Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 8 May 1990

Vol. 398 No. 4

Private Members' Business. - Shannon Navigation Bill, 1990: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Before the adjournment I was speaking about the involvement of myself and other local representatives in this project in the past 15 years. I outlined to the House that in a meeting with the then Taoiseach, Deputy Haughey, in December 1980 a positive approach was made asking that a close examination be made of this question by the Office of Public Works.

Many speakers mentioned the benefits this would have for the Cavan-Leitrim region. I trust those areas will prepare themselves in advance so as to get maximum benefit from the project and avoid having merely through traffic on the waterway — people just stopping for fuel, fresh water etc. They should be setting about providing amenities such as guesthouse, hotel and self catering accommodation and recreation and sport facilities.

Moneys are now being made available from the International Fund for Ireland for the smaller hotels, those of 15 to 20 bedrooms. This is another opportunity for the Cavan-Leitrim area to maximise the benefits to itself when this project is on stream. One of the problems is that areas such as this, which do not have a tradition in tourism are often passed over for funding while the already developed areas are developed further. What is required is an initial effort to get a project off the ground, to get people interested and to realise that there are benefits to be derived from it.

When this link is made it will create a fair amount of goodwill and opportunities for the tourism organisations both North and South. I hope they will make a joint effort to sell the region by promoting holidays in both areas when cruisers and other water sport amenities are provided.

On the political scene there are positive signs of movement on both sides to resolve the present impasse. People are beginning to realise that the lunacy of the continuing violence must cease. We have the opportunity to take initiatives that will have a positive affect not alone on this area but on the country generally.

The initiative of the IFI in getting this project off the ground is to be welcomed. This was one of the flagship projects in their annual report of 1989. On page 25 of the report it is stated:

This ambitious plan to reconnect the two most important Irish waterway systems, the Erne in the North and the Shannon in the South, involves the restoration of the long disused Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal. The project has potential as a significant tourism amenity and the board has affirmed its willingness to support the project up to a limit of UK£1 million subject to the receipt of satisfactory implementation studies and to the availability of finance from other sources for the project.

This came at a good time when the programme for the North West sub-region was being set up. In that report under the heading "Cruising" they stated:

There is major potential to develop the river and lake cruising product within the North West based on the Shannon and Erne systems. The phased re-opening of the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal, to be brought forward for assistance under this sub-programme, would be of major strategic importance in the development of river and lake cruising in both the Shannon and Erne systems, and would be an important cruising locale in its own right. The phased re-opening of the canal will contribute in a significant manner to the development of tourism in the North West and in Northern Ireland. Other proposals to be brought forward for assistance in this sphere include the Lough Allen Canal, extension of the Erne navigation system from Belturbet to Lough Oughter and boating marinas at several locations within the region.

The provision of this money by the IFI and the promise of extra funds from the Structural Fund guarantees the success of this project. Seldom has a project had as definite a base from which to work as far as funding is concerned. We also have additional funding under INTERREG. The funding should be in place to ensure that this amenity is proceeded with. The Minister said that the Bill would 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-Ballyconnell navigation for which there is no navigation authority at present. It was certainly advisable to bring this in and to have an authority under which to operate that.

The Minister also mentioned that the Bill empowers the Commissioners to control pollution from boats using the navigation. However, he said that the general question of pollution of rivers is the responsibility of local authorities. Certainly since the introduction of the pollution grants in 1988 in regard to farmyard pollution, great strides have been made to reduce pollution levels. If we have the same rate of progress in the next three to four years as we had in the last it will go a long way to clean up our lakes and streams and restore them to what they were ten or 15 years ago when we had so much pride in them because we had the purest ground water of any country in Europe. This would be a terrific asset to us.

I conclude by congratulating the Minister on introducing this Bill. I know it will have the goodwill of all sides of the House. I hope it will provide for that area the benefits that most of the speakers have outlined here tonight.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate. Broadly speaking I welcome the Bill. I welcome it because of the much needed updating of the powers of the Commissioners of Public Works in relation to the Shannon navigation and because of the provision for the restoration of the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal. This is the first practical step towards opening that canal and the linking of the great waterways of the Shannon and the Erne. It is the realisation of what many waterway enthusiasts have dreamed of. I fully realise the importance of what is involved. It is a major development which has great potential for an area that has been devastated over the past decade or more. It also offers a great opportunity to bring people into an area which has so much to offer tourists. This is a totally unspoiled area which is sparsely populated and now that our kind of climate has become more attractive because of the risks to health from exposure to the sun, I hope people from such places as Dublin will take their boats and link into the Shannon from Belturbet.

The opening up of the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal is a major development. I am interested in the development of the Shannon. Indeed it is no harm to put on the record of the House, for those who do not know their geography, that the Shannon rises in my fair county of Cavan. Indeed, I am ashamed that the potential of the area where this great river rises has not been developed. The Shannon rises in the Cuilcagh Mountains. It begins as a little pond that runs into a narrow stream. It is great fun for young people and the not so young, if they are any way nimble, to jump the Shannon. I understand also that there are people who are interested in stating that the Shannon rises further upstream and that they are going to develop its potential. I want to tell the Minister for Tourism and Transport, and I hope he will get this message, that we should start the development of the Shannon from its roots in the Cuilcagh Mountains and continue that development to where the river goes into the sea at Limerick. This is an area of great potential but that is probably an issue for debate another day.

I am deeply interested in the opening up of the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal to link the Shannon with the Erne. We hope that the opening up of this waterway will not just be a means of getting from Lough Erne to the Shannon inviting only passing traffic, which would be of no benefit to the towns and villages from Belturbet to Ballinamore. We anticipate there being facilities for boats to berth and the link roads to berthing places being upgraded so that people will be encouraged to spend a night or perhaps a weekend in one of the inland towns. A bus from Donegal going to Dublin and passing through Belturbet, Cavan, and Virginia is of absolutely no benefit to the region unless the passengers alight and spend their money in one of the towns. I ask the Minister to take this point on board when developing the canal.

We have enterprising people who can see the benefit downstream. I take this opportunity to congratulate Mr. Seán Quinn and his family on their initiative and enterprise in developing a greenfield site and providing a hotel right on the canal which will only succeed if the canal is utilised to its full potential. Mr. Quinn saw an opportunity to develop a business. The International Fund for Ireland has made substantial funds available for both the hotel and canal developments. That is very welcome.

The North-South aspect of the development is important. However, it must be remembered that when one gets to Belturbet one can only travel north on the Erne. You cannot penetrate the county that has more to offer than any other county in terms of fishing, shooting and picnic areas. I am referring to that area from Lough Oughter to Lough Gowna. In his opening remarks the Minister said:

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.

I have gone through the speech in detail but I do not see any mention of the Erne and Lough Oughter Navigation or that it is being developed in any way. Perhaps the Minister of State would note that point and reply to it during the course of his reply to the debate. If the Minister can say that it is intended that the channel from Belturbet to Lough Oughter and from Lough Oughter to Lough Gowna will be opened I can assure the Minister of State that he will be very welcome to come down and spend a weekend fishing with us and we will forget the past——

I was always welcome there.

Of course, the Minister was. That would be of major importance. Deputy Leonard is as well aware as I am that the drainage of the Erne was a high priority a decade ago. I well recall a former Taoiseach and former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Garret FitzGerald initiating a cross-Border survey, with the aid of EC funding, on the drainage of the Erne. I also recall the Minister for Defence, Deputy Lenihan when Minister for Foreign Affairs being presented with the results of the survey. At that stage the project was very high on the list of priorities for cross-Border developments. Now it seems to be suddenly out of fashion, to be on the back burner. I will again quote from the Minister's speech.

The authorities in Northern Ireland are fully supportive of the venture and see it is an important initiative adding to the North-South links.

I welcome that statement, which I take as a statement of fact, but I believe there was a reluctance on the part of the Northern Ireland authorities to support the development of the Erne drainage scheme because they feared that the floodgates would be opened and that a lot of water would flow into Fermanagh and then down to the ESB station at Balyshannon. This matter was never fully resolved. I want to see the potential of the Ballyconnell-Ballinamore Canal development benefit the region.

It is very welcome that people travel to the North or that our neighbours and friends from Northern Ireland come across the Border to Belturbet but I would like if they would go deeper into my county if we are to benefit fully from this development. For that reason I am concerned that no mention was made of the opening of a channel in the Erne from Belturbet to Lough Oughter and from Lough Oughter to Lough Gowna. I fully appreciate that we cannot talk about drainage now or about bringing land into agricultural production. However, I think we can further develop this waterway by opening a channel in the streams that link these lakes. That should not be a costly exercise. People who are keenly interested in boating and who have travelled these waterways have told me that mounds of silt have built up and that a simple dredging operation would be of major benefit. Such an operation would have immense benefits. It would also open up the whole regions for fishing and shooting and would have no impact on wildlife, in fact it would further develop it. It would make available to tourists many lakes which are inaccessible at present due to extreme flooding over the winter months. The lakes should be kept at the same level during winter as they are during the summer months, when water levels generally are lower.

If tourism is to be of benefit to this country it will have to be developed as a 12-month business. Operating for three or four months during the summer is not sufficient. Coarse fishing should be developed an all the year round pastime. People can fish for pike, bream, perch or eel for 12 months of the year provided the waterways are accessible. The only reason the fishing season has not been extended is because flood waters cut off access to many of our lakes.

In regard to the development of the canal — I understand it will be a three or four year project which will offer employment prospects — the Minister should accept that there are excellent local contractors quite capable of doing this work. When the Office of Public Works advertise for contractors to carry out this work, these advertisements should be placed in the local papers. I can name people who excel in this type of work, in agricultural reclamation and drainage work, with excellent equipment. Recently I visited a project, similar to what is envisaged here but not on as large a scale, where nine miles of waterway are being opened up on the Killinkere River, from Virginia to Bailieborough. A number of people, including the Minister for the Marine, Deputy Wilson, visited that area last week and we were all astounded at the magnificent work being done there by a local contractor, P & S Plant Limited, managed by Pat and Seán Smith whom I have pleasure in naming. The people could not believe that they had the equipment to dredge and clean this stretch of river, which in some areas reaches a depth of 12 ft. to 15 ft. and is 20 ft. wide. Such people should have an opportunity to tender for the development of the canal because they have expertise in the building of locks, sluices and so on. There are firms such as the Elliotts in Cavan and other major builders in the area who would be capable of doing this work. I hope outside contractors will not be brought into the area but that as much local employment as possible will be created.

The Minister said that the Bill will have the effect of applying the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945, to the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell drainage district as is the case with all other drainage districts within the State. He said that hitherto statutory responsibility for maintenance of these drainage works has been vested in drainage trustees who recouped the cost from the local authorities. That area is in the unique position of having the only drainage board in the country, the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Drainage Board. That board is still in existence because of its cross-Border dimension. A local committee work on a voluntary basis and have been carrying out drainage works there down through the years. To wind up this board would be giving recognition to the Border that none of us believes should be there. The Minister proposes to give responsibility for maintenance of these works to the local authorities. How will this work be funded or how can the local authority afford to carry out such work? As the Minister is well aware — I do not want to harp on this matter — we cannot afford to maintain the roads at present. Any money that is available is certainly not being directed towards drainage.

That board recoups the money from the council.

That is correct.

They will be no worse off.

Yes, but that relates to minor drainage work. If the Minister is thinking of including maintenance of the canals, there is no way the local authority could undertake that. There would be local resentment at the winding up of this drainage board because there is pride in the work they are doing. At present the method of collection of money is complicated. The drainage board collect the money from the farmer who in turn receives it from the council. It would be much simpler if the drainage board could collect the money direct from the council. Perhaps the Minister would reconsider this whole matter before winding up the board.

I welcome the development of this canal. It offers great potential. I hope it will be marketed in a way that will be beneficial to the region. It should not be just a waterway connecting the Erne with the Shannon. People should be encouraged to stop at various points, where facilities would be available where they could spend a few pounds. That would benefit the region which has a lot to offer.

I commend the Minister on his very full statement to the House on this Bill. I will be supporting the measure although I have some reservations about it. It is obviously an improvement to transfer responsibility for this stretch of waterway from trustees, who are apparently now defunct, to the Office of Public Works. I would suggest to the Minister that the Office of Public Works are a very widely spread organisation who do tremendous work but, as the Minister well knows, they have very many other responsibilities. I would ask him to consider — I intend to put down an amendment on this matter — the possibility of setting up a Shannon water authority along the lines of those in operation in the UK such as the Thames Water Authority. This would give to a statutory body complete control over the entire river system. They would work as a specialist body and not just as a small section in the Office of Public Works. I would like the Minister to consider that matter.

I received a representation from a resident in the area who is very concerned about possible damage to wildlife. On balance this project will be beneficial to wildlife but nevertheless I feel obliged to point this out to the Minister and to make representations on behalf of this person who wrote to me. Assuming that this Bill is passed and the work commences, I ask the Minister to ensure that every effort is made to minimise the interference with wildlife.

This Bill will enable the Minister to deal with the opportunities and problems relating to this major waterway. The main part of the Bill deals with the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal, the Erne and Lough Oughter. That has been dealt with by my colleagues, and therefore, I intend to deal basically with the Lough Ree area of the Shannon and on matters relating to that area. I was a former member of the Midland Regional Development Organisation. While this body lacked any real power, it was a consultative body which dealt with many relevant problems in Counties Westmeath, Longford, Roscommon, Offaly and Laois. One of the items which held a lot of interest for this body was the Shannon River. At that time a Shannon study was being jointly funded by the EC and the Government. Unfortunately no funds were forthcoming from the Irish Government and, as a result, this opportunity was lost.

In dealing with the Shannon I do not think the full potential of this river has been appreciated or tapped by any Government. We are talking about one of the finest waterways in Europe. Every year more and more tourists arrive to spend their holidays on the Shannon or in the surrounding areas. Coming as I do from County Longford I am fully aware of the great potential there is to develop this industry further. On the shores of Lough Ree, for example, in the Counties of Longford and Westmeath, access to the lake is almost impossible. Places like Derrynabuntle at Ballymahon, Killeenmore at Glasson and other areas along the lake have the potential for development for boating, fishing and water sports. I would like to see serious consideration being given by the Government to develop these areas and in doing so the Government would be adding to the local economy.

I am aware that the Minister in his contribution referred to areas for future development. I should like to point out to the Minister that not one area in County Longford has been mentioned for further works. The only area in County Westmeath is at Hodson's Bay which has already been established. It certainly is a disappointment to note that that is the case. The Office of Public Works are an excellent body. I compliment them on the work they have done over the years.

I have called on occasions in the past for the Shannon valley to be treated as a special region for European funding. If all the bodies associated with the Shannon were consulted and co-ordinated this would be the way forward. The Board of Works, ESB, Bord Fáilte, local authorities, farming organisations, fisheries boards, local anglers are at times working at cross purposes. A Shannon forum has been already set up for this purpose. We saw in recent times the damage and hardship that has been caused by Shannon flooding. Homes were under water, yards and outhouses were damaged, lands were flooded, livestock and fodder were lost. Severe damage was also caused to roadways. I have no doubt that if a proper approach was made by the relevant authorities an overall plan could be formulated to deal with this flooding problem.

I attended many meetings in the Athlone area some months ago and I want to say that the people were very angry and frustrated at that time. I think the Minister is missing an opportunity to deal with their problems. Surely at this stage, farmers and families living along the Shannon deserve some consideration. I have no doubt that if flooding was taking place on a regular basis in urban areas in this country, the cries would be loud and the action would be swift to deal with these problems — and rightly so. We must realise the heartbreak and losses suffered by these people. In certain areas of County Westmeath and County Longford, families were completely marooned and in many cases farmers had losses of stock and fodder and their lands were completely under water.

I want to take this opportunity to voice my utter disappointment in the allocation made recently by the Department of the Environment to deal with roads and bridges that were damaged in the recent flooding. Both Longford County Council and Westmeath County Council submitted plans to the Department to deal with roads that were damaged and also to raise and improve those roads. The Department of the Environment did not see fit to allocate any substantial funds to those two counties. It is worth noting the amounts allocated to other counties. I say, fair play to politicians who managed to gain considerable allocation for their own counties but the amounts given to Counties Longford and Westmeath is a disgrace. I want to call on the Department of the Environment to allocate an increase of funding to both these counties who suffered much as a result of Shannon flooding.

I would like to refer again before I conclude to the vast potential of the Shannon region for tourism. Quite an amount has been done over the years by Mr. Harry Lynch and his staff in the tourist board in promoting the Shannon. Various local organisations have been also active in this work. The Government should consider tax incentives to people willing to promote and develop tourism in these areas. This would create jobs and the incentive would be welcome. Perhaps the Government could look at the possibility of establishing a natual waterways park and amenity area in the Shannon basin.

One town in my area, Ballymahon, has been badly hit in recent times due to unemployment. Ballymahon, as we know, stands on the River Inny. I feel a great opportunity for Ballymahon would be the development of the Inny to allow cruising craft to gain access up the river as near to Ballymahon as possible. Set in the Goldsmith country I feel that this could add great potential to Ballymahon. Areas such as Lanesboro', Tarmonbarry and Clondra are also prime sites for further development. Recently I asked a question in the House in relation to the Royal Canal and I was informed by the Minister that it is planned to develop and restore parts of that canal from Mullingar to Clondra. In the longer term, I welcome this as it could add to the water links throughout the country.

The points I have raised here this evening are matters which I see as important to my area and, indeed, could add to the economy and the quality of life for the people of the Shannon area. The Minister should bear these points in mind when considering further development of the Shannon River.

I join other speakers in welcoming the publication of this Bill. It seeks to regulate the authority which the Office of Public Works will have in relation to both Shannon navigation and the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal. Deputies from the region have more than adequately made their viewpoints on the matter known to the Minister as he prepares to enact this legislation. We all hope the Office of Public Works will take prompt action in this area.

My interest is similar to that of Deputy Belton in that the Shannon River plays an important part in the lifestyle of the communities of west Offaly from Athlone to Ballinahown, Doon, Clonmacnoise, Clonfanlough, Banagher, Lusmagh and Shannonbridge. For some time there has been flooding of the Shannon. The old myth of draining the Shannon has been well and truly buried. The IFA commissioned a study in this area a couple of years ago and it is quite clear that such a proposal was not feasible. We must live with the fact that every year we have considerable flooding along these banks and the callows in the west Offaly region which, unfortunately, has not yet been designated even a less severely handicapped area, but it is hoped the submission made by the Minister of Agriculture and Food in the last few days to the EC will rectify that. It is an old chestnut in Offaly that there is an official mythology that the Shannon drains left to the west; that it floods more to the far side than to ours and that the people in the west get all the breaks under the western package, the severely handicapped scheme and so on. However the Shannon provides us with a great opportunity to develop tourism in the area. The operational programme for the midlands east region points to the fact that the emphasis for policy in the future will be to encourage development of resource based activities and identifies the need to develop tourism based on landscape or other natural resources. Certainly the River Shannon and the Grand Canal, which flow through County Offaly — through Edenderry, Tullamore and on to Shannon Harbour — are a latent resource which have not achieved their potential, although there has been an improvement in the inland waterways traffic and in the number of stops continental tourist make at Shannonbridge, to see Clonmacnoise, and at Banagher.

In passing it is no harm to acknowledge the tremendous work done by the Office of Public Works at Clonmacnoise in the last few years these developments are continuing. Now Clonmacnoise is recognised for what it is, a medieval university which was renowned throughout the civilised world. Thousands of tourists come to see it and the Office of Public Works are to be congratulated for the work they have been doing there to improve that tourism attraction. The Office of Public Works are often criticised for their slowness at work, sometimes justifiably, but when they get around to doing a job, they do it well. Be that as it may, the Office of Public Works involvement in the Clonmacnoise site has been for the benefit of the people in the area and for the enhancement of that very important part of our heritage.

The operational programme for the midlands east region identifies the need to develop tourism. Certainly it will never compete with Killarney or the more beautiful parts of our coastline where tourism is the major industry, but we have certain natural resources that we should use and develop to their fullest potential. I have no doubt they will make a contribution to attracting tourists, given that tourism is the big growth industry all over the world. We hope to attract whatever tourism we can to the area by emphasising the heritage aspect of Offaly. Durrow, Clonmacnoise our cutaway bogs, Mongan Bog beside Clonmacnoise, and Clara Bog, which is renowned all over the world for its flora and fauna and its ecosystem, are tourism features which we must develop properly in a conservationist context. They will not be flashy; they will not be number one on the list of attractions overseas tourists come to see, but there are people who are interested in that aspect of tourism, our heritage, etc. We should emphasise this aspect, improve it and get the most we can out of it for the area.

This Bill will give the Office of Public Works an opportunity to take control of the Shannon from a navigational point of view, and because the Grand Canal feeds into it we hope to see early implementation of some very fine recommendations of the Brady Shipman Martin report which was commissioned by the Office of Public Works to look into the canal system and the inland waterways system generally. That report points to certain developments in Shannon Harbour which I hope will be part of the Minister's priorities when the Structural Fund comes on stream for the development of our inland waterways.

There are things we could do in the meantime either through the Office of Public Works or by greater liaison between the Office of Public Works and the local authorities. There is the provision of some fairly basic amenities in the west Offaly region which borders on the Shannon. During the summer significant numbers of tourists travelling by cruisers stop off at Shannonbridge. The facilities at this jetty are inadequate and need to be improved and developed to meet this traffic. Since there are no public toilet facilities there, tourists will be faced with the prospect of going to public houses or asking private residents for the use of their toilets. This is appalling at a time when we are talking about developing tourism. As a matter of urgency, we should provide these basic facilities before we talk about doing more with what we have, otherwise we will lose the opportunity presented by the Structural Fund.

There is an excellent jetty at Banagher and there is no doubt that the town benefits greatly from the spending power of tourists who stop off there and receive the usual Banagher welcome. Now that the Office of Public Works have been developing Clonmacnoise I believe we will see them develop under the Brady Shipman Martin proposals the canal system and Shannon Harbour where the Grand Canal meets the harbour. All this must be done in an integrated way with the involvement of local groups to ensure this archaeological conservation and to enhance our resources in Offaly.

The Minister is to be congratulated for bringing forward this long overdue Bill. I believe it has the support of everyone in the House. This is my first opportunity to congratulate the Minister in his new office where he is performing in his usual competent way. I wish him well not just with this legislation but for his term of office.

I join other Deputies who have welcomed this Bill. I have an interest in the provisions of the Bill because they relate to a large expanse of water on the eastern side of my constituency. It is significant that the Minister of State who introduced the Bill is also concerned about the same expanse of water. I am, of course, referring to Lough Derg which has an international reputation. The Shannon, which rises in the northern part of the country, flows into Lough Derg. The Bill will empower the Minister, and the Commissioners of Public Works, to undertake the care, management, control, improvement and development of the Shannon navigation, including the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal and the section of the River Erne navigation within the State which will, in fact, be deemed to be part of the Shannon navigation.

I welcome the powers being taken by the Minister under the Bill. I should like to bring it to his notice that a lot of development has taken place on the Clare and Tipperary sides of the shores of Lough Derg. The latest development at Mountshannon should be borne in mind. Clare County Council, as part of a new sewerage scheme, have provided a substantial tank facility for the pleasure cruisers that use Lough Derg. The vast majority of the craft using the Shannon and Lough Derg do not have tanks. It is important that the Minister controls the pollution of that lake and he can do so by insisting that all cruisers using the lake should be fitted with proper tanks. We have made many efforts to eliminate pollution in the lake but from time to time we have to deal with growths of algae that on occasions affect the quality of the water delivered to Limerick city. It has also led to many fish kills in the lake and, as a result, affected tourism.

In recent years we have come to realise how dependent the people living on the shores of Lough Derg are on tourism. It is important that there should be good fishing grounds in that area. Under the Bill the Minister will have power to control pollution and to improve facilities. The Minister has said he does not wish to duplicate the efforts of local authorities but he should do everything in his power to combine the efforts of all concerned to rid the lake of pollution. It is important that the Department, the Office of Public Works, Clare County Council and the other county councils along the river join together to combat pollution. The Minister should involve the fishing clubs and the sailing clubs in his efforts.

Some time ago the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Deputy Harney, told us that she had brought those groups together to fight pollution. I suggest that the Minister have consultations with the Department of the Environment with a view to improving the quality of the water in the lake. The Minister of State, Deputy Harney, has told me that she was concerned about the silting that was taking place in the river and there is no doubt that that comes from upstream. I have heard Deputies refer to flooding problems in Offaly, Galway, Roscommon and further north. The Minister should make provision for periodic inspection of the lake to monitor the movements of silt and so on.

I should like to refer to those who use the river. Their problem is that they do not have proper charts or information on how to use the River Shannon. There are no navigation charts that I am aware of for Lough Derg and those who hire cruisers cannot navigate the lake by night. I accept that there are good piers from Whitegate to Killaloe on the Clare side and at Garrykennedy on the Tipperary side, but there are no night buoys on the lake. There are no markers to indicate Williamstown Harbour, Mountshannon Harbour, Scariff Harbour, Tuamgraney Harbour and Killaloe Harbour. Will the Minister provide night buoys on the lake and proper lighting on the piers I have referred to? I would ask him to encourage local authorities to erect lights on those piers but in view of the financial constraints under which they are working they may reject the idea. However, as the Office of Public works have more funds than local authorities I suggest that he ask them to make a grant available to the local authorities to erect those lights. If we are inviting people to use that waterway we should provide the proper facilities.

I should like to commend the Minister on the Bill. However, he will have to stress the importance of local authorities and the Department of the Environment getting involved in this work. I accept that it is difficult to arrange a meeting with officials of the Department of the Environment. In fact, members of Clare County Council cannot gain entrance to that Department. The Minister of State should shower good will on us and help us preserve the historical sites that are on the islands of Lough Derg. I have no doubt that tourists would be interested in exploring the old ruins on those islands. It is a great facility for international tourists. We should remember that many visitors travel from the United States to England to visit the town where Shakespeare was born. The British are not slow to develop their historic sites.

We have always boasted about Ireland being the isle of saints and scholars but we have done little to highlight the remains of monastic settlements on the islands of Lough Derg. Some private interests are keen to retain their rights on those islands but the Minister of State, who can be persuasive when he wants to, should do what he can to open them up to tourists. I hope this courage in bringing forward the Bill will be rewarded and that the economy of Counties Clare and Tipperary will benefit.

I am very encouraged by the constructive and positive contributions on this important legislation and I wish to express my deep appreciation to all who contributed to one of the most constuctive debates I have heard in my time in the House. I will endeavour to deal with some of the points raised.

Deputy Connor's contribution was very well researched and he went into great detail. I detected the source of his information but his speech was very constructive and I congratulate him. He made a big issue of the lack of a Shannon Authority and the need to have one to deal with the overall development on the Shannon. It is a very complicated issue which has been exercising the minds of Deputies and public representatives for quite a while. My predecessor, Deputy Treacy, in an attempt to put a voluntary arrangement in place set up the Shannon Forum which has been working very satisfactorily since.

The various authorities which have an interest in the Shannon have powers vested in them by legislation — most of which went through this House — setting out their responsibilities in their particular functions. For instance, the Electricity Supply Board have responsibility for the ownership and management of fisheries and water levels. In my experience — and in that of the Office of Public Works — the ESB, Bord na Móna and the other agencies have been most cooperative, bearing in mind that they have a vested interest and statutory responsibilities in this area.

The only way forward is by constructive co-operation between the agencies who have responsibilities in overseeing the desired objective. Setting up a statutory body to have overall responsibility in this area would not be a recipe for easing problems but perhaps for creating more. This is also the considered view of professionals in this field. The best possible way to deal with the situation is through the very logical and sensible course of dialogue, co-operation and communication with an overall strategy which can be put in place with the help and guidance of people like the Shannon Forum to which I referred earlier.

Deputy Connor also pointed out the necessity for the preservation of wildlife and the value of flora and fauna. Since the break-up of the old forestry and wildlife department and the establishment of Coillte Teoranta, responsibility for wildlife preservation and management development rests with the Office of Public Works. There is, of course, communication at all levels in that regard and full account is taken of the very important areas of scientific interest in relation to development, conservation and management of areas like the Clara bog. The responsibility not only rests with us nationally but also in the European context to ensure proper management and conservation of these areas. We take our responsibilities very seriously and that is why we have been able — with the help of national funding this year — to make a major acquisition of areas of interest and to ensure that they are conserved, managed and developed properly.

Deputy Connor and other Deputies stressed the importance of fisheries from the source of the Shannon down as far as the estuary. Of course fisheries have a very valuable contribution to make to this overall development. I am aware, from previous experience, of the importance of inland fisheries development conservation and the contribution it can make to overall employment, the enhancement of tourism and an amenity for our own people. In this regard we have embarked upon a scheme of coarse fishing restocking which we will undertake in consultation with the Central Fisheries Board and the Electricity Supply Board. The regional fisheries boards, the statutory body with responsibility for overall conservation and development, are also responsible. The best we can achieve in that regard is to have the same level of dialogue and communication which I mentioned earlier.

The Office of Public Works work very closely with the Central Fisheries Board and the regional fisheries boards and will play their part in enhancing the value of our very important national assets.

Deputy Connor asked about the position in relation to employment opportunities and job creation generally which will arise from the project. In the planning and construction stage it is estimated that the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal will provide approximately 100 jobs. I wish to assure the Deputies who raised this point that we will stress to people involved in that area of activity that there are very good contractors in the locality although we are bound by certain European regulations in that regard. Operation, maintenance, planning and construction are separate matters but, as I said, it will certainly provide jobs. The main job creation will be when the project is completed and the impact it will have on the economic life of an area which has been devastated. It will revitalise an area which has been run down and neglected and will provide job opportunites in tourism and related business. It will also enhance the prospect of getting private sector investment and will generate activity as mentioned earlier by one of the Deputies. In fact, new hotels have already been built on the strength of this project. There will also be spin-off effects in employment and economic activity from the revitalisation of this resource which has not been used for over 100 years. It will enable many local businesses and communities to get involved in our major drive to redevelop an area which has enormous potential. I hope that the development of this part of the canal, which was neglected and under-developed, will transform the economic prospects of the area.

Deputy Connor referred to mooring points, water supplies, telephones, toilet facilities and other infrastructural work which, of course, are necessary if the project is to be a success. Perhaps one of the mistakes made in the original project was that it was short-changed possibly because of a lack of resources at that time or, as Deputy Nealon said, because of the devastating effect of the Famine on that area. The shortcuts which were taken at that time may have damaged the possibility of making the project viable. We have to ensure that we do not shortcut this project by not putting in the necessary infrastructural works which are vital to its success. I agree fully with what Deputy Connor said in this regard. It is envisaged that there will be 50 mooring points initially and further infrastructural work will be undertaken as demand increases. This will be useful in generating further development and activity in the area.

Deputy Carey, Deputy Connor and others referred to the Structural Funds. Structural Fund money is available for the provision of pumphouse facilities which local authorities can avail of. We have already pointed out to local authorities that such facilities can qualify for Structural Fund money, and they should make applications for projects in their areas. As Deputy Carey knows, the development at Mountshannon has been successful and can be used as a pilot scheme for other developments of this nature. Funds are available to local authorities for projects of this kind, and they should avail of them.

Deputy Moynihan has very wide experience of the tourism business. I am sure that he is fully conversant, coming as he does from Killarney, with the opportunities and problems involved in revitalising and developing the tourism industry. Deputy Moynihan also referred to the Structural Funds. The Government have submitted an application for money from the Structural Funds for this project and have given it a very high priority. Indeed, it has been identified as one of the Government's flagship projects. It is expected that about 50 per cent of the cost of the project will be met from the Structural Fund. The Government have already committed £1.2 million to this project this year and their contribution is expected to be about 10 per cent or £3 million over the three to four year lifespan of the project. Other bodies such as the Electricity Supply Board, are also involved in the project. The Electricity Supply Board have put their money where their mouth is and have made a very valuable contribution to the project. However, the main funding for the project will come from the Structural Funds region of 50 per cent, the application for which is being processed at present.

Deputy Moynihan referred to the necessity for private investment in the project. This project will give the private sector an opportunity to get involved with State agencies and other bodies by providing the necessary finances to enable private sector developments to take place along the canal. There are indications already that the business expansion scheme is being used for this purpose. I know that the business expansion scheme is being availed of by the people of Killaloe to provide tourism facilities linked to the berthing facilities along the lake. The Government would certainly encourage any such investment. As I said in my opening remarks, we are willing to talk to private investors about the possibility of their getting involved in joint ventures with us. We have the facilities but we may not always have the necessary finances. Deputy Carey knows as well as I do that a sizeable amount of capital ia available for developments under the business expansion scheme. We can see the benefits of this scheme in Killaloe, Kilkee and Lahinch. The Government believe that this development offers ideal opportunites for private sector investment. The question of private sector investment for this project may not have been pursued previously but the Government will actively seek such investment in the future. Of course, this project will have further spin-off benefits which will generate much economic activity in the area.

Deputy Byrne expressed concern about the Royal Canal and said that Dublin Corporation are keen to work with the Office of Public Works in this area. I welcome that assurance by Deputy Byrne and I am more than willing to discuss with the corporation how we can further enhance the Royal Canal. It is proposed to open the Royal Canal from Blanchardstown to Mullingar this month and to clean up the Royal Canal in Dublin which will be opened up next year.

So long as the revenue leaves Dublin it is all right.

The Deputy spends as much time in Dublin as he does in Clarecastle and I am sure he knows that Dublin is a very important city. Some tree planting has already been undertaken along the canal in Dublin which will enhance the area. The Grand Canal is navigable from the Liffey at Ringsend to the Shannon. Even though this system is navigable I am concerned that it does not appear to be used to any great extent at present. Perhaps the Dublin Deputies will avail of this opportunity to pay some attention to the Grand Canal from the point of view of developing business, and tell me why that part of the canal which is navigable has not been developed to any large extent. There may be reasons for this but I do not think we will have the same problems along the Shannon, in Killaloe or in the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell area.

The Office of Public Works have a very good record in developing tourism amenities and tackling problems such as pollution, etc. As Deputy Carey said, the record of the Office of Public Works speaks for itself in places such as Mountshannon and Whitegate. Certainly any of the work in which they have been involved to date has been expertly executed and carefully planned. I do not believe there will be any lack of commitment on the part of the personnel of the Office of Public Works in playing their part to ensure that the provisions of this Bill are implemented in the strict sense Deputies have been advocating in the course of this debate.

Deputy Byrne also raised the question of costs. I have already covered this aspect — 50 per cent will come from the Structural Fund, 10 per cent by way of State investment, with the ESB and others also contributing. For example, if one looks at the development of the marina in Kilrush one will notice that the major part of the funding of that development will come from the private sector. I was glad to hear from the director of that maritime project in the lower Shannon recently that he has all the funding in place for that project at present, the total being in the region of £10 million. It is obvious that private sector funding will follow the lead of the public sector provided they see some sign of action, but the private sector will not take initiatives unless they see positive action on the part of State agencies. The Office of Public Works can give a lead in this respect particularly under the provisions of this Bill.

Deputy Byrne also mentioned the need for an overall single authority to control this development. We must bear in mind that, under the terms of the Bill before us, there are involved 200 miles of canals and rivers. To endeavour to have an overall, single authority to control or monitor developments in that area — bearing in mind also the various planning authorities involved in that huge area — in my view would be a recipe for mismanagement rather than one for better management.

We have devised an overall strategy for all navigations setting out how we would like to see them developed. We will discuss this strategy with the local authorities involved which will comprise a blueprint for the overall development of the Irish navigational system. This will comprise an overall developmental strategy the broad principles of which we would like to see maintained by local authorities countrywide.

I thank Deputy Ellis for his very constructive remarks. He mentioned the need for a long term policy for development, conservation and preservation of our canals system. That is the next step needed in this area. While we are dealing this evening with the Shannon Navigation Bill there are a number of navigational systems in the State at large. We have now commissioned a further report. We will be bringing forward an overall, long term strategy and policy along the lines advocated by Deputy Ellis.

Deputy Ellis also mentioned personnel who worked on a voluntary basis, especially those who devote time to drainage committees and boards of trustees. I might add my words of appreciation of their contribution. We do value and appreciate the efforts of many people over a long period, sometimes done at enormous inconvenience to themselves. We must remember that many problems were very difficult to resolve, some of the difficulties encountered having been way beyond the capacity of any local committee. These problems arose not only by way of shortcomings in infrastructure and finances, but some were even beyond the capacity of local groups to handle. In all these areas we will continue to need the active support and co-operation of local communities, voluntary organisations, tourism promotion bodies, "Tidy Towns" committees, people with a deep interest in and awareness of the value of our natural resources, many of whom have been advocating for many years that successive Governments should take some action in this regard. I might reiterate that that action is now being taken.

Deputy Ellis was concerned also about the payment of compensation to people who might be affected in some way by the changes that may take place occasioned by the flooding of lands as a result of the developments planned. This contingency is fully provided for in the provisions of the Bill. In the event of nonagreement matters of this nature will go through the normal arbitration procedures. Again this is provided for under the terms of the Bill and should not create any major problems or hardship.

It is anticipated that, in certain areas, some land at present subject to flooding will continue to be flooded, places such as St. John's Lock and others where the water levels will be raised. There is adequate provision being made for compensation in these areas which will be dealt with in the normal course of events. If farming representatives or others want to discuss this aspect with us, we will be prepared to work out some overall strategy in order to minimise delays and so on. We will certainly meet any such people and discuss these matters. It would be our wish that the development would proceed speedily without undue delay.

I could not have described in a more impressive way the overall history of the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal than did Deputy Nealon this afternoon. He gave a graphic account of the once great design turning into a great disaster. We must ensure that, in our present efforts, this grand design will not turn into a major disaster. We can learn from mistakes of the past, even those made in the 1840s. I share Deputy Nealon's confidence that this new development will constitute a major boost to the morale of the people of County Leitrim. They certainly need that boost; I do not think anybody in the House would deny that fact at present. I share Deputy Nealon's confidence about the provisions of the Bill. It is my firm belief that the results will be positive, making a major contribution to the overall prosperity of these regions.

Deputy Nealon expressed some anxiety about my remarks in introducing the Bill — that the provisions of the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945, will now apply to the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell drainage district. Previously what happened was that the drainage boards in that area carried out some work whose cost was recouped from the local authority. Under this arrangement the local authority will be directly responsible for drainage.

I first heard of the Ballinamore/ Ballyconnell Canal from Deputy Leonard with whom I shared an office when first elected to this House in 1973. He was actively involved at that time in promoting the necessity for the development of that canal. Indeed, the arguments he advanced then are just as relevant today. However, certain changes have taken place in our overall economy over the past 15 to 17 years.

There is now a clear indication that tourism will play a major role in our overall economic development for the foreseeable future. We must utilise our present resources if we are to benefit fully from them; we are not doing so at present. We are not reaping our share of the international tourism market. We shall continue to lose that market share unless we undertake the type of amenity and resource development advocated under the provisions of this Bill. Certainly I see clearly the necessity for the development of such amenities and facilities not only to attract international tourists but to maintain that business. I know Deputy Leonard has a deep, keen knowledge of the problems encountered and opportunities available in that area.

I believe we must grasp this opportunity so that we can profit from the increasing tourism business, getting into the marketplace with a product equal to anything else available worldwide. If we do so we will reap our fair share of the business but, if we do not, then we will not gain or hope to maintain that share. Let nobody have any illusions that anything less than first-class standards will be acceptable to the international tourism business. Tourists expect good value. If and when we go to foreign destinations, we want good value for our money. Certainly we hear daily complaints from people who do not get good value in this respect, voiced on "The Gay Byrne Show" or in other ways. If we are to substantially increase our market share of the international tourism market during the next four or five years we will have to provide the necessary infrastructure.

I think it was Deputy Boylan who mentioned the necessity to provide link roads and the need for development in the Lough Erne-Lough Oughter region when the referred to the excellent contractors in Counties Cavan and Monaghan. I should point out to him that there are also excellent contractors in County Clare. As I indicated earlier on, we have to comply with European Community regulations and I have no doubt that contractors in County Cavan, such as the Smiths and Quinns, will not be slow in submitting competitive tenders for work of this nature. A preliminary study has been carried out of the Lough Erne-Lough Oughter Canal about which Deputy Boylan expressed concern and I can assure him that I will convey his views to the commissioners.

Let us not fool ourselves: much depends on the availability of resources and despite what Deputy Carey may believe, that we have much more than the local authorities, we do not have unlimited resources. We will give very careful consideration to any proposals submitted by Deputies in this House and will as far as possible ensure they are built into the overall plans which will prove to be successful if we can maximise private investment and local authority investment as well as our own. I am satisfied that we have a unique opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the development of this resource.

Deputy Garland always seems to express reservations about matters for which I have responsibility. He referred to the need to ensure no damage is done to wildlife during construction. I can assure him that the project will be the subject of an environmental impact assessment and this should put his mind at ease. We will take the greatest of care because, as I said earlier, there is a responsibility on us to preserve and conserve wildlife. One of the things that surprises me is the level of international interest in peatlands, wildlife, flora and fauna, and it is clear that the tourism dimension is not being fully exploited. I can assure Deputy Garland that there will be the minimum damage to wildlife.

Deputy Belton who is a former member of the midlands development authority also made a very valuable contribution and referred in particular to the need to develop the canals and rivers to their full potential. He is also anxious that there be widespread consultations. I can assure him that we will consult with as many people, agencies and organisations as possible, but once this process has been completed decisions will have to be taken, and we will never satisfy everyone. We are fully conscious of the need to obtain the fullest co-operation, as if we fail to receive this the project will not be a success. The Deputy also referred to the provision of tax incentives but these are matters which should be raised on Committee Stage of the Finance Bill, which will be taken shortly. However under the business expansion scheme such tax incentives and breaks are provided for this type of development. When the Deputy referred to Ballymahon on the River Inny he brought back memories of a woman who lived in Cooraclare for up to 40 years and who kept reminding us just how attractive Ballymahon is. If the development authorities come forward with proposals and suggestions we will discuss them with them to see how best they can be built into the overall scheme of things.

Deputy Belton also criticised the omission of County Longford. However I should point out that a major development was carried out at Clondra while other work has been undertaken at Tarmonbarry and Lanesborough. Therefore, Longford has not been and will not be neglected.

Deputy Cowen made similar points and refered to the need to develop our tourism industry and the Shannonbridge, Banagher and Clonmacnoise areas. I wish to thank him for his kind remarks about the Office of Public Works for the way in which they have carried out development works, including those at Clonmacnoise. These and other works are a credit to the professionalism of the personnel employed in the Office of Public Works and I should point out that areas like Shannon Harbour, Shannonbridge and Banagher will feature very prominently in the promotion campaign. The benefits of work undertaken at Ballinamore or at any other part of the system should spread throughout the system which should allay the fears of Deputy Taylor-Quinn who did not avail of the opportunity to speak on this very important Bill. There is no doubt that Lough Derg, Mountshannon and Whitegate and many other areas will benefit from the developments being proposed in this legislation.

What about Bansha?

I can assure the Deputy that we will not forget about Bansha or indeed Moyasta. I will leave the question of whether it is possible to construct a canal system from Moyasta to Kilkee to her own ingenuity.

I can assure Deputy Carey that we have had discussions with the Department of the Environment about the provision of pump house facilities for which finance as well as Structural Fund moneys, are available to the local authorities. I can also assure him, that, under by-laws, we will have the power to insist that boats be fitted with holding tanks.

Deputy Carey also pointed out the shortcomings of the charts of the lakes. I was not aware of this and will have the matter examined before Committee Stage. I agree with him when he says there is a need to update the charts and the literature on those places where facilities are available. It is most disappointing for a tourist, on reaching a destination, to find that the facilities listed on charts are not there. I have received many complaints during the years from people who had been assured that they would have a full view of the sea from houses in my constituency but on arrival soon discovered that very often they had to drive five miles to reach the sea. We have got to avoid that under this legislation. In promoting our resources and amenities we should be honest and not bring people in under false pretences as this could damage our tourism industry. I would prefer to see them up in Mount Shannon and Killaloe by night. It would be enormously expensive to put in navigational aids for night time cruising on the canal system and I am not so sure it would be welcomed by the people in the private sector we are encouraging to invest in the tourism amenities and facilities that we have been talking about here all afternoon.

The Office of Public Works have had long association dating back to the early part of the last century with the development and management of inland navigation here. I have already spoken about their involvement with the Shannon, the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal and the outdated legislation under which these have been administered. Over the last few years the Government have taken positive steps to bring the management of our inland waterways into line with modern requirements. The Canals Act of 1986 was the first significant step taken to revitalise not only our interest in and awareness of the value of these systems but also to allow the application of modern practices to their management and development. We are all well aware of the excellent work done by the Office of Public Works. The Royal and the Grand Canals and the Barrow navigation system were transferred to the Office of Public Works under the 1986 Act. This work is of course part of an ongoing programme which will continue for years to come.

I am also arranging a major study of all other canals and waterways within the State with a view to drawing up a total strategy for the development of all our viable navigation systems.

The aim of the Shannon Navigation Bill now being debated here is to broaden the remit of the Office of Public Works in this field by consolidating their position in relation to the control and management of the existing navigation, extending their jurisdiction to include the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal and the Erne-Lough Oughter system in the State for which there is no existing navigational authority. Although the Office of Public Works has already expended significant sums of money on the provision of berthing and other facilities on the Shannon, the programme for which is still in hands, the first major project undertaken under this new enactment will be the restoration of the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal thus reopening the long defunct link between the Shannon and Erne systems. Combined with the Canals Act this Bill will provide the means to link and develop navigations of the lower reaches of the Barrow to Dublin and the Shannon and the network of navigations in Northern Ireland. A comprehensive study as to the feasibility of restoring the navigation on the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal was undertaken by the Office of Public Works and completed in 1986. It was established that restoration was a distinct possibility but would require substantial civil engineering works involving the clearning and enlarging of the navigational channel, preparing locks and embankments and strengthening and rebuilding bridges for which preliminary designs and cost estimates were prepared.

The reopening of the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal will play an important role in revitalising the catchment area and provide the basis for development of tourist activities in the area. Because of the multiplicity of interests the Government have set up a steering committee to oversee the project. This committee will consist of representatives of the Departments of Finance, Foreign Affairs, Tourism and Transport, the ESB and, of course, the Office of Public Works. In addition a joint steering committee has been established with the Northern Ireland authorities to effectively oversee the cross-Border dimensions in the project but the Government have also given the reopening of the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal a high priority as one of the flagship projects for EC Structural Funds.

The Shannon Navigation Bill is further evidence of our commitment to the maximisation of the potential of our greatest assets. I am confident that in the exercise of their responsibilities in this area the Office of Public Works will apply the same high standards as they apply in their other areas of responsibility such as the management and development of our national parks, the preservation of our national monuments, and the restoration of our heritage buildings such as Dublin Castle, The Royal Hospital, Kilmainham and the Custom House, just to mention a few. I look forward to the continued co-operation of the House in seeing this Bill through.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 15 May 1990.