directory has an address in Bray. This site may be IBRA’s, although I can’t find anything saying so. If you know the true position, do please let me know and I’ll amend this.

In a Comment, Steve Conlon said:

IBRA is most certainly alive and well. http://www.boatholidaysireland.com is IBRA’s portal site and the IBRA logo is prominently displayed on the top right hand corner of the page in question. IBRA members were also members of the Irish Marine Federation which explains the listing on their website. With regards to membership, this stands at 7 despite the current difficulties of Shannon Castle Line. Barrow Line Cruisers have recently joined as a full member of IBRA. The IBRA website and group brochure are currently being up dated and a new industry led study into the market for hire boats is being undertaken. IBRA is a member of ITIC, the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation. I hope that this clarifies.

And Sven Neubert said:

IBRA is still “alive and kickin’ ” and we do have regular meetings (next one in June). The webpage is indeed http://www.boatholidaysireland.com and the IBRA-logo can be clearly seen on it, in the top left corner.

But everything else you are saying on this subject is correct and the hire boat industry has suffered big time over the last number of years.

From my point of view this has been widely ignored by the powers to be. The industry may be too small, but some important people seem to forget, that we bring in many tourist every year, and a good share of them spend another while in the country. But that fact doesn’t appear in the statistics…

It is very sad to see the company of a colleague go, with Shannon Castle Line being one of the oldest IBRA members.

You can see my responses in the Comments.

Shannon Castle Line and Waveline

CarrickCraft and Waveline have announced today that they will be merging after the 2014 season [the same press release is on the two websites]. The combined fleet of 125 boats is to be based at the CarrickCraft bases.

And, according to InsolvencyJournal.ie, receivers have been appointed to Skyline Entertainment Ltd and to Twinross Holdings Ltd, two of the companies that have registered the business name Shannon Castle Line. On 11 April 2014 that business name was registered by DDL Marine Limited, a company whose application to register with the Companies Registration Office was lodged on 7 March 2014. For both Skyline and Twinross,

Brian McEnery of BDO was appointed Receiver and Manager by Bank of Scotland Plc on 30th April 2014.

[Update] The 7 May 2014 issue of Iris Oifigiúil covers the matter.

The shrinking of the Shannon hire business, to which I have often drawn attention on this site, seems to be continuing.

 

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?