As the Deputy will be aware, in July 2007 the North/South Ministerial Council (NSMC) agreed to proceed with the restoration of the section of the Ulster Canal between Clones and Upper Lough Erne. The then Government agreed to cover the full capital costs of the project, which were estimated at that time to be of the order of €35m. It was always the intention that the Ulster Canal project would be funded from the Waterways Ireland annual allocations, as agreed through the annual estimates processes in this jurisdiction, as well as the deliberations of NSMC in relation to annual budgets. It was a key consideration throughout the process that the Ulster Canal project would be supported by a significant level of projected income from the commercialisation of certain Waterways Ireland assets. However, the economic downturn has had a negative impact on those plans.
I am continuing to explore all possible options to advance this project within the current fiscal constraints. In this regard, I established an Inter-Agency Group on the Ulster Canal to explore ways to advance the project and to examine possible funding options for it, including existing funding streams and the leveraging of funding from other sources.
The Group comprises County Managers from Monaghan and Cavan County Councils, the Director of Leisure, Development and Arts from Fermanagh District Council, representatives from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Fáilte Ireland, Strategic Investment Board, Waterways Ireland and senior officials from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Northern Ireland and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
The Inter-Agency Group has met four times, last meeting on 9 December 2013. The Group continues to examine leveraged funding opportunities for the project. This includes the exploration of EU funding which may be potentially available in the next round of structural funds covering the period 2014 - 2020.
In the meantime, the Ulster Canal project is progressing on an incremental basis. Planning approvals have been received for the project in both jurisdictions. Compulsory Purchase Order land maps are in preparation and consideration is being given to how the construction work and other technical aspects of the project will be structured and the necessary lands secured.