The public consultation undertaken by Waterways Ireland on the proposed by-laws governing the Grand Canal, the Royal Canal and the Barrow system concluded on 3 February, in line with the relevant legislation which provides for a 21-day consultation period. I am informed by Waterways Ireland that the main stakeholders were contacted individually and invited to meet with the chief executive and the senior management team of Waterways Ireland prior to submitting their views. I am also advised that all current permit holders on the three waterways, including traditional canal users and canal dwellers in County Kildare, received individual written notice and were given the opportunity to respond within the statutory consultation timeframe on an individual basis.
I understand that more than 2,000 submissions were made in the course of the public consultation process, all of which were submitted directly to Waterways Ireland as the body responsible for conducting the consultation process. Waterways Ireland is now giving full and careful consideration to all of these submissions, following which it will prepare a report setting out its proposed approach, including any revisions it may wish to make to its original proposals. The report will be submitted to my Department and will then be referred to me, with recommendations for consideration and final decision. I have not set a deadline for the completion of this process in order to ensure that the issues raised in submissions are fully considered.
I welcome the assertion of Deputy Durkan that there is general acceptance of the concept of regulation of the use of canals. The proposed new by-laws provide for the management of house boats, extended moorings and residential moorings. An annual houseboat mooring permit will be required for a houseboat not navigating or continuously cruising the canals. The permit will allow the use of a mooring identified by Waterways Ireland on the canals where the houseboat may moor for more than five days and up to one year. The proposed by-laws will also modernise the charging regime which has remained unchanged for almost a quarter of a century.
The proposed by-laws are intended to support the investment already made by Waterways Ireland in new infrastructure and facilities along the Grand and Royal Canals and the Barrow system. They will enable Waterways Ireland to develop the canals as a vibrant recreational and tourist amenity for all waterway users, including those who use the canals for residential purposes, and will help create and develop the canals into a waterways system that is modern and fit for purpose.
The final consultation report will be made available on the Waterways Ireland website. Also, as I indicated during a debate in Seanad Éireann on Wednesday, 26 February 2014, I will afford interested Deputies and Senators an opportunity to discuss the proposals with me prior to making a final decision on the new by-laws.