Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 8 May 1990

Vol. 398 No. 4

Shannon Navigation Bill, 1990: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

It is with great pleasure that I commend this Bill to the House. The Bill deals with three significant waterways — the Shannon navigation, the Ballinamore/Ballyconnell Canal and the Erne and Lough Oughter navigation.

Contrary to the impression given by casual observation the River Shannon is not a navigable waterway in its natural state. Intermittent stretches of the river allowed passage of boats from earliest times but continuous navigation for any significant distance was not possible because of many natural barriers.

By the early 18th century the value of a continuous navigation was realised and the establishment of the Commissioners of Inland Navigation in 1751 saw a determined effort to improve the river. By 1787 when these commissioners were dissolved navigation was possible from Killaloe to Carrick-on-Shannon. When control subsequently passed to the Directors General of Inland Navigation the Limerick-Killaloe section was made navigable by 1814 and the system was extended to Lough Allen the same year. These works involved the construction of significant sections of canal to by-pass serious obstacles.

Inland passage to Dublin was made possible by the completion of the Grand Canal in 1804 — which joins the Shannon at Shannon Harbour, County Offaly — and a further link was completed in 1817 when the Royal Canal was completed taking a more northerly route connecting with the river at Clondra, County Longford. These links resulted in regular passenger and cargo services between Limerick and Dublin by the early 19th century and the smaller centres were also served. The Grand and Royal Canals were transferred to the Commissioners of Public Works by virtue of the Canals Act, 1986.

When the Office of Public Works was established in 1831 it took control of most of the Shannon navigation. The Shannon Act, 1839 formalised the control of the Commissioners of Public Works and the following years saw a comprehensive programme for improvement works. These works transformed the waterway and involved deepening the channel for significant stretches, constructing huge weirs and locks and replacing many bridges. The quality of these works has stood the test of time and they protected the navigable status of the river through subsequent lean times.

However, despite the creation of a high quality navigable route and the link to Dublin and the east of the country the volume of traffic was disappointing. The relatively sparse population distribution, lack of industrial activity and absence of bulky material such as ore — which were the mainstay of waterways in other countries — all contributed to low traffic levels. The coming of the railways from the mid 19th century and further depopulation of the western part of the country led to a serious decline on both goods and passenger traffic. Surprisingly, despite the ominous trends, a successful summertime passenger steamer service operated between Killaloe and Carrick-on-Shannon for several years at the turn of this century.

The decline in traffic continued and the condition of the navigation began to deteriorate. However, CIE operated summer passenger cruises from the mid 1950s and although the navigation was originally intended for commercial traffic, slowly with the improving economic climate pleasure boat traffic began to emerge and by the early 1960s boats were available for hire. The Office of Public Works restored the operating condition of the waterway and traffic grew steadily.

The last 25 years has seen a transformation of the river. A natural waterway even if navigable can never achieve its full potential without facilities for berthing and aids to passage. The Office of Public Works has expended significant sums of money on the provision of quays and harbours at many locations and several others are planned for the next few years. For instance, major new facilities have been provided at Lough Key, Drumsna, Dromond, Lecarrow, Hodson's Bay, Clonmacnoise, Portumna and Dromineer and further works are in progress or planned for Roosky, Portrunny and along the river Suck. The budget for 1990 for the Shannon is almost £1 million.

In addition to the provision of these berthing facilities other works include dredging, hydrographic surveying, the provision of water and other services and the marking of hazards and navigation routes. Ongoing maintenance of the waterway which must be undertaken generally from water-based plant is vital to maintain the navigation in a safe and pleasant condition.

The power of the Commissioners of Public Works in relation to Shannon navigation derived initially from the 1839 Act for the improvement of the navigation of the River Shannon and the 1846 Commissioners of Public Works Act. There have been various enactments since that time which have a bearing on the navigation. However, in effect, the only statutory power the Commissioners of Public Works now clearly hold is that related to the maintenance of the navigation and to raise very minimal tolls and charges.

Under the terms of section 39 of the 1839 Act the boundaries of Shannon navigation were defined. Since that time, additional property has been acquired as worth-while additions to the navigation facilities but these fall to be administered as State property under the State Property Act, 1954. It is highly desirable that these properties, together with any subsequent acquisitions and any extensions to the navigable waterway, should be within the ambit of the Shannon navigation legislation. The only satisfactory method of resolving the matter is by the introduction of new legislation.

The Ballinamore and Ballyconnell Canal is the name given to the junction navigation that once linked the Shannon and Erne navigations. It was 39 miles long, consisted of a still-water canal from the River Shannon near Leitrim village to Lough Scur, a distance of 5.3 miles, and the canalised Woodford River from Lough Scur to Upper Lough Erne at a point about 4.5 miles north of Belturbet in County Cavan, a total distance of 33.6 miles. The canal rose about 80 feet through eight locks from the Shannon to Lough Scur. From Lough Scur it fell about 70 feet, also through eight locks, and passed through the towns of Ballinamore in County Leitrim and Ballyconnell in County Cavan on its way to the Erne.

More than half the course of the former navigation lies totally within County Leitrim while about one-fifth lies within County Cavan and a short length lies on the boundary between these two counties. The remainder lies on the boundary between Counties Cavan and Fermanagh except for three short stretches of artificial channel totalling about a mile that were constructed within County Fermanagh.

The history of the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal starts in the last quarter of the 18th century when there was a proposal to make the Woodford River navigable for about 8.5 miles from Upper Lough Erne to Ballyconnell as part of a general scheme for the Erne that would have linked Belturbet in County Cavan via Upper Lough Erne to Enniskillen and via Lower Loch Erne to Beleek. The link from Beleek to the sea at Ballyshannon would have been completed by a canal by-passing the steep falls in the River Erne.

A further link westward via the Woodford River to Ballinamore and Lough Scur and via a still-water canal to the Shannon at Leitrim was envisaged as a future development. Some work was done on the navigation at that time including partial construction of a lock at Corraquill, or Carool, on the stretch between Lough Erne and Ballyconnell but it came to a halt in 1792 and was not to be resumed for over half a century.

Two events in 1842 gave an impetus to a resumption of the project. The first was the completion of the Ulster Canal which linked the Erne with the various navigation systems in eastern Ulster and the anxiety at the time to extend the connection westward to the Shannon. The second was the passing of the Arterial Drainage Act of that year which made provision for the carrying out of river works "to promote the drainage of lands and improvement of navigation and water power in connection with such drainage". This resulted in the submission under the Act of Memorials by the local landowners for a drainage scheme and by the Ulster Canal Company for a navigation scheme to link the Erne with the Shannon along the line of the Woodford River. The company was confident that a link between the two major navigation systems would generate sufficient through traffic between them and that industry and agriculture in the area would generate local traffic and would derive benefit from the facility.

A scheme providing for drainage and navigation was drawn up by the Commissioners of Public Works and drainage works were commenced in mid-1846. Work on the navigation started 18 months later. The navigation design called for a depth of 6 feet of water over lock cills and in channels and for locks 82 feet long by 16 feet 6 inches wide. As an economy measure during construction, depths were reduced to 4 feet 6 inches over considerable stretches of channel and, in some places, they were found subsequently not to exceed 3 feet 6 inches.

A further Act of 1856 provided for the making of awards by the Commissioners, wherein the works completed are formally documented, differentiating between the drainage and navigation works, following which the operation and maintenance of these works would be handed over to separate boards of trustees.

The first recorded use of the navigation as a through route was at the end of 1856. There was an official trial in June 1858. The navigation award was made in January 1860 and the works were handed over by the Board of Works to the trustees on 4 July in the same year.

The work of the navigation trustees was to be financed by tolls, rents and a levy on the ratepayers of districts adjoinging the canal. They appointed an engineer, to direct and supervise the maintenance work. In October 1860 he carried out a survey of the works as completed and listed many faults including inadequate depth over considerable lengths, rock and silt in lakes, bank slips and badly constructed locks and fittings. He reported that traffic could not be carried on except by small steamers.

It is not possible to say if these criticisms were valid or exaggerated. However, neither through nor local traffic materialised. Lack of traffic meant lack of revenue and a loss of confidence and enthusiasm among the trustees. This led to poor maintenance which meant that conditions got worse and passage through the canal got more difficult which, in turn, discouraged any growth in traffic. A report in 1875 indicated that the navigation was even then sinking into a derelict state.

The trustees, however, continued in existence with two interruptions until their last meeting in 1948. Maintenance work continued up to 1937 albeit with a suspension of more than 20 years at the end of the 19th century. Much of this work was concerned with the weir and sluices in Ballyconnell which had to be maintained to preserve water power at the mill there. The last maintenance contract was for the cleaning of the canal basin in Ballinamore.

To my knowledge, the trustees have not met since 1948 and no elections have been held but there has been no formal move to wind them up or to transfer their duties and responsibilities to any other body. No maintenance work has been carried out on the navigation since 1937 although minor repairs may have been carried out by other bodies. For instance, the basin in Ballinamore was cleaned up recently under a Youth Employment Agency scheme.

Commercially, it is obvious that the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell Canal was a failure. It was in some sort of usable condition for only 15 years during which some 15 boats made the through passage, just over half of them paying for the privilege. There is evidence that none of these boats was of the full size for which the navigation was intended and, certainly towards the end of the period, that the passage took an excessively long time. If this is so, it is an indication that earlier criticisms had some foundation and that the works were not completed to the intended standard. This, in turn, would have made it very difficult for the trustees to attract traffic to the canal but there is little evidence that such traffic was available in any event at that time.

What is clear is that the construction of the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell Canal demonstrated that the Shannon and Erne navigations could be sucessfully linked without the necessity of resorting to expensive engineering works. The route, which was chosen after a number of alternatives was examined, made use of the Woodford River and its lakes for more than 85 per cent of its length. The design included some excellent features including the diversion of a number of streams which achieved the optimum use of water resources and also ensured that the deposition of alluvial material which they carry would not take place in the navigation channel.

The navigation has been unusable as such for over 100 years. During most of that period it has been permitted to "decay quietly" with only sporadic attempts at maintenance, mostly in the interests of drainage or power generation rather than navigation. Apart from unauthorised interference with a number of the weirs there has been very little deliberate demolition and substantial parts of the works have survived remarkably well. The visible evidence of these works, notably some of the locks on the western leg that appears to be in very good condition, has continued to fuel a desire to see the navigation restored. The revival in recent decades of the Shannon and Erne navigation systems for pleasure cruising and other recreational uses has given rise to the query, could the navigation be restored? In short, the answer is yes as investigations over the last number of years have shown.

In view of the constraints on other economic options, the area having relatively little manufacturing industry and comparatively poor agricultural land, tourism represents the major element in any future plans for the development of the area. The development of the navigation in the area is a significant move in this direction. The Government, being fully aware of the potential benefit of reopening the canal, have decided to proceed.

It is appropriate that the statutory powers necessary for the execution of the works should be incorporated in the Shannon Navigation Bill which I am now presenting. The purpose of this Bill, therefore, is to up-date the powers of the Commissioners of Public Works in relation to the Shannon navigation, which at present derive from Acts of the last century, and to transfer to the commissioners the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell navigation with powers for its restoration by them or by such other person or persons to whom those powers may be delegated by order by the Minister for Finance.

The Bill will also allow the commissioners to maintain and operate navigation facilities on the River Erne in the State, including Lough Oughter, which is connected to the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell navigation and for which there is no navigation authority at present.

The Bill will also have the effect of applying the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945, to the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell drainage district as is the case with all other drainage districts within the State. Hitherto statutory responsibility for maintenance of these drainage works has been vested in drainage trustees who recouped the cost from the local authorities. Henceforth responsibility for maintenance of these works will lie directly with the local authorities.

The explanatory memorandum which accompanies the Bill sets out in more detail what it aims to achieve but, I will endeavour to summarise here the powers sought in more general terms. In short, the Bill will empower the Commissioners of Public Works to undertake the care, management, control, improvement and development of the Shannon navigation, including the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell navigation and the section of the River Erne navigation within the State which will, in fact, be deemed to be part of the Shannon navigation. Potential for joint ventures with public and private interests will be fully explored.

I have no doubt this legislation will provide the legislative framework which will enable us to undertake major development of a resource now dormant and stagnant. It will empower the commissioners to make charges for the use of the navigation facilities by them, to make by-laws for the control of the users of those facilities, to acquire and dispose of property, to enter on adjoining lands for the purpose of inspecting, surveying and carrying out works to the navigation and to extend the limits of the navigation. The Bill, of course, also contains adequate safeguards for the rights of existing landowners.

The Bill empowers the commissioners to control pollution from boats using the navigation. However, the general question of pollution of rivers is the responsibility of local authorities under the Water Pollution Act. It would not be appropriate for the commissioners to duplicate the efforts of the local authorities in this regard.

It is appropriate that the Commissioners of Public Works should be given the necessary statutory powers for the control and management of the Shannon navigation, as well as the maintenance thereof, as a single entity to ensure its vital role as the major public amenity of the State. It is, likewise, appropriate that the management and development of the navigation should be directed towards maximising its contribution to tourism revenues and charges fixed accordingly and that comprehensive legislation should be prepared to close all the gaps in the present law relating to the navigation.

The tourism potential of the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell link is uppermost in my mind. The significance of this North-South link in bringing tourists from the South into the northern waterways and those from Northern Ireland into our own waterways will have many benefits. The advantages to the small towns and villages along the route of the canal with tourism revenues from North and South is an important feature of the project. The authorities in Northern Ireland are fully supportive of the venture and I see it as an important initiative adding to our North-South links.

In the development of our waterways currently under the direction of the Commissioners of Public Works and its further extension proposed in this Bill, the extensive waterways will match those available in other countries such as the United Kingdom and France. These waterways are increasingly seen as essential ingredients in the tourism attraction available to visitors.

The Shannon Navigation Bill provides the necessary means whereby the future of these waterways will be assured. I, therefore, look forward to the support of this House in securing early enactment of the Bill.

My party welcome the provisions of this Bill so far as they go. We welcome in particular the provision to transfer the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell navigation to the Office of Public Works, to provide for the restoration of the canal and the taking into charge by the Commissioners of Public Works of the Lough Oughter navigation, and the portion of the River Erne in the State from Oughter to Upper Lough Erne. The Bill also brings up to date and defines tightly the powers of the Commissioners of Public Works in relation to navigation and maintenance of the River Shannon itself.

The great pity is that Government have not used the opportunity to bring in a meaningful Bill to manage the navigation and other activities on the main stem of the River Shannon. This was often promised by Government spokespersons when they were on this side of the House and, on other occasions, when they were in Government. In the Dáil on June 4 1986 a number of Fianna Fáil speakers, one of them now a Cabinet Minister, Deputy Mary O'Rourke, and another a Minister of State at the Department of Industry and Commerce, Deputy Terry Leyden, had no problem in calling for a new Shannon authority. It seems it is just another of these cynical and sad examples of the wide and yawning gulf there is between what these people promise and what they are prepared to do when given the opportunity to carry out the work.

At present and for the future Shannon navigation falls to two authorities, the Office of Public Works and the ESB. There is often a conflict of interest — lock gates are opened and closed to suit the individual needs of each body and this often results in lateral flooding of adjoining lands leading to complaints from farmers. The farmers are never consulted no matter what losses they may suffer.

This Bill should set up a Shannon authority with real powers to manage this great natural waterway in the interests of all. The authority should comprise people representing agriculture, tourism, fisheries, navigation, industry and power generation — there are others. They should be given optimum powers of management of lake storage capacity and control of water levels to minimise the flooding of farmland and all the lock gates should be made to operate efficiently. They should be financed to take urgent action on silt clearance which is mostly the result of Bord na Móna activities and this would improve the flow and alleviate the flooding problem.

Such an agency should have appropriate powers to control pollution on the river. There is no proper power to control pollution on the river and we often forget that much of the pollution is generated by traffic on the river itself. It is, however, left to the various local authorities whose areas the river passes through. The agency should also have the power to protect the unique wildlife and fisheries of the river system. Much of the Shannon waterway and the land in its immediate environs, in the central plain, have now been identified as areas of international scientific interest from a wildlife and general environmental point of view. Why the Government have dragged their feet for so long in designating these areas as environmentally sensitive under EC Regulation 1760 of 1987 is beyond any rational explanation.

There is nothing in the Bill about a summer flooding relief scheme which is a feasible proposition. We all now agree that a full drainage scheme for the Shannon is no longer a workable proposition. A summer relief programme, however, would relieve problems on thousands of acres of land during the summer months with a major impact on the incomes of hundreds, maybe several thousands, of small farmers on both banks of the Shannon. It is also ridiculous that only 50 per cent of the lands that suffer flooding from the main stem of the Shannon itself, from its tributaries and its canals, are classified as severely handicapped. the other 50 per cent, as adversely affected, is classified as less severly handicapped and cannot benefit from the EC Regulation 268 of 1975 which is the cattle headage regulation.

The activities of one of our largest commercial semi-State bodies, Bord na Móna, have a critical influence on the behaviour of the Shannon. The cutting away of great tracts of peatland removes a vast natural sponge that used to hold unquantifiably large amounts of water from rainfall that afterwards was released by a natural slow process into the river system. With so much of this bog area adjacent to the Shannon gone, vast amounts of water now enter the system much more quickly than happened a generation ago. That exacerbates the flooding on the Shannon. Then there is the silt run-off from peat at harvesting which rests in the main channel bed, causes fouling in weirs, raises the water level and has a damaging effect on fish life.

For this reason, is it not high time that Bord na Móna were involved in the management of the Shannon? It is not in their interest that the river should be fouled or damaged by their very necessary activities. They would gladly help — and they have often said this — if they were given a statutory role. Is it not high time, too, that the farming interests that have been so damaged and whose livelihoods depend to a great extent on the behaviour of the River Shannon were brought in and given a say in the management of this waterway, given that so many of the problems arise as a result of the activities of two major bodies whose interests do not converge and who never sit down together to talk about the problems of flooding which arise directly from the present management of the navigation of the Shannon.

That is just to make a somewhat detailed case for the farmers and an industry like Bord na Móna. One could spend the rest of the evening making a case for bringing in people like Bord Fáilte, the Wildlife Commission and people who are interested in pollution abatement, etc. However, I will move on and talk for a moment on what I see as the only beneficial side of the Bill, that is the taking in charge of the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell navigation. The Minister dealt at great length with this and its restoration and other works on the Erne.

I would like also to compliment and support the work of the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture for the work they will be doing on the Erne in County Fermanagh to complete the navigation. There are great practical benefits from this scheme but there are also highly significant symbolic benefits. It is a cross-Border undertaking and its completion will show what enormous benefits can flow from this rare piece of cross-Border co-operation. We are delighted it is to be a flagship project in our application for EC structural funding. We appreciate, too, the interest of the International Fund for Ireland in this project and their stated willingness to part fund this project because of its cross-Border co-operation implications. The Economic and Social Affairs Committee of the EC in a report on Irish Border areas and on the Erne catchment area, published in 1983 stated:

The opening up of ... the Ballinamore-Balyconnell canal to full use by pleasure craft would give a massive boost to a still very under-developed tourist industry...the consequences of such a direct link being forged between the Erne and the Shannon cruiseways are of the first magnitude, since by combining them a navigable waterway of European importance would be created."

I am delighted that some of the aspirations they expressed are being fulfilled by what we are enacting here today.

South Leitrim and the western part of County Cavan — the region to benefit from this project — are probably the most disadvantaged areas in the country. In the 60 years from 1926-86, County Leitrim lost 50 per cent of its total population. In the same period, County Cavan as a whole lost almost 35 per cent of its population, but, the region of west Cavan, which is so like Leitrim — and there is a major difference between the levels of prosperity and the opportunities available in east Cavan and west Cavan — I submit would have lost at least 50 per cent of its population. Interestingly, Lisnaskea-Derrylin, the area of County Fermanagh which will benefit, is contiguous to both Leitrim and Cavan. While this part of County Fermanagh has similar geographical difficulties from the point of view of remoteness and the quality of the land to the counties Leitrim and west Cavan, the decline in population in that area has been less. That area which incidentally is the poorest area of County Fermanagh enjoys higher levels of employment. Indeed, farm incomes in this area are far higher than our side of the Border.

Employment in County Leitrim fell by 14 per cent in the 20 years between 1961-81 and employment fell by 12 per cent in County Cavan in the same period. However, if we were to confine the decline in employment to the western part of County Cavan — we do not have figures for this — we would find that it would be very close to the figure for County Leitrim. We can get some idea of the opportunities for employment in Ballinamore and Ballyconnell, the towns which give their names to the canal. In the period 1961-81 the population declined in Ballinamore by 17.5 per cent while in Ballyconnell the corresponding figure was 14 per cent. Emigration is only a symptom of the lack of employment but it gives us an indication of what has happened to employment in the area.

In my opinion you would need 100 acres of land at least to engage in viable farming in the region. I am not talking about adjusted acres but, actual acres. If you adjusted the average 100 acres of land in that region, you would be very lucky to have 40 adjusted acres, which by any standard nowadays is hardly a viable holding. Only 3 per cent of the farms in County Leitrim are farms of 100 acres or more. These are holdings of the actual number of acres, and not adjusted acres; 100 actual acres in County Leitrim amounts to 40 adjusted acres, which is the only meaningful acreage to a farmer, and in County Cavan as a whole, only 5 per cent of farms are of 100 acres or more. I submit to the House that most of the large farms are in the region where there is better land and that the average farm size in west Cavan will be very much like the holdings in County Leitrim. In these circumstances the implications for the income of the population are great. These are not extraneous matters, a Cheann Comhairle, because I wish to draw the attention of the House to the economic state of the region we are talking about. If you were to identify the sources of income in that area, it is pure and simple farming, marginalised subsistence farming and the service activities that go on in the small towns in such areas. It is important that we put the area in context. It also puts into context the level of investment one would need to make a significant impact on the trends and the general economic state of the region.

It may be more germane to talk about tourism statistics in the area. It appears that 1 per cent of tourists from inside and outside the State visit County Leitrim and about 2 per cent of the total number of visitors, national and international, visit County Cavan. However, the two counties taken together, earn about 1 per cent of the total tourist revenue for any given year. Again I hope this will focus the attention of Members on the value of tourism to the area. The figures show that while tourism is very valuable to those who gain their livelihood from it it also indicates that the number of people who benefit from tourism must be very small. Obviously, the area is off the beaten track for visitors. Certainly it is not one of the destinations of most people who go on holidays in this country. I suppose this is because of its remoteness but particularly because it has been grossly neglected and under-sold over the years. This is an area of great natural beauty — a wonderland of lakes and unspoiled countryside, but it has never been sold. Indeed, if it had been promoted properly it would have attracted factors of ten or even 100 times more tourists than visit the area now.

The opening of this canal to navigation will no doubt improve the potential for growth and for the betterment of economic life in this area. It is certainly one of the best things that has happened to the region since the country gained its independence.

Bord Fáilte expect that there will be an increase of 4,400 cruising tourists when the canal is operational and they expect it will generate about £45 million in tourist revenue over a 20 year period. There are all sorts of views on the working life of the restored canal. The Office of Public Works or the ESB — the Minister may correct me — are talking of a lifespan of 20 years but others say that it should have a lifespan of at least 50 years.

It is quite remarkable that in the 100 years in which the canal has lain unused and derelict, so much of it has remained intact. I would be inclined to go for the longer period rather than the period of 20 years of which Bord Fáilte are in favour. They are talking about 4,500 additional tourists per annum and an additional amount of revenue — this is all guesswork — of about £45 million in a 20 year period. On both counts, these are very conservative figures.

I believe when this new navigation facility is brought on-stream it should be aggressively sold internationally by Northern Ireland tourism as well as by Bord Fáilte — I would say that to both of them — I hope the people north of the Border will hear this as well as those in Baggot Street. One of my criticisms of our tourist effort relates to how little we do in terms of promoting ourselves aggressively. If you take up one of the Sunday newspapers — one of the better class — you find that places like India or Ceylon are sold aggressively to people here but if you look at the English newspapers you will find very little promotional material about Ireland, their next door neighbour. I have looked at American papers and have seen little or nothing by way of advertising the facilities and pleasures we can offer the tourist. Obviously the American tourists come to Ireland more by accident than by design, or they are emigrants returning to their roots. I believe the tourist figures could be quadrupled over a period of 20 years and, if we are lucky, that the revenue generated over 20 years could be ten times more than the estimated £45 million.

We have to remember that each season there are large fleets of cruisers, canoes and other boats on the Shannon and the Erne. Together they make up the longest unbroken navigable waterway in western Europe. Well sold, the number of people using this waterway could be doubled or quadrupled. There is hardly another place on the planet where you could find a navigable river, lake and canal, with such a wealth of fishing, wildlife, unspoilt countryside, very little noise or deleterious effects of industrialisation. The clean unpolluted surface water from very high rainfall — something we often do not speak very highly of — makes the whole system unique.

Arising from their surveys, Bord Fáilte point out that an inland water holiday is one of the most popular among our continental tourists. There is an interesting table in the environmental impact study published by the ESB. They quote a survey carried out on the motivation of tourists who holiday on United Kingdom waterways. Ninety five per cent of those surveyed said they preferred cruising or boating holidays because they were very relaxing; 94 per cent said that kind of holiday enabled them to enjoy the countryside; 75 per cent said boating and cruising was a very important outdoor activity; and 67 per cent said they took their vacations on the waterways to observe wildlife and flora and fauna.

It has been said that the existing Shannon waterway is a paradise for fishermen and reopening of the canal will greatly extend this facility. The Woodford River is a rich source of all kinds of coarse fishing; there are excellent fish stocks in the lakes through which the navigation will pass; and of these lakes, Lake Garadice, is one of the most beautiful inland lakes in Ireland.

The construction work on the project will provide much needed employment in this region. The creation of perhaps 150 new jobs locally is bound to have a very beneficial effect in an area where nowadays job creation is never heard of but job losses are an everyday experience. When it comes to the construction work on this project, it is important that we do things right and that there is no delay in providing the necessary finance to put in train all the facilities that will be needed. It is most important — I say this from my experience of the Shannon in County Roscommon and the difficulties we have had trying to get some basic facilities at mooring points along the main stem of the Shannon which flows for almost 80 miles on one side of the constituency that I represent — that moorings be provided in little villages like Leitrim where the canal starts and small towns like Keshcarrigan, Ballinamore, Ballyconnell. It is also important that there be mooring points and tie-up points along the lakes — Lake Garadice, St. John's Lake and others — and that basic facilities be provided. For instance, a tap with clean running water should be provided at each mooring point and, above all, there should be enough mooring points to facilitate all the boats so that they do not have to go to a much larger area. Telephone kiosks should be provided in these places to facilitate foreign tourists. Because our telephone system is now digitalised, it is one of the best in the world. We should not have to argue with Telecom Éireann when the job is finished as to whether a telephone kiosk would be viable. Provision for a kiosk should be provided at the construction stage. There should also be provision for another very basic amenity a public toilet, at all these places.

These may seem to be small points to Members of the House. As I have said, the main stem of the Shannon passes through one side of my constituency. In areas such as Roosky, Tarmonbarry and Kilglass there is an ongoing battle to provide even the most basic facilities and tie-up points. Tourists will tell you that when they come to a small area and they want to go to the pub, there is no tie-up point. Neither are there other amenities, such as those I have mentioned — the telephone, public toilet or the tap with clean running water. These amenities would cost very little. It is estimated that the project will cost £20 million and relative to the overall cost to provide these facilities would cost pennies.

I would like to refer to Lough Scur. As mentioned by the Minister, the level of Lough Scur must be raised. He gave us some of the technical data on its new elevation. The report states that something in the region of 40 hectares of land — which is roughly 100 acres — will be submerged completely by the raising of the level of Lough Scur. St. John's Lake will also be raised. That too will have a lateral spread on adjoining lands. Lands which are now used for farming or marginalised farming will be lost; they will become part of the water system. It is very important that the farmers in that area be realistically compensated for any loss of land. I would also want an undertaking that the figures we have been given in relation to 100 hectares being submerged around Lough Scur will be confined to that. If it is more we should know about it. It will be for the local representatives — there is at least one of them in the House at present — to deal with the problem where some farmers were told that they could never be submerged by the new navigation, to find out afterwards that in reality their lands were submerged and their incomes lost, and they are being told that because the statute does not enable us anymore to compensate you for the loss of land etc, there is very little we can give you. It is very important that these matters are got right at this stage, otherwise they will lead to endless trouble. It is most important that that would be checked and rechecked to ensure that the figures given are correct.

Incidentally we are not given any figures for lateral spread of water to St. John's Lake. The Woodford River is canalised; the locks system will make it into a pond from one lock to the other, and it will be relatively slow moving. Naturally the water level will have to rise. I am aware that the proposal is to deepen the channel in the Woodford River. We must also be very careful because there will be very sensitive drainage systems feeding into that river. It is part of nature itself because this is a river that has been there since the beginning of time. It is very important that there is no backup of water into adjoining field drainage systems, because that would be extremely damaging to farmers. I am saying that as somebody who has farmed that type of land. It is very important that the interests of people on very low incomes and who have survived the greatest adversity be taken into account. One can admire people who have survived in the Sahara but it is often just as difficult from an economic point of view to survive off farming in that part of County Leitrim. Anything that is done to adversely affect them could result in a disastrous reduction in the meagre income they already have. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that these matters are taken into consideration and that any consequences for any person is fully taken into consideration and that the appropriate compensation regime will be sufficiently flexible in cases which cannot now be identified — and which the survey shows is not happening but which may happen in practice afterwards — to reach out to those people if that need arises.

Because this project is EC-aided it will benefit from Structural Funds. The submission for Structural Funds for the region — Leitrim is in one region with County Sligo and County Donegal — which the Department of Finance made to the Commission in Brussels showed that the income in Counties Donegal, Leitrim and Sligo is 72 per cent of the national average. Since Counties Donegal and Sligo are far more prosperous than County Leitrim, and while I do not have the figure I will make an educated guess here, that if you were to isolate County Leitrim from that region you would find that the income in County Leitrim is about 50 per cent of the national average. indeed, they well deserve this infusion of capital.

If you look at the other part of County Cavan, which is in a region with Counties Louth and Monaghan. According to the submission made by the Department of Finance the income in that region is 86 per cent of the national average. It fares a good deal better than the other North west region. County Cavan is the poorest county of those three I think everyone would agree that Counties Louth and Monaghan have a more diverse economy than County Cavan. Eastern Cavan is similar to County Louth and County Monaghan but western Cavan is a world apart, and I submit that instead of that region enjoying an income of 82 per cent of the national average income it is much closer to 50 per cent or below. Nobody out there need say thanks to anybody in this House for giving them this particular project because that is the context in which this investment is being pumped in. I hope I have not bored anybody.

There are not many here to bore.

Indeed, and is it not a great pity? For the reasons given I welcome the aspect of the Bill which deals with Ballyconnell-Ballinamore Canal. We are very disappointed that an authority has not been set up to be responsible for water management on the main stem of the Shannon, to be managers of its ecology, water quality, its navigation and of all aspects of the River Shannon. We find that particularly disappointing given the promises made in this House and elsewhere, at election campaigns and so on. Nevertheless we will be coming back to them. I hope that through amendments to this Bill on Committee Stage the Minister will take on board some of our ideas in relation to extending management of the navigation on the main stem of the Shannon. That will be for another day. I do not think we will be asking the Minister to amend to any great extent that part of the Bill which deals with the opening of the new navigation.

Like Deputy Connor, I welcome the initiation of this legislation. I welcome it particularly because of the unifying influence of proposals in relation to bringing all our navigable waterways under the one authority. As a first gesture, because I will have something to say in relation to the structure of that authority, while I have great confidence in the tradition and expertise of the Office of Public Works in regard to rivers, harbours, dredging, berthing etc. I believe that, having brought in the Erne and the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell areas under the one authority as a first goal, and having regard to the tremendous potential that the navigable waterways in Ireland have, there should be a further expansion of the authority at a later stage.

I compliment the Minister on giving an historical record of the waterways and the interest they had for the Irish people in the early 18th century, but the enthusiasm and aspirations then were rather quickly reflected in the lack of commercial capacity to make a viable waterway of it. In the nineties the situation has changed dramatically with the River Shannon linked to the River Erne and linked to the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell area, which will open up tremendous new challenges in tourism. In today's world boating, canoeing and cruising are becoming major features and in today's marketing by Bord Fáilte of Ireland abroad there is no doubt that the River Shannon as it is and the River Erne in so far as the Northern Ireland tourism body go, are features which are very well sold especially in the German market and which have attracted great interest and substantial tourism incomes over the past eight to ten years. However, to maintain and improve that, very substantial improvements will have to be made in berthing facilities, dredging and marking of routes and hazards on the waterways. This job will have to be undertaken enthusiastically once the major primary capital work has been undertaken.

It must be pointed out that the whole of these navigable waterways are in our disadvantaged areas and so for any of the works included in major capital expenditure in any part of them Structural Funds should be made available. The State's resources and those of the Office of Public Works sometimes are very limited. I say to the Minister that the mere setting up of a unified authority over all our waterways in the absence of the necessary finance to carry out the essential works would be doomed to as great a failure as possibly the original intention of having the waterways maintained as commercial navigable centres, to which we do not look forward today; but we look forward to developing their great tourism potential.

I heard Deputy Connor say — and I am in no position to challenge — that the two bodies now responsible for the Shannon are the ESB and the Office of Public Works and they do not always see eye to eye about the nature of the development and the works that are needed. In this field I urge that, having initially set up the body and got them functioning, there will be a necessity to widen that body substantially in order to deliver the expertise and knowledge. The first people to come to mind who should be represented on a future Shannon navigation authority, as the Minister calls them, would be the local authority representatives of the lands, areas and counties adjoining these developments. There is in the spheres of county managers, of county engineers and of county representatives a tremendous reservoir of knowledge, expertise and goodwill and a growing and continuing anxiety to see their areas, their rivers and adjoining lands and their community benefiting to the highest degree from the natural beauty of these areas. There are also the statutory tourist body who have a growing interest in and acknowledge fully the contribution our navigable waterways can make to a future expanding tourist industry, and there is a huge and growing volume of private investment that has been and continues to be put into the cruisers and boats on the Erne and the Shannon, and, I hope there will be the same interest in the new canal development. Within these categories there is wide enthusiasm for the proposed works outlined in the new Bill but there is also on-the-spot knowledge that is not always available to those who are administering from areas perhaps far removed from the area of the works under development. Therefore, while I welcome this legislation as a first step towards realising the tremendous potential our waterways have, I believe there should be a new, unified force involving the ESB, the Office of Public Works, local authorities, Bord Fáilte and those who are actively engaged in putting their resources on the waters to develop tourism. All those bodies have a major contribution to make to a successful and continuing growth in the areas.

With these few words I welcome the legislation as it is now set out aimed at bringing into being a unifying force for a very valuable asset. One reads the history here and we see that for 42 years virtually nobody has been responsible for part of the area now being taken over and from the records placed before the House this evening we see there has not been a meeting of the trustees who had responsibility since 1948. That has been not an area of growth but, it would appear, one of neglect. The new legislation in the first instance provides for the inclusion of the Office of Public Works but I hope in the interests of the whole of the west and of the Republic and Northern Ireland tourism we will have a wider, broader and substantially more effective national navigation board, involving in their representation and management all who are so concerned to ensure that our waterways are finally brought to achieve the maximum in the growth of wealth and employment.

I stand to give recognition to the Bill before us and to throw in the weight of The Workers' Party in support of the Bill as outlined to us. The Shannon is being recognised more and more as the jewel in the crown of potential Irish tourism. The opening up of what has not been navigable for nearly 100 years, a river course or a canal that will link us into Lough Erne in Northern Ireland and, it is hoped, into the tourist potential there, is a very important step in the right direction. I hope that one day the Minister will also look at the Grand Canal and the Royal Canal which will have an important role to play in taking tourists from the east coast right across the country. A fantastic dream I have had was to take the Grand Canal or the Royal Canal to the Shannon. However, I would not get very far with the Royal Canal which at the Dublin end is an absolute disgrace. The capital city deserves a better response from the Government through perhaps the Office of Public Works at least replacing the lock gates that are completely missing in the Dublin sections of the Royal Canal. I am aware that some improvement works have been carried out recently on the Grand Canal.

That canal lay in the hands of CIE for a long time and they found no great use for it, but I am aware that Dublin Corporation are very keen as a local authority to assume responsibility for managing the banks of the canal and the river course as it stretches through their area of jurisdiction.

The Shannon is a jewel but one must ask where all the tourists will come from to spend their holidays on it. I accept that Americans and others are interested in holidaying on the Shannon. It is important that Bord Fálte market the links that exist between the capital city and the Shannon. There is no doubt that with proper marketing tourists could be attracted to the Shannon region via the Royal and Grand Canals. It is to our shame that we have not made more use of those canals though I accept that sections of those waterways are not navigable.

I should like to make some observations about Bord Fáilte's new framework for the development of Irish tourism, their plan for tourism development. The board suggest that there be a doubling of tourism between 1988 and 1992 and they prepared a detailed plan for the Shannon-Erne development area. They raised a number of points about the environment and it is important that these should be highlighted. The river system exists as a central corridor in the country joined at its northern end with the Erne through the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal. The rivers, lakes and centres along the river are key tourist attractions because of their environment which is relatively unspoiled. Bord Fáilte point out that there should be liaison between the State, local authorities and the farming community. They have called for a formal co-ordinating mechanism to be created. Bord Fáilte are concerned about the use of agricultural pesticides and the disposal of pig slurry. It is their view that a deadline should be set for the elimination of all untreated sewage discharged into the water courses in the area. Bord Fáilte also argue for a review of Bord na Mona's techniques for minimising peat suspension discharges and subsequent silting of navigable and angling waters. They say that is required to protect the system from visual intrusion of bad urban and industrial development.

The Bord Fáilte report states that the development of the Shannon-Erne catchment area hinges on many State, county and local authorities. To best ensure proper development and long term protection a formal co-ordinating mechanism should be established, according to the board, to reflect both the views of users and those with official and legal responsibilities. The Minister should answer the claim that although he is establishing an authority, there are too many other interests involved but not in a co-ordinated way. We must bear in mind that angling is very important to the area and that we should not concentrate on leisurely boating. Will there be a negative effect from the silting caused by the suspended particles and by Bord na Móna? When one considers those problems one will see the need for a mechanism to bring together the fisheries authorities, the Office of Public Works, the tourist interests and Bord na Móna.

Who will co-ordinate the approach between the agricultural sector, particularly those responsible for the development of piggeries, and those concerned about the environment? We must be concerned about pollution by raw sewage or from piggeries both of which are deadly. There are so many interest groups involved that we should have a co-ordinated approach to the development of the area. It is recognised by all that the attraction of the area now is its unspoiled beauty. However, as it is developed there is a potential to undo some of its attractions. On a recent visit to Turkey I travelled from Istanbul to the Dardanelles and I noticed that outside Istanbul, which is being developed for tourists, the environment has been spoiled. Will the Minister ensure that the Shannon area is not spoiled by the developments he is suggesting should take place? I accept that the visual attraction of the area will not be spoiled by craft mooring along the waterway but we must be on our guard about developments such as the erection of hotels, restaurants, shops and other facilities close to the river course. We are all aware of the environmental damage that can be done by the erection of fuel stations along the river. What monitoring will there be of those using the river? Will every effort be made to ensure that they do not cause pollution by throwing their rubbish overboard? The Minister should explain what anti-pollution controls he intends introducing to ensure that the users of the waterways and potential developers do not spoil the area.

My big fear is that tasteless developments will turn tourists away from the area. Does the Minister envisage setting up a special planning authority or board changed with protecting the environment against unsatisfactory developments on the river course? The Government have placed great importance on the need to expand the tourist industry and it would be unfortunate if an authority was not established to guarantee for generations to come that private entrepreneurs in for a quick kill do not destory our environment? Bord Fáilte have suggested a series of improvements for angling and cruising. They have suggested the provision of shore facilities, water sports, and the need for information on wildlife and historical sites. They have stressed the need for information services and amenities. I should like to know how this project will be financed. The last speaker told us that this was a £20 million project but, according to the Official Report of the Dáil proceedings, £16 million is the figure involved. I understand that the Shannon, the Grand Canal and the borough systems, including the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canals will receive £17 million from the EC and £5.66 million from public bodies. Will the Minister explain what amount of money we are talking about? We have been told that the development of the Shannon project will help cross-Border tourism in that it will enable people to travel by boat from Fermanagh to the Shannon basin. We have been told that revenue from Northern Ireland tourists yielded only £46 million in 1988 but there seems to be a great reluctance to embark on a joint marketing approach between Bord Fáilte and the Northern Ireland Tourism Board. We have a golden opportunity to embark on such an approach. There has been a lot of talk about developing friendly relations with our separated brethern in Northern Ireland and this is a golden opportunity to develop the water course in Northern Ireland and on this side of the Border through a joint venture. We should jointly market the facilities that will be available.

The main attraction will be the wild, uncluttered waterway and the sense of natural wilderness. It will cater mainly for people escaping the stressful urban lifestyle to which so many of us have got used. If it is not tastefully managed those who are most keen to use the facilities might find that the attractions have been spoiled.

I welcome the Bill. Perhaps it is a selfish welcome because of the fact that most of the area with which it deals is near my home situated very close to the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal.

I should like to pay a special tribute to the Minister of State for his efforts since coming to office with regard to the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal, to his predecessor, Deputy Treacy, to the Minister for the Marine in his former role of Minister for Tourism and to the present Minister for Tourism and Transport. This has also been a major project initiated by the Taoiseach who, in his various roles over the past 20 years, has been very supportive of the proposed re-opening of the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal.

Deputy Connor mentioned a Shannon authority, which everybody would like to see. The efforts made in regard to co-ordinating the work of the ESB, the Office of Public Works and others with a direct involvement in the Shannon are welcome and I hope that progress can be made as quickly as possible to try to relieve the regular flooding in the Shannon basin.

This is the culmination of the efforts of the Office of Public Works which go back to the seventies. When it was first mooted that the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal should be opened it was felt that State resources at the time were not sufficient to allow the work to be carried out. That position pertained for a number of years and it was not until the late seventies and early eighties that the tourism potential of the canal was realised. We had seen the development of cruising on the River Shannon which had become a major source of revenue and recreation for many people. It was a type of recreation which only waterways like the Shannon were in a position to offer. As Deputy Byrne said earlier, it offered unspoiled coutryside. Indeed, most people who cruised on the Shannon — unless they had a month — never made the full journey from Carrick-on-Shannon to Portumna or vice versa. They did about four or five miles a day because they found that the people in the villages alongside it welcomed them with the open arms and were prepared to show that hospitality is still alive and well.

The progress made in that regard in the past 20 years means that it is now a project which can go ahead because everybody knows that it is guaranteed success. The fact that Shannon cruisers are practically 100 percent booked now for this year shows that it is the kind of holiday people want to take. The cruisers are mainly booked by foreigners but the facility is also available to our own people although it is a recreational facility the value of potential of which we do not realise. It is probably the most uncluttered waterway in Europe and one of the few where you can still see the bottom of the river in many places. In places where you cannot see the bottom it is not due to pollution but to silting.

The Rhine has become badly polluted over the past 20 years and it makes you realise why people are prepared to make a major sacrifice to spend their holidays on a waterway such as the Shannon. The Shannon is now becoming crowded and it is time to provide extra facilities, which this Bill will do. It will open the waterway from the Shannon to the Erne. It passes through an area of this country which has had least development and which will not be industrially developed, for obvious reasons. One is because of its remoteness — although it is not as remote as many people think because Ballinamore is only a two hour drive from Dublin. Indeed many places closer to Dublin take longer to reach by car.

A sum of approximately £20 million has been put into an area to develop a facility which has not been operated and has remained unused practically from the time it was opened. There were problems regarding boats on it in the early days but modern technology means that the problems which arose at that time will not recur in the nineties. The people of the area have a great commitment to the project and never lost faith in it. They are to be admired and are prepared to make the same effort to develop the area near the Shannon. Towns such as Ballinamore, Ballyconnell, Belturbet, Leitrim Village and Keshcarrigan will benefit to an enormous extent from this development. They need this type of development because they can only create wealth by tourism which is something for which they can cater. I have no doubt that the people who make the journey up the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal from the Shannon or the Erne will find it a pleasant trip.

In many ways it opens up a new waterway because you can now travel from Ballyshannon to Limerick by boat via Lough Erne and the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal. The efforts of the Office of Public Works on the other canals are to be admired and I hope when this project is completed that the Office of Public Works who are at present carrying out a survey of the very short Lough Allen canal from Acres Lake to Lough Allen will find that the study will be successful and that the go-ahead can be given for the extension of the waterway system in the area. Lough Allen, coupled with Garadice and Lough Erne, will probably provide the best inland waterway in the world for cruising. It will give people an opportunity to see unspoilt development and to mix with those in rural areas who do not want their environment destroyed.

Deputy Byrne was concerned that some developments might spoil the natural beauty of the area. Any such development would be dealt with adequately by the local planning authorities in the two counties concerned because one who might try to carry out developments that would destroy the natural beauty of the area should be resisted tooth and nail by the local authority and by local planning officers. It is to their credit that no development of a sinister nature has been allowed to go ahead. In fact, proposals for many developments have been turned down on the basis that they would destroy the natural beauty of the area.

The creation of a new cruising route is bound to attract the attention of people throughout Europe. This will be the first new waterway of any significance to be developed for many years. The last part of the canal to be developed was from Battlebridge to Acres Lake which was opened in 1977 or 1978. This development enabled boats to go as far as the town of Drumshanbo, something they could not do before because the canal had been closed and become semi derelict. The Office of Public Works successfully carried out the work on the canal. I believe that when Government saw how successful that development was they were encouraged to examine the possibility of opening up the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal.

A previous speaker referred to the angling potential of the area. It is proposed in the plans which have been drawn up by the Board of Works and their consultants that the angling potential of the canal and the Woodford River should be fully exploited. It is proposed that match fishing grounds be part of the development. I believe that such a development would be welcomed by the people of the area. This is the area that the greatest number of coarse angling fishermen visit and nobody would like the facilities available for them to be affected by this development. I do not think that it will happen but rather that the development will add to the facilities which exist at present.

The angling potential of the lakes in the area should also be exploited. Garadice Lake and the Woodford River have been renowned through the years for the quality of the fish to be found in them. In fact, they have been described by English anglers as the greatest inland and coarse fisheries in the world.

We should not ignore the efforts that have been made by the Commissioners of Public Works who are responsible for the maintenance of the canal. As has been said here, there has not been a Board of Trustees meeting since 1948. I want to pay a special word of tribute to the members of the drainage board. This project was initially meant to be for navigation with drainage potential included. The drainage board will no longer exist after the coming into operation of this Bill. It would be unfair of us not to pay tribute to the people who gave voluntarily of their services on these boards. As recently as two years ago the trustees of the board tried to collect drainage rates in the area but due to the indecision about the standing of the original Act they were unsuccessful in collecting the necessary moneys to enable them to carry out the drainage works.

I welcome the decision by the Board of Works that navigation will not be at the expense of the farming community. It has been decided to deepen the channel rather than raise the levels. This is a welcome move. Some reservation has been expressed about the raising of the levels of St. John's Lake and Lough Scur. I ask the Office of Public Works to ensure that adequate compensation is paid on a once off basis so that people can meet the project half way. I hope the farming organisations will see a role for themselves as a liaison group in the settlement of any disputes which may arise. I do not believe any major disputes will arise but there is always the danger where CPOs are involved that local agitation can lead to disgruntlement among certain individuals. The local farming organisations have said they are prepared to co-operate with the Office of Public Works in reaching successful and speedy conclusions to compensation claims negotiations.

The commitment of funds from the International Fund for Ireland to this project which has been signalled by both the British and Irish Governments as a major cross-Border project, means that it will hold a very significant platform in North-South co-operation. The carrying out of work on this project will be an achievement which many people said ten years ago could not happen. It was said at that stage that if one side agreed to the project the other side would not. That attitude has disappeared and realism has started to come back into North-South co-operation. People realise that the commercial world must and will continue irrespective of any troubles which may be side issues.

The Irish Government's commitment to this project has never been questioned. Despite numerous attempts by civil servants in the early days to classify this project as a white elephant, it has never been in that category. It was said that the project could never succeed, that there was not sufficient cruiser traffic to take up the extra waterway. Those doubts have now been dispelled.

Because environmental matters have become so important throughout the EC I believe people will want to spend their leisure time in unpolluted areas. This is an unpolluted area. A previous speaker referred to the risk of pollution from farming and other sources. I do not think that danger exists along the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal. The people in this area respect their environment and they want to protect it. The development of this resource which has lain unused for 100 odd years will bring money and other resources into the area. I am glad it will be a flag ship project for Structural Funds. I know that the Minister of State, the Minister for Finance and the Government will not be found wanting in promoting the case for Structural Funds for this development.

The development of this canal will be as important to the people of this area as Knock Airport was to the people in the west of Ireland. People have sought this development for years. It is a project which will have great tourism potential for many years to come. It will give people an opportunity to meet the challenges which arise and will give individuals who live along the waterway the necessary incentive to develop their premises, whether these be guesthouses, restaurants, or other facilities in the Shannon and the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell areas.

The facilities along this canal will need to be increased as time goes on. It is a location where people can go to see something new as it were. It will be a cruising location, the envy of all of our competitors.

I hope Bord Fáilte will engage in the necessary campaign to ensure this facility is thoroughly marketed worldwide. There is no point in our spending money developing such a facility if we do not ensure its maximum usage. If used to its maximum potential I predict this facility will be of greater benefit to the south Leitrim west Cavan area than a major industry and without incurring the same risks. We must remember that a major industry can be closed overnight when people who have given commitments are left stranded. This commitment will be continuous as far as its development is concerned, one that will not disappear overnight. Indeed, it will be of more benefit to that area than, say, 200 to 300 jobs which would be regarded as a major coup in west Cavan south Leitrim.

We are told the number of permanent jobs to be created will amount to ten to 12 only on maintenance but the number of spin-off jobs — in an area deprived of its youthful population over the past 20 years — will be the first attempt to restore life to that area. It is an opportunity which must be seized in both hands by the Government with regard to its development, seeking funds from the EC Structural Fund and also from the IFI. This development must also be seized with both hands by the people in the area who must undertake the necessary effort to ensure its success.

I predict it will be successful for two reasons, the first tourists being afforded hospitality when they will return. We must remember that only through repeated visits has cruising become the major industry it is today. I will express one fear with regard to cruisers, that our cruising companies will be forced to operate in competition with those from Northern Ireland who have distinct advantages over their Southern counterparts. This anomaly must be examined and rectified whether by way of tax incentive or the provisions of the business expansion scheme so that competition with regard to the hire of cruisers will be kept on an equal plane.

This is a Bill I never thought I would see introduced in this House, having been talked about for so long. However, like all things, if one maintains the pressure and keeps the matter before people's eyes eventually they come to realise that what is being sought is not some mythical development but rather one for the nineties, leading up to the year 2000, which can restore new life to a part of the country which has suffered enormously over the past 100 years.

I join other Members in welcoming this Bill. I welcome it in general because of its much needed updating of the powers of the Commissioners of Public Works in relation to the navigation of the Shannon. In particular I welcome the transfer of power to the Commissioners of Public Works for the restoration of the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal. This provision is the first practical step in rendering the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal once more navigable, the first practical step in linking the great waterways of the Shannon and the Erne, indeed also the first step in the realisation of what so many inland waterway enthusiasts still regard as the impossible dream. Also as this "junction canal"— if I may describe it as such — becomes a reality once more, as the Erne waterways are linked with those of the Shannon, the centre of the Shannon navigation will move decisively upriver to Carrick-on-Shannon with a resultant major boost to tourism and morale for the whole of County Leitrim. As a Deputy representing the constituency I heartily welcome what will be undoubtedly a new flourishing of the area, a further realisation of its potential particularly in tourism.

The Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal, when constructed in the mid-1800s, was the product of a grand design and also of a great disaster. The grand design was of an Irish waterway network linking the Shannon, the Erne and Lough Neagh with access to the sea at Limerick, Ballyshannon, Coleraine, Belfast, Newry, Dublin and Waterford; the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell was to be the "junction canal" linking the Northern and Southern waters. The great disaster to which I referred was the potato famine of the 1840s. But for the resultant famine relief work it is extremely unlikely that the combined drainage and navigation works that became known as the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal would ever have been undertaken.

The end product — at least as far as navigation was concerned — was a disaster of classical magnitude. The canal was built at a total cost of £270,000 — say, £18 million in present-day money; in arriving at that calculation I had the assistance of the Central Bank so the figure must be relatively accurate. Yet, the total number of boats that ever passed through it amounted to less than 18. Therefore, the cost worked out at well in excess of £1 million per boat. I know the Chair — being a boatman himself — will readily appreciate that that was rather expensive boating. As financial and commercial disasters come, one could not improve much on that.

Now the important aspect is that the Ballinamore-Ballyconnel Canal exists and, before very long, we hope will finally fulfil its role, its destiny as the "junction canal", linking the waterways North and South, becoming as fine an inland waterways system as could be found anywhere worldwide and, by way of bonus, a highly visual manifestation of practical co-operation across the Border between North and South.

Although some work had been undertaken in the 1780s in rendering the Woodford River navigable, the real possibilities of a "junction canal" emerged for the first time with the establishment of the Commissioners of Public Works in the 1830s, through a series of Acts following in quick succession, giving them power and encouragement to become involved in public works, drainage and navigation. of course, that had as much to do with the employment provided as with the construction undertaken.

The commissioners devised what would be classified now in their headquarters in St. Stephen's Green a design scheme, undertaking a cost/benefit analysis of the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal. In producing that cost/benefit analysis of that elaborate project — which in modern terms would cost in the region of £18 million — they attained their objective much faster than their design scheme and cost/benefit analysis for the Oranmore and Arrow catchment area in my constituency. Because the commissioners had been established only a short time previously — and certainly not for the last time — their estimates were very wide of the mark. The original estimated cost was £100,000. The final cost was £270,000 — or approximately £18 million in present-day money terms — and I am not aware of any inflationary pressures at that time. Even at an estimated cost of £100,000 nothing happened; the project was shelved and would have remained so except for the first failure of the potato crop in 1846 and the resultant clamour for relief works.

The drainage part of the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal was begun in 1846 and the navigation in 1847. We must remember that at that time there were no JCBs or Hi-Macs around. At first the only machinery or aid available was in the form of wheelbarrows and the first order placed by the new drainage people was for 200 wheelbarrows at a cost of £112. It will be clearly seen that wheelbarrows did not come cheap even then. There were orders placed also for a quantity of picks and shovels, later supplemented in large measure by supplies from the famine relief stores in Belturbet, Cavan, Sligo, Enniskillen and Swanlinbar. However, by the year 1849 they had graduated to a dredger of sorts and later even constructed their own steam dredger in the special canal works in Belturbet. By 1850 there was a horse tramway in place to help move the stones and soil from the summit cutting at Letterfine to Lough Scor.

The Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal may not have done much up to this time for navigation but it did provide employment. In the initial stages 7,000 people were employed there but by the end of 1850 this number was down considerably to 2,650 with great complaints that they could not find enough labourers to work on it. Apparently, they had a fine summer and some of the farmers preferred to work on their own holdings rather than work on the canal.

The undertaking was a difficult job of construction by any standards especially as it encompassed, and this is still relevant, drainage and navigation with at times conflicting demands. The total length of the canal was 38 miles — five miles of stillwater navigation, eight miles of channel through six lakes and the rest through the canalised course mainly of the Woodford River. The original depth was to be six feet but later as money became scarce it was readjusted to four feet six inches. Unfortunately, they did not always scrape the bottom sufficiently and in many places it is only three feet six inches deep, as subsequent inquiries revealed. Even though steam towage had been established on the Shannon and even though the canal passed through six lakes, for some extraordinary reason the Commissioners of Public Works insisted on very costly towpaths where possible. Given that there were 16 locks, bridges, weirs, river diversions, fish passes and lock-keeper houses, we can see that this was a mammoth project considering the lack of machinery.

Work on this project was more or less completed in 1858 and an official trial took place. A trade boat was hired from the Ulster Canal Company and it managed to make the trip from Lough Allen to Lough Erne bringing with it tiles, gravel, corn and other commodities. I hope the Minister of the day was not involved in the official trip, as is now the custom, as it took four weeks to complete but of course it traded along the way.

On 4 July 1860 control of the navigation passed out of the hands of the Commissioners of Public Works — a process we are seeking to reverse in this Bill. The Commissioners of Public Works had a hard job in getting rid of it to a board of trustees from the counties of Cavan, Leitrim, Roscommon and Fermanagh. The trustees — the locals — obviously knew they were on to a loser. However, they advertised the least of the tolls and of water power for mills along the way. They got no taker for the tolls and just one, at £5 a year, for water for a cornmill. They also sold hay from the banks.

There are differing opinions about the number of boats that used the canal but it was definitely not more than 18. Total revenue from the tolls amounted to no more than £18 in all. The result was inevitable closure and the last boat to make it through from the Erne to the Shannon was the Audax in 1873. One thing that can be said about the commissioners is that they were triers. Patrick Flanagan in his excellent book The Ballinamore & Ballyconnell Canal states that they advertised the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell navigation district up to 1864. They did not sell themselves cheap. In referring to the potential for trade they stated in one of their advertisements:

It connects the Shannon Navigation and the south of Ireland, with the Ulster and Newry canals on the North; and joins the Coal Mines and Iron Mines, and Gypsum Quarries of the Lough Allen District, with the several water communications in the North and South of Ireland ... The Lough Erne Steam Company's splendid steamer now plies daily on the lakes.

The trustees will entertain, on most Liberal Terms, any application from Parties willing to develope the Traffic of this extensive and improving District.

They recieved no reply despite the fact that the advertisement appeared in publications throughout the country. Therefore, what went wrong with this project? As we know, there was no worthwhile local traffic, the revival of the Arigna coal mines did not take place until much later and the Ulster Canal Company, who to a great extent through their pleas encouraged the building of the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell Canal in turn were in trouble. The railways began to take over from the canals and the truth is that it really never was a viable proposition.

Somewhat later than the canal, the trustees also disappeared but not before we had the very odd situation in the forties where the only existing trustees were the three trustees appointed by Fermanagh County Council to control the canal, 22 miles of which was in Leitrim and eight in Cavan.

It is only right that I pay tribute to Leitrim County Council. They were always very careful about this matter and not over-enthusiastic in the past about their obligations to keep it going but in fairly recent times they showed remarkable foresight. When the Cavan and Leitrim Railway Company constructed bridges across the canal in the 1880s they constructed them to a low design on the grounds that no boat would pass that way again but when Leitrim County Council replaced a bridge across the canal at Carrickmackeegan in 1971 they opted for a very high design with banked approaches leaving plenty of headroom for anything likely to come underneath. They are smart boys in County Leitrim.

What remains of the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell project and what have we to hand back to the Commissioners of Public Works in reversing the process of 4 July 1860? I am certain this Bill will get an easy passage from this side of the House and perhaps the Minister might hand it back on 4 July this year, the anniversary of the date it left the hands of the Office of Public Works initially.

The remains of the project were described by a colourful trustee, John Grey Vesey Porter in 1881 as "one of the most shameful pieces of mismanagement in any country — not in Turkey could there be such a piece of mismanagement". Why he picked on Turkey I do not know but it was described later by another authority on inland waterways, Major Harry Lefroy, as "the finest canal that was built in Britain up to that time". Despite all the failures, with the subsequent decline and decay and with the ravages of time and the elements, the important thing to remember is that the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell Canal remains. Because of its nature no one was able to visit on it the same fate visited upon the disused Harcourt Street railway line. Because it remains, and for no other reason, we can now look forward to it finally fulfilling its destiny of joining the waters of the Erne and Shannon for navigation.

I am sure the Commissioners of Public Works must feel a certain sense of history as this legislation goes through. Their job will be to complete the work and the vision of the first commissioners. I have the utmost confidence they will do so superbly. It was my privilege as Minister of State at the Department of Communications to put through the legislation giving them control over the other canals. Already their good work is evident in that area. Sometimes the commissioners make mistakes. So do we all. They make miscalculations perhaps as to the length of time it takes to do a job, or in estimates, but this is a small price to pay for the heritage they have left us.

Restoration of this canal will be a difficult job especially with the obligations of drainage and navigation which now exist exactly as they existed before but of course with more sophisticated methods of tackling them. Sometimes there are conflicting demands but I have confidence that the commissioners can do it. Already my colleague, Deputy Connor, has pointed out these difficulties and has outlined some that may arise. The area now comes under the same framework as the rest of the country as far as the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945, is concerned. The Office of Public Works has vast experience in all of this region. I hope there will be no conflicts with the local farmers, that they will get an adequate and much improved drainage scheme. Perhaps the Minister would also explain the exact meaning of his statement that henceforth responsibility for maintenance of these works would lie directly with the local authorities. I know they were the responsibility of the drainage trustees and I know that the drainage trustees could recoup from the local authorities. However I would like the Minister to explain if that is the same obligation that pertains to all other parts of the country or if, because of its particular history, there is a special obligation here which is not borne by other parts of the country. I know the Minister will be pleased to explain that to us.

The decision to make the reopening of the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal one of the first commitments of the EC Structural Funds was particularly appropriate. This is the kind of concept for which the structural funds were intended. The canal will open up a whole new vista of tourism for the area as the pleasure boats go through from the Shannon to the Erne and from the Erne to the Shannon. It will help in job creation. It will help in spin-off industry and it will do something particular for this area: it will lift the morale of the whole area and that is a good thing. In turn it will introduce the visitor coming there to a beautiful, unspoiled, pollution-free area with excellent fishing, abounding wild life and in very special botanical interest areas. They are also coming into an area which, despite all these amenities and advantages I speak of, is yet largely undiscovered countryside. The Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal will link two noble waterways, excellent in themselves, but joined together as they are now about to be, they will equal any inland waterway anywhere in the world.

I also welcome this Bill and congratulate the Minister on giving a very detailed and interesting history of the Shannon over many years.

The decision to reconstruct the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal is unique. As the previous speaker said, it will link two huge waterways, the Shannon and Erne systems. It is a monumental task which will take much planning and a lot of work but at the end of the day we will have one of the finest stretches of waterway in Europe. It will have drawing power and be a terrific tourist attraction in an area where there is little industrial and agricultural employment. This is happening at a time when there is greater emphasis on the development of tourist potential than ever before. The waterways of Germany, France, Holland, Denmark and other countries are heavily polluted. One only has to look out of a train to see this. We are fortunate to have very little pollution particularly in that area. At a time when the attraction of sun holidays is reduced the added advantages of coming to a country like Ireland are that there is not the same density of road traffic and there is much emphasis on water sports etc.

A previous speaker said that he did not think he would see the day when the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal would be developed. I get particular satisfaction from this development because as far back as 1975 I and a number of other public representatives across the Border, quietly at the beginning and without fuss or publicity, came together and eventually set up the Erne Catchment Drainage Committee. At that time in the mid-seventies there was great co-operation from all public representatives North and South irrespective of religious persuasion, even though at that time there was a lot of strife in the Border areas. That committee embraced Cavan, Leitrim, Monaghan, Donegal, Fermanagh, Derry and Tyrone and was very effective. The Erne catchment study, the most comprehensive ever carried out in all the Border region at that time, was carried out by two teams of consultants, Brady Shipman Martin and PA Consultants Limited. They came up with a report on drainage, tourism and agriculture for that region.

In 1980 the committee decided to seek a meeting with the Taoiseach and the Minister of State in Stormont. We met the Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, here in Leinster House and asked him to examine various issues which included the major issue of the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal. In advance we sent a submission that the Minister for Transport and Tourism, the Minister for Finance and other Ministers of State should attend the meeting along with the senior engineering officials from the Office of Public Works to discuss the Erne catchment in terms of a drainage scheme and the Ballinamore-Ballyconnel canal as a waterway and as a tourist attraction. We had a full discussion with local authorities North and South and in mid-January we were to meet the Minister of State in Stormont. The morning I was due to travel with the Monaghan county manager to Stormont, I received a telephone call at 9.30 to say that one of the H-Block hunger strikers had died and that it was more prudent to cancel our meeting.

Debate adjourned.