Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Questions (27)

Brendan Smith


27. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht her plans to increase the level of capital funding for Waterways Ireland in 2019 and 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24061/19]

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Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Culture)

Based on a presentation by Waterways Ireland at a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, I gather that there is a need to expand its capital budget. Thankfully, usage of waterway facilities is significant. There is a need for ongoing maintenance and improvement of facilities that are being used and that attract great numbers of visitors to our country. I understand that the budget last year for capital programmes was €7.8 million, of which €2.6 million was from Waterways Ireland's resources. It is a small capital budget for such a vast area of State property so there is an urgent need to increase the capital funding available and ensure that necessary maintenance and upgrading of facilities are carried out to make sure our waterways continue to be a prime tourist attraction.

Waterways Ireland is responsible for the management, maintenance, development and restoration of 1,000 km of the inland navigable waterway system throughout the island - principally for recreational purposes, including the lower Bann navigation, Erne system, Shannon-Erne waterway, Shannon navigation, Grand Canal, Royal Canal and Barrow navigation.

Waterways Ireland is co-funded by my Department and the Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland. The current expenditure of the body is funded 85% by my Department and 15% by the Department for Infrastructure, 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. In addition, development work has been sustained through attracting third part investment from a wide range of sources.

Waterways Ireland's work programmes are critical to providing a safe and high-quality recreational environment for the public while also preserving the industrial and environmental heritage of the waterways for future generations. These challenges must be balanced with its objective of increasing recreational activity across all our waterways.

The Estimates for 2019 have provided for an allocation of €25.117 million for Waterways Ireland, comprising €20.737 million in current funding and €4.38 million in capital funding. This is an overall increase of €1 million on the original 2018 allocation with capital funding increased by €800,000. Additional funding from Waterways Ireland in 2019 is not contemplated by the Estimates process and it will, like all other agencies under my remit, need to live within its capital allocation.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

As Minister, I have many competing and compelling requests for funding in 2020. I am acutely aware of the value of our inland waterways' amenity and the excellent work that Waterways Ireland carries out. Of particular importance is the strong community and business outreach and partnership policy that the organisation has implemented to engage with and deliver services for communities adjacent to the waterways to create social, recreational, health and economic benefits. The inland waterways are also an intrinsic part of the island's tourism attractions and Waterways Ireland plays a key role in their marketing and promotion.

I gather from a previous reply that capital funding in 2018 was €5.18 million directly from the Government in addition to Waterways Ireland's own funding. The Minister mentioned a figure for 2019 of €4 million. I do not know how an increase has come about. Was she referring to Waterways Ireland drawing down funding from other programmes? Could she clarify that?

Can she also confirm that the capital works that were promised regarding the provision of moorings at Castle Saunderson with the restoration of part of the Ulster Canal will be carried out this year? It is nearly 30 years since the Shannon-Erne Waterway was made navigable. These facilities have been used extensively and have attracted a significant number of tourists to the Fermanagh-Cavan-Leitrim area as well as counties Roscommon and Longford. There is a need to upgrade the facilities. Perhaps the Minister could indicate to the House whether particular programmes will benefit the Shannon-Erne waterway and ensure that it continues to be the major attraction it has been for most of the past 30 years.

The figures I have given are the correct ones for capital and current funding. The Deputy mentioned the Ulster Canal. In July 2007, the North-South Ministerial Council agreed to a proposal to restore the section of the Ulster Canal from Upper Lough Erne to Clones. Planning approvals for the project have been secured from the relevant authorities in both jurisdictions. Government approval to restore a 2.5 km stretch of the Ulster Canal from the upper Lough Erne to the international scout centre at Castle Saunderson, which was mentioned by the Deputy, near Belturbet in County Cavan was secured on 24 February 2015. Work to extend navigation on the Ulster Canal from the upper Lough Erne to Castle Saunderson was completed in December 2018 with a bypass canal channel and a new bridge at Derrykerrib. Installation of moorings at Castle Saunderson has been completed to enable its use as a destination for boats using the newly opened navigation from the Erne to Castle Saunderson. To date, more than €3 million has been spent on the entire Ulster Canal project. Expenditure of €1.13 million completed this portion of the navigation in 2018.

I reiterate that I welcome the usage of the facilities. There is a need for a comprehensive capital programme to ensure that they remain up to standard in order that they can continue to attract visitors. I again appeal to the Minister to ask Waterways Ireland to revisit the proposal we discussed in this House previously regarding the possibility of making the Erne navigable from Belturbet to Killykeen and Killeshandra. It would be a major project but if an indication was given by the Minister, her Department and Waterways Ireland that some progress could be made in the planning of that project, it would be a worthwhile development.

RTÉ recently ran a story on pollution by the ESB. I do not know whether the Minister has had any communications with Waterways Ireland to ensure the ESB funds any works required to undo the damage the company has done.

Will the Minister ask Waterways Ireland the reason no enhancement works have been carried out on the Grand Canal between Harold's Cross and Blackhorse? I have put this question to previous Ministers. What Waterways Ireland has done in all other areas is fabulous but no works have been carried out on paths and towpaths in that area and there are no moorings. There is a need to address that. Is it because this section of the canal goes through a mainly working-class area or is it because this is a forgotten part of the canal?

Have Waterways Ireland and-or the ESB advised the Minister of these reports of pollution of the Grand Canal and the Royal Canal that were carried in all national newspapers recently? Could she share what information she has received as the Minister with overall responsibility? The issue of pollution in the canals in Dublin is concerning. Similar to facilities in the North and the Border area, these canals are significant amenity resources. Does she have a policy whereby when Waterways Ireland undertakes any initiatives in conjunction with local authorities, it advises local residents what the proposals are, particularly in respect of protecting the wildlife corridors that exist along the canals?

Deputy Brendan Smith mentioned Lough Erne and some of the other works he would like carried out. Waterways Ireland officials met the chief executive officer of Cavan County Council and its elected representatives in 2017 and earlier this year in the context of the Ulster Canal advisory forum.

I note the comments of Deputies Ó Snodaigh and Burton on pollution. I can come back to them with a full report, which I do not have to hand. One of Waterways Ireland's main priorities is the maintenance of canals and delivering a prioritised management and maintenance programme for the waterways concentrating available resources on their greatest area of use and benefit. It also wants to increase the use of inland navigations creating and promoting recreational opportunities for local communities and visitors, and delivering economic, social and health benefits. I can come back to Deputy Ó Snodaigh regarding the moorings at Harold's Cross.

In response to Deputy Burton's point about residents and their views, public consultations are usually undertaken, but I can certainly bring back the Deputy's concerns to Waterways Ireland.