Tag Archives: Waterways Ireland

Disentangling Waterways Ireland

A possible outcome of the dog’s brexit?

Saith Alan Bermingham, policy and technical manager of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy:

I assume some of the cross-border bodies such as Waterways Ireland with separate jurisdictions would need to be disentangled,

He says that closing cross-border projects could increase administrative costs.

 

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.

 

Sewage

Having a boat with a holding tank and no bypass system, we take a keen interest in the availability of pump-outs on the Shannon. We used that at Dromineer before heading upriver, but then found that:

  • that at Castle Harbour, Portumna, seemed to have disappeared, probably as part of the harbour renovations; no doubt it will return eventually
  • that at Banagher was not working. There was no notice to say so and the Waterways Ireland patroller who visited the harbour was not aware of the fact. We notified WI but a repair team did not arrive
  • that at Shannonbridge was blocked by a private cruiser. A hire-boat tried to use the pump-out but the hose would not stretch to any position other than that occupied by the private boat. The hire-boat folk even tried to tie their boat to span the gap between the cruiser and the boat behind it, but the hose would not stretch far enough
  • at Athlone the pump-out on an outside hammerhead pontoon had been disconnected as the berth was now allocated to a trip boat. There was a pump-out at the inner end of the pontoon fingers but, while it might be possible to get in safely, getting out would have been pretty well impossible without hitting someone else’s boat.

We were not inconvenienced by this: we went to Quigley’s at Killinure and got pumped out there. But I was struck by the fact that the only other boats we saw trying to use the pump-outs were hire boats, so I looked at the Carrick Craft Captain’s Handbook [PDF/Flipbook] where I found, on page 8, that hirers are given pretty definitive advice about using their holding tanks and the pump-outs:

All boats are equipped with holding tanks for sewage. Tanks should only be emptied at pump-out stations. It should be noted that it is illegal to dispose of sewage overboard. Never moor alongside pump-out stations for longer than required to empty the holding tank.

There is more detailed advice on page 26.

The poor benighted foreigners take all of this seriously, not realising that, in Ireland, illegality is no reason not to do something — an instance perhaps of what Brian Lucey called a “preference for discretion“. But the point is that those I saw were taking considerable trouble to obey the Irish laws and were being frustrated in doing so. It seems unfair that they should waste an hour or so in trying to get a pump-out — or should endanger themselves in trying to get near the pump.

Some suggestions:

  • hirers might be advised to use the facilities at IBRA bases as much as possible, but not to rely on being able to do so on change-over day
  • Waterways Ireland patrollers might check the condition of pump-outs (and other harbour facilities) when checking boat numbers; they might report to the appropriate engineers
  • keeping pump-out locations free at all times would be a waste of space, but they might have markings asking boaters to move when someone does want to use the facilities
  • the operators of the Athlone marina might be asked to put a pump-out on an outside berth.

Oh, and folk might be advised not to swim in harbours ….

Trigonometry and obfuscation

Every so often Waterways Ireland (whom god bless and preserve) sends out a Marine Notice to warn people of sporting activities, so that they can avoid them, and of one or other of the hazards of the navigations. One such, No 68 of 2016, issued on 9 June 2016, says (inter alia):

The attention of all is drawn to the dangers associated with overhead power lines in particular sailing vessels, sailing dinghys and workboats with cranes or large airdrafts.

Vigilance is required especially in the vicinity of slipways and dinghy parks, while voyage planning is a necessity in order to identify the location of overhead lines crossing the navigations.

ESB Networks emergency number is (353)1850 372 999 and Northern Ireland Electricity Networks is (44) 0800 616 817.

Then on 21 July 2016 Waterways Ireland issued Notice No 89 of 2016, which was specific (as far as WI is concerned) to the Northern Ireland navigations. Extracts:

Many sailboats have masts of 9m (30ft) or more and, as most of these masts are made of aluminium, they are an excellent conductor of electricity. If an aluminium mast or rigging come into contact with or too close to power lines, it could result in a fatality.

NIE Networks advises all boat owners to take some simple precautions to stay safe.

  • Plan your route carefully when transporting your boat to or from where it is being launched, making sure you have adequate clearance under overhead power lines. When you are stepping the mast or erecting long aerials, be sure to do so in an area totally clear of overhead power lines.
  • Once out on the water, if you are sailing on inland waterways or near islands or headlands, you should still look for overhead lines as they do cross over waterways. You must ensure that your mast or aerial has proper clearance from any power lines.
  • Always check your charts when underway to ensure you are aware of the location of overhead power lines.

In order to avoid hitting an overhead power line with a mast, it would be useful to know how high off the water, perhaps at Ordinary Summer Level, the power line was. Then you could subtract from that the height of your mast, and some safety factor, and decide whether you could safely sail under the line.

If you don’t know how high the power line is, you have to resort to trigonometry. My recollection of these matters has perhaps faded a little, but as I recall you stand a small boy of known height on your cabin roof and, with your eye level with his feet, you measure (a) the horizontal distance from his feet to your eye and (b) the angle from the horizontal to a line from your eye that touches the top of the boy’s head and the bottom of the power line. Then the small boy falls off the roof, you have to tack, your pencil falls overboard and it all seems much more difficult than finding the height of a tree. And of course you can’t measure the distance to the power line without sailing up to it, which is what you’re trying to avoid until you can decide whether you can safely do so. [Note: this paragraph is not to be used for navigation.]

Life would, therefore, be much easier (and safer) if you knew the minimum clearance under the power lines. Happily, NIE Networks is happy to tell people what it is; I emailed and a speedy response including this:

The clearance on all NIE Networks overhead power lines which cross over navigable waters is 10.5m (lower bank to line or earth). All overhead power lines are marked on navigation charts for the Erne and Lower Bann waters.

However, it should be noted that this is the clearance for NIE Networks overhead power lines and applicable to Northern Ireland only. Clearances for overhead power lines in the Republic of Ireland may be different and would require confirmation from the Electricity Supply Board (ESB).

Big it up for NIE Networks, then. But over several years I tried unsuccessfully to get the ESB to give me the equivalent information for lines crossing navigable waterways in the republic; it would not do so. Without that information, boaters cannot “ensure that [their] mast or aerial has proper clearance from any power lines”, so ESB’s advice is useless blather.

It is some time since I last asked ESB for information, and perhaps it has since been made available, but I see no sign of it on the ESB website. I would be glad to hear from anyone who can supply reliable information.

WI Heritage Plan

Waterways Ireland’s new Heritage Plan is available for download here [PDF]. There is even a grant scheme, to help community-based heritage projects; details here.

Shannon lake levels

According to the Shannon Catchment-based Flood Risk Assessment and Management (CFRAM) Study Technical Assessment: River Shannon Level Operation Review [PDF: Office of Public Works v2_0 July 2012]

ESB collects and maintains records of rainfall, river and lake levels and flow data. Even though ESB has no responsibility to supply flood warnings under their regulations, it issues twice weekly lake level forecasts to all the relevant stakeholders since 2010.

Those stakeholders include Waterways Ireland.

As the levels of the lakes are of great interest to boat-owners and others, it would be really nice if either the ESB or Waterways Ireland were to publish those forecasts. WI wouldn’t need any elaborate new system: they could send them around as marine notices, and the cost would be minimal.

But perhaps the forecasts are already published somewhere? If, Gentle Reader, you know where they are, do please leave a Comment [preferably with a link] below.

Aw sheughs

On 6 November 2015 there was a meeting of the Inland Waterways flavour of the North South Ministerial Council, whereat the Minister for Fairytales (RoI) and the Minister for Marching Bands (NI), each with a sidekick, discussed waterways matters. The joint communiqué, artfully written to provide outsiders with as little information as possible, is available here [PDF], but here’s a summary:

  • WI’s “capital expenditure focused on infrastructure repairs”, presumably because it has no money for any improvements or extensions, except a bit of dredging in or near the constituency of the Minister for Fairytales
  • yes, that means the River Finn, Saunderson’s Sheugh, which we’re pretending is or was part of the Clones Sheugh or Ulster Canal
  • WI has managed to get “third party funding” of over €1 million for waterside developments, which is good: much better than transferring WI money to other bodies. WI is trying to nab euroloot but, as there were no announcements of success, we must assume that this is work in progress. Mind you, the ministers would probably claim the success (and the photoshoots) anyway
  • WI may sell some unspecified property
  • the important one:

LEGACY SCALE LINKAGES FOR NORTHERN BASED WATERWAYS IRELAND STAFF

The Council approved the determination made by Waterways Ireland regarding legacy scale linkages for northern based staff.

I knew you’d want to know about that. Whatever it means.

On 17 November 2015 the latest attempt to get the boys and girls of the Northern Ireland Assembly to be nice to other reached some sort of conclusion, which you can read about in the Irish Times (until it disappears behind a paywall) and the Manchester Guardian. But of course the important question is whether we southron loons have to buy sweeties (sheugher candies) for our northern brethren to persuade them to be polite. For that, gentle reader, you must turn to the inspiringly-titled A fresh start — the Stormont Agreement and implementation plan, available here [PDF].

You will not, of course, want to bother reading most of it, so we can skip straight to Section E Irish Government Financial Support on page 30. New readers may wish to know that, many NI disagreements ago, the Irish government, led at the time by a group of leprechauns who believed they possessed a pot of gold, resolved to impress the poor benighted northerners with a display of southern wealth and power. Accordingly, it promised to pay for all sorts of transport infrastructure, provided that it could be claimed to have some sort of cross-borderality and preferably looked iconic. Whether there was any point to any of the schemes was a matter omitted from consideration.

The three main proposals, IIRC, were

  • the A5, a road in Northern Ireland
  • the Narrow Water Bridge, which would cross the Newry River in the middle of nowhere (whereas a south-eastern bypass of Newry might actually be useful). And it would have an opening span for the many vessels that visit Newry by the Ship Canal
  • the Clones Sheugh, a short section of the Ulster Canal.

Unfortunately the hardheaded northerners have long memories and they keep looking for their three sweeties long after the Free State realised that it couldn’t afford them. So has this latest throwing of their toys out of the pram forced the Free Staters to give in and buy them the A5, the iconic bridge and the Clones Sheugh?

Up to a point, Lord Copper.

The Irish government says it’s all in favour of, er, “investing” in infrastructure “to support North-South co-operation to help unlock the full potential of the island economy”, where no doubt eighteenth century transport methods will prove to as important as they were in the time of Grattan’s Parliament. But with that, and all the other waffle and irrelevancies shoved in at the start of the section, it is clear that the Irish government is trying to big up a small contribution. It drags in the European Union, the Dublin to Belfast railway, flood relief, energy, communications and health, which have nothing to do with the case, but which between them fill almost the whole of the first page.

From there, though, it has to get specific, or at least look as if it’s doing so. Accordingly, each of the three white elephants gets a subsection to itself, with numbered paragraphs, from which we learn that:

  • the Free State government “remains supportive of the commitment under the St Andrews Agreement” to co-fund the A5. It’s going to pay more (I think): £25 million a year in the years 2017–2019, up from a total of £50 million
  • the Free State government “remains committed to the concept of the Narrow Water Bridge”, which has “potential to provide jobs” [how?]; it will review the plans with the NI Executive and think about it by June 2016. It says nothing about the disappearance of funding
  • the Free State government does not say that it “remains supportive of the commitment under the St Andrews Agreement” to fund the Clones Sheugh. Nor does it say that it “remains committed to the concept”. What it does say about the sheugh is that it is funding Saunderson’s Sheugh (see above), it will think about more cross-border greenways and blueways including the Ulster Canal and it and the NI Exec will identify “options for jointly developing future phases of the Ulster Canal restoration project”, which I take to mean that the southron taxpayer won’t be stuck with the entire bill. Oh, and it’s going to think about funding a bleeding sail training vessel, another exercise in pointlessness and nitwittery.

That’s almost it: there is something about a north-west thingie, senior officials will meet and there will be progress reports.

These documents are not necessarily constructed to provide information to outsiders, but my sense is that the Clones Sheugh danger to the southron taxpayer has receded for the moment, although the Narrow Water Bridge and the sail-training nitwittwery need to be blown out of the water (or into it). The A5 road is to go ahead: I don’t know much about it but it might be the least objectionable of the lot.

 

New WI appointments

Mentioned here; can’t yet see the news on the WI website.

Pollboy Lock

I mentioned some time ago that, according to its Business Plan 2015, Waterways Ireland was considering automating Pollboy Lock, on the River Suck to Ballinasloe, in order to save costs. Like other offshoots from the main Shannon Navigation [Killaloe to Lough Key], the Suck is relatively little used.

According to the Connacht Tribune, the automation is to proceed and the lockkeeper is to be reassigned. It seems that some local councillors and “business interests” — who do not, as far as I know, contribute to Waterways Ireland’s income — regret the loss of an ambassador for the town. The keeper, Mr Coyne, was indeed extremely helpful to visiting boaters.

However, he could help only those who arrived at his lock: he could do nothing to attract more boating visitors to the town. That is not in the least a criticism of him, but rather a suggestion that councillors and business interests might perhaps have done, or yet do, more to attract visitors and increase the usage of the splendid harbour in Ballinasloe. Perhaps they might even appoint and pay a town ambassador?

A Sinn Féin councillor quoted in the article seems not to be entirely familliar with the duties of lockkeepers. Furthermore, he does not take account of the fact that the Shannon–Erne Waterway succeeds without lockkeepers — or that it was proposed that the Clones Sheugh [not-the-Ulster-Canal] operate in the same way. Surely a Sinn Féin councillor is not suggesting that, without keepers, the Sheugh might not be the enormous success that his party purports to believe it would be?

PS: the Tribune also has a piece about rubbish at Castle Harbour, Portumna.

 

WI funding

The cuts in funding to Waterways Ireland have been covered here many times. Now, thanks to the invaluable KildareStreet, we have official information on the matter from the Minister for Fairytales. A young chap called Martin Heydon [who has annoying automatically changing pics on his website], FG TD for Kildare South, put this written question to the minister:

To ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the funding provided by her Department to Waterways Ireland in each of the past five years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36691/15]

The minister, Heather Humphreys, FG TD for Cavan-Monaghan, wrote:

Waterways Ireland is co-funded by my Department and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) in Northern Ireland. The current expenditure of the body is funded 85% by my Department and 15% by DCAL, which reflects the distribution of the navigable waterways in each jurisdiction. Capital expenditure is funded 100% in the jurisdiction in which the capital works are carried out.

The amount of funding allocated to Waterways Ireland from my Department’s Vote for each of the years from 2011 to 2015 is set out in the following table.

Year €m
2011 €30.300m
2012 €27.099m
2013 €25.463m
2014 €24.183m
2015 €23.426m

This is useful because, since 2011, the annual budget figure for North South Cooperation has not been broken down between Waterways Ireland and the language shamrock. Last time it was, WI got about 60% of the current expenditure total and almost all the capital. We’ve had to wait for WI’s annual reports to find how much it got two years earlier.

So it’s useful to have these figures, but they would have been even more useful if the minister had distinguished between current and capital expenditure.

From the Multi-Annual Capital Investment Framework, it seems that WI got €3,368,000 for RoI capital spending in 2015. Subtracting that from the minister’s 2015 figure of €23,426,000 suggests that WI’s current spending budget for RoI in 2015 is €20,058,000, which is less than my rough estimate of 60% of the NSCoop total (€35,072,000 X 0.6 = €21,043,200).

In 2011, the Estimates figures showed that WI was to get €6 million for capital expenditure. Subtracting that from the minister’s figure for 2011, €30,300,000, leaves €24,300,000 for current spending in that year.

I haven’t cross-checked that with WI’s accounts, and I could be wrong in other ways: feel free to add a comment below if you can help to correct these figures.

What I make of it is that

  • total RoI spending on Waterways Ireland in 2015 was 77% of the 2011 figure
  • capital spending was down from €6,000,000 to €3,368,000, a cut of almost 44%
  • current spending was down from €24,300,000 to €20,058,000, a cut of 17.5%.

Clearly, Waterways Ireland would benefit from having new sources of income outside the control of the central exchequer. Perhaps Mr Heydon could persuade the canal-based boat-owners of Co Kildare to pay higher charges?

Capital expenditure

I said above that capital spending was down from €6,000,000 in 2011 to €3,368,000 for 2015, a cut of almost 44%.

However, it had been €11,000,000 in 2008, whence the cut is over 69%; the 2016 figure is less than 25% of the 2008.

It is clear therefore that the government does not see investment in waterways as being productive, either of economically desirable results (eg tourism earnings, jobs) or of politically desirable benefits for its TDs.

I wonder therefore why one of its TDs has drawn attention to the matter.

Grim oop north

Something similar has happened in Norn Iron, where an MLA of the minister’s party has asked a question about Waterways Ireland, whose HQ is in his constituency.

Another young chap, one Phil Flanagan (who seems to have joined Sinn Féin seven days before being elected as an MLA. Could that be right?), has asked two questions of the (Sinn Féin) Minister for Marching Bands:

  • AQW 50030/11-16: To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to detail the amounts in (i) financial terms; and (ii) percentage terms of the budget in Waterways Ireland that is set aside for pension payments for former staff; and whether this is comparable with other bodies.
  • AQW 50029/11-16: To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure how the value of the Euro has affected the budget of Waterways Ireland in each of the last three years.

I look forward to reading the answers.