Amendments Nos. 1, 4 and 10 form a composite proposal and I suggest, therefore, that we discuss them together, by agreement. I also suggest that one decision should suffice in respect of the three amendments to which I referred. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Shannon Navigation Bill, 1990: Committee Stage.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 4, subsection (1), between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:
"(c) the Lough Allen canal;"
I will speak on this amendment although Deputy Connor moved it. I put down this amendment because the Lough Allen canal is a natural and logical progression to this Bill. The essence of the Bill provides for the restoration of the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal, thereby linking the great waters of the Erne with the Shannon. Without the reopening of the Lough Allen canal, which I suggested in my amendment, Lough Allen would not be part of these great new waterways when the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell canal is linked. The extent to which it should be part of it is probably best illustrated by the fact that when the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal was first opened for navigation in 1855 the boat used in the unofficial trial was hired from the Ulster canal; it started off in Lough Allen and moved on to the Shannon and joined the Ulster canal. The boat concerned was carrying coal from Arigna — which we discussed last night — tiles and, although it was the first official trip, there was no Minister present as is the custom nowadays. Maybe it was just as well because the trip took four weeks, possibly too long to be away from a Ministry.
The Minister of State should consider these amendments. Lough Allen is now cut off from the main navigation of the Shannon. However, a relatively short part is involved — about a half a mile in all — the Lough Allen canal which joins Acres Lake with Lough Allen and which, if reopened, would bring all Lough Allen back to the Shannon navigation area. This would not be a major undertaking, to put it at its most basic, it is a question of removing a dam and putting in a lock. This is very important because it would bring all Lough Allen, which is about ten miles long and three miles wide, 30 square miles of extra waterways — into the Shannon navigation which would be of great benefit to the whole area.
I should also like to point out that this is in the general area of Arigna in regard to which a task force have been set up with a view to getting a replacement industry in case the power station and the mine are closed. It would be a major boost to the area if the canal was re-opened. I compliment the Minister on the work he has done in this regard and I understand that a detailed investigation of the problems involved and the cost of re-opening the Lough Allen canal is under consideration at the moment. I also understand that this requires a hydrographic survey of the lake and that discussions are taking place with the ESB.
I understand from the Lough Allen Development Committee — an excellent body who have done very good work — that agreement has been reached with the ESB and that there will be no difficulties in that respect. This is very important as the ESB control the waters, particularly the levels, as far as Lough Allen is concerned. Therefore, I appeal to the Minister to accept these amendments because they would incorporate the opening of the Lough Allen canal in this Bill. No doubt financial considerations will also be taken into account and if the Lough Allen canal was re-opened presumably it would be entitled to receive Structural Funds, I am sure there would be no objections as far as the EC is concerned as it would result in bringing 30 extra square miles of water into the Shannon navigation, which is an excellent idea.
I understand that a good lot of work has been done in regard to engineering and I am delighted with the efforts so far. Lough Allen canal should now be put on a par with the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal. I strongly recommend these amendments to the Minister and I look forward to hearing his reactions to them. I am confident that they will be accepted.
I agree with everything my colleague, Deputy Nealon, said. The Minister is aware of the situation pertaining to Lough Allen and the canal. I know he visited the area a few weeks ago. It would be a great pity to let this opportunity pass as it would mean that the entire Shannon would be navigable from Limerick to Lough Allen, including three major lakes. It would not be very difficult to carry out the extra work on the Lough Allen canal which is a half a mile or one mile long, I am not sure. We are aware that the Shannon is navigable as far as Acres Lake in Drumshanbo but to get access to Lough Allen would require work and monetary assistance.
We discussed the problem of Arigna last night and the Lough Allen community council have tremendous plans for the area. The main aim is to have the Lough Allen canal navigable. I am sure the Minister is aware of the tourism potential in his area in Lough Derg and Lough Rea and an extension of that would be of tremendous benefit to tour area. Now is the time to do it when the work has been commissioned for the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal. I compliment the Minister on pushing this very worthwhile project. It would be an opportunity lost if this extension to the Lough Allen canal was not made. I request the Minister to give it very favourable consideration.
I join with my colleagues in requesting that this relatively small additional work be done in relation to the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell project. We said on Second Stage how much we support that project which is needed for a very long time. This is a very enlightened move on the part of this Government and we are delighted that it has been made what is called a flagship project by the International Fund for Ireland. That fund is one of the very beneficial things that have flowed from the Anglo-Irish Agreement. There might be some threat to it from the US, a major benefactor of this fund, because some people there are querying some of the projects the money goes to. Three-quarters of the money is spent in Northern Ireland and about one quarter is spent in about six or seven countries on our side of the Border. However, there is no greater or better project than the one we are talking about and we should give our American friends a little more information about it and let them know how beneficial it is in regard to cross-Border co-operation, which is the purpose of the fund.
I agree I am wandering a little from the matter here, which is to extend the navigation by the improvement of the existing Lough Allen canal which was built, as Deputy Nealon said, in the middle of the 19th century but is deficient. Probably it ran into engineering difficulties, and since these things were done by private enterprise at the time it also ran into financial difficulties, as did the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal to some extent, and therefore was never adequately dug or made wide enough or whatever. I gather from people I have spoken to about this that the amount of work involved here is quite small. Deputy Reynolds talked about half a mile, the stretch of the existing canal between Acres Lake and Lough Allen.
Previous speakers have said the Shannon is the longest navigable pleasure waterway in Europe. That is a tremendous tourist asset, and because it is navigable it has also certain commercial value. I was surprised to learn recently that quite an amount of commercial traffic still plies the River Shannon. We should use it for all the good reasons it can be used for and particularly for tourist purposes. Lough Allen is one of the largest and loveliest lakes in Ireland. It is surrounded on all sides by mountain ranges. Viewed from a high point in the mountains the lake itself is beautiful. From the shore or from a boat the view of the lake and the surrounding area of mountain is breathtaking. It is a marvellous tourist attraction but, as was said on Second Stage, about 1.5 per cent of all tourists who come to Ireland visit County Leitrim. I have no accurate figures for County Roscommon, another county bordering Lough Allen, but a friend of mine from Castlerea and I did a survey on roughly how much tourism revenue County Roscommon gets and we calculated it at about 1 per cent. I am using 1.5 per cent for Leitrim because a very excellent report by the ESB on the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal states that about 1.5 per cent of all tourism revenue, whether from within the State or from external sources, goes to Leitrim. That is extraordinarily small for an area of such visual attraction with such marvellous facilities for fishing and boating, the tranquility of the place etc.
The necessary work cannot be said to be finished unless Lough Allen is taken into the Shannon navigation system. It is 30 miles long. It is rich in fishing. If you open it up to navigation you introduce a range of new anglers into it. I cross the Shannon every day I come to Dublin.
The Deputy's constituents may shortly cross it.
I will not comment on that, but whether I cross it at Tarmonbarry or at Rooskey in summer or winter, particularly in summer, there is nearly always a cruiser-type craft going up or down the Shannon. That indicates the incidence of tourism because most of the people who use these cabin cruisers or ordinary fishing boats are tourists. Therefore it is important that we open up Lough Allen and include it in Shannon navigation.
Let me, Sir, talk, as Deputy Nealon and Deputy Reynolds did, about the economic significance this could have for an area like Arigna which is located at Lough Allen. The power station we talked about last night is on the shores of Lough Allen.
I hesitate to interrupt the Deputy but he is now beginning to stray a little from the Bill.
I would like to refer to the potential economic impact. In case we lose the power station — which, alas, seems to be going to happen much as we want to resist it — the task force have been given the brief of identifying other economic activity for the Arigna area to replace jobs lost in power generation or mining. It would be a total dereliction of the duty placed, upon us all as public representatives if we did not move in on this area of great potential for increasing tourism revenue in Arigna by the spin-off from guesthouse accommodation and other services that tourists demand.
I cannot disagree with anything Deputy Nealon, Deputy Reynolds and Deputy Connor said. On 8 June on my visit to open Parks Castle in Leitrim I travelled by helicopter. My engineering and technical people were with us on that occasion and they were concerned with other issues as well as this. Anybody would be impressed with the quality of the environment and with the possibilities of that very beautiful area. The area around Lough Allen and Arigna over which we flew directly that afternoon and the Acres Lake area have enormous tourism potential, and there is a genuine fear there that, with the opening of the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal, business may be diverted slightly with the result that people could lose out in the overall development we expect to take place there in future years.
I had the opportunity during my stay in that area to meet the local community leaders and with Fr. Tymon, who is very concerned about the situation there. With Senator Mooney I had the opportunity to look at Acres Lake to see precisely the part of the canal system there which has caused the area not to be fully developed. The cartographic survey is under way there and I hope it will be completed in about two months' time. We need that survey to determine cost and what needs to be done to open up that area. It is our intention to build into the overall development of the canal system, the development of the Lough Allen-Acres Lake in that area which is part of the natural resource of that area and which must make a contribution to the overall economic development and prosperity of the region.
At the meeting on 8 June I met the county engineer and the community leaders and as a result we set up a working group of technical and engineering people from the Office of Public Works, the local authority and the ESB who have technical engineering people who can identify what needs to be done. It is not as simple as it appears and we need the best possible engineering and technical advice.
We have to distinguish between the power to extend the navigation and the resources that are necessary to enable that kind of work to be undertaken. When the problem is identified and a package put together, the resources can be found. This has been demonstrated in other areas. We should first try to get an overall natural resource package for that area with the involvement of State agencies and the local community. There is a genuine community awareness of the opportunities and of the desirability of undertaking the work.
I appreciate the positive approach adopted by Deputies to the development but I would point out that the amendments they put down are totally unnecessary because the Shannon navigation already includes Lough Allen canal and that whole area.
I am calling on Deputy Nealon but it must be taken that he is now replying to this debate.
It is a Committee Stage.
It is, yes.
I have only one minor contribution to make, but whether or not it is taken as a reply——
Any others who wish to speak may speak.
I am glad of the Minister's assurance that there is no doubt as to the ownership of the Lough Allen canal and that it is firmly part of the Shannon navigation. I now assume that there will be no difficulty when the Minister proceeds further.
I also like the assurance that it is the general intention that this will be developed. There is need for urgent development because of the difficulties in that area, because of the difficulties of the west as a whole and because this is an automatic way of, to a great extent, transforming that area in relation to tourism and other activities. The Minister said that it may turn out to be fairly complicated but basically the structure is there so I cannot see enormous problems.
It might be of great value as far as the funding of the re-opening of the Lough Allen canal is concerned, if it became part and parcel of the operation being undertaken for Ballinamore and Ballyconnell. I would like the Minister to give some indication as to whether the Lough Allen canal could also be incorporated in the Structural Funds package now being put together for Ballinamore and Ballyconnell. I know that recently in the European Parliament the Commissioner responsible for regional affairs said that approval had been given for substantial funding for the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal.
I express my appreciation of the Minister's attitude towards this. I believe that the discussion we have had here in the Dáil today will mean that this canal will be re-opened to the delight and benefit of everyone in the area.
I, too, am gratified to hear that the Lough Allen canal is incorporated in the Shannon navigation. It is essential that this area is made navigable. This year alone, about 250 cruising boats for hire have been booked out from St. Patrick's Day weekend until the October weekend of this year. That shows the potential for craft on the Shannon. The more navigable the waterway the more craft can be used on it.
Kennedy boat building is a project being set up in the Drumshanbo area which has been backed by the IDA and to some extent is being set up in the area to build pleasure cruisers for the Shannon waterway. It would be a great coup for Drumshanbo if the first boat built by the Kennedy boat building company could be launched on the Lough Allen canal, from Acres Lake into Lough Allen. As Deputy Nealon said, urgency is what we are more concerned about at the moment. We are delighted that we got the essential backing from the Minister. We urgently need monetary assistance to make this part of the Shannon navigable.
We know that this area is part of the Shannon navigation but the problem relates to its navigability. It cannot be navigated by modern boats and that is why we were seeking the funding being provided now from the EC Structural Funds, or wherever, so that we can do the project now. I understand that the Ballyconnell-Ballinamore canal project will take about two years to complete. That gives us a good amount of time to ensure that we get the funding. I do not want to see the machines move away from the area without this project being completed because if they do move away the project will not be completed. That has been our experience with these things in this country. These things come within the principles of cohesion within the community, and what the Structural Funds are supposed to be about. There should be a transfer of resources to areas stricken by economic decline and emigration. We have already highlighted the rate at which the population of this area emigrated during the past 50 to 60 years with reference to census figures. One of the aims of the European Community, as expressed in the Single European Act, is economic and social cohesion and people living in deprived areas will have been unfairly treated if they do not get a slice of the cake.
As this is a truly deprived area a very good case can be made for seeking funds from the EC Structural Fund. Needless to say social deprivation follows economic deprivation. For this reason we suggest that funding should be sought from the EC. The Minister indicated that he wants to put a package together but we appeal to him to put it together as quickly as possible so all this work can be carried out at the one time. We urge the Minister to ensure that the dredging machines, the craftsmen and the rest of the people concerned will not leave the site on the Ballyconnell-Ballinamore canal until the work has been completed.
May I ask what is the position now with this amendment?
I want to make it very clear that I might mislead people if I were to say that we will undertake this work immediately. I might also mislead them if I were to say that this work will be carried out once the work on the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal has been completed as there is a chance this work may be done first if things work out right, but the fact is the hydrographic survey has not been completed. We could only hazard a guess at this stage as to what the cost of the project will be. It would not be wise at this stage, in the absence of the detail needed, to consider the project in any reasonable way or give an undertaking that we will proceed with it. I have asked the technical staff involved in the hydrographic survey and the other work being carried out there to come together as quickly as possible. They have assured me that I will have that report within a couple of months. I will certainly discuss that report with the Deputies, when I will give to the Deputies all the information available to me from our technical and engineering staff to ensure that Deputies fully understand what is involved. In the final analysis, local interests and the State agencies working together will get the project under way and have it completed as speedily as possible.
While the Minister of State is committed to doing what we have proposed he must also acknowledge our fear that we will not get another opportunity to discuss Shannon navigation legislation for a very long time. Therefore this Bill presents us with an opportunity to make our views known and get this work done. If my colleagues are happy that the Minister of State agrees with everything we have said and has promised to report back once the hydrographic survey has been completed, we will not press the amendment to a vote now.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 5, paragraph (h), line 14, after "navigation" where it secondly occurs, to insert "and, in particular, to open the portion of the Boyle River, from Drum Bridge to the Bridge of Boyle, to navigation".
What we are seeking with this amendment is the opening of a portion of the Boyle river, which is part of the Shannon system, to navigation. People should realise the Shannon has a number of major tributaries, one of which is the Boyle river which passes through the countries of Sligo and Mayo but mainly through the north western part of County Roscommon. The river proper stretches from Lough Gara, which is an excellent coarse fishing lake, on the south Sligowest Roscommon border to the town of Boyle and on through one of the most beautiful lakes in Ireland, Lough Key, which is surrounded by Lough Key Forest Park. The river is navigable from a point near Carrick-on-Shannon to Lough Key and on to a point near the town of Boyle called Drum Bridge. It is not possible to go any further as the river to the town of Boyle is no longer navigable as the water is too shallow and flows rapidly.
I do not want the House to think I am being parochial in putting forward this amendment. Surveys have been done in regard to visitors to Lough Key, who boat through the Lough Key lake system and up the river stem that goes as far as Drum Bridge. They have pointed out that they would like to take their boats as far as the town of Boyle to avail of the facilities on offer there, such as beverages and food. However it is not possible, under the planning regulations, to provide facilities such as these at pier systems at Lough Key, Doon Bridge and so on. That problem would be overcome if the navigation of the River Boyle was extended from Drum Bridge to the town of Boyle.
There is one other good reason for carrying out this work now and that is the Office of Public Works are carrying out an arterial drainage scheme on the Boyle river. Most of the channel work on the two major channels, the Breedogue system and the Lung system, has now been done. It is hoped that next year the Office of Public Works will move in their plant and machinery and carry out excavation work on the Boyle river from Lough Gara to Lough Key. Having regard to the fact that resources have been committed, part of which has been provided under the EC old western drainage scheme established in 1978 or 1979, we now have an ideal opportunity to carry out this work. This work is necessary because as I said, visitors have pointed out that one of the shortcomings of the navigation is that it does not extend as far as the town of Boyle. Tourism interests in the town of Boyle, the chamber of commerce and the local development committees, have long recognised this problem and have asked that something be done.
Preliminary surveys show that this work can be done cheaply. The local community have also indicated that they are willing to provide a contribution towards the cost, but having regard to the fact that the skilled people will carry out excavation work on this stem from 1991 onwards, now is the time to ensure that this section, which stretches from between 400 and 500 metres, is open to navigation to the town of Boyle. This work can be done quite economically when we consider arterial drainage work is to be carried out on the river. Such an opportunity will not present itself again in the future. When the men and the machines are on the site is the time to do the job. This work would be of tremendous benefit to a small rural town like Boyle. There is a complaint that while thousands of visitors come to Lough Key Forest Park — about four miles from the town — the town gets relatively little benefit from it because Carrick on Shannon is almost as close to the park and other smaller villages on the other side of the lake are even closer. It is contended that this would bring the boating visitors to the town and it would be a way of introducing them to the town for the first time. This would result in a major economic spin-off for this small town which has suffered because of factory closures and unemployment.
Boyle is a rural town servicing a farming community where the population is gradually declining and where farm incomes have declined significantly in the past two years. All these factors have an effect on the economic activity in a small rural town. By doing this we would be taking an opportunity which presents itself by which we could get additional tourist business into a town such as Boyle which would have the spin-off effect of increased prosperity. That is the invisible export business of tourism.
Recent surveys have shown that there has been an ever-increasing number of continental, United States and even Japanese tourists, coming to Lough Key Forest Park and to Boyle. The money spent on extending the navigation to the town from Lough Key would be money brought in from abroad by means of the invisible export business. That is what it is all about. We want to get increased tourism revenue into the country.
I plead with the Minister to consider favourably the amendment which I have tabled. I represent the Roscommon constituency and the area concerned here is in that constituency and is an essential part of the navigation. I appeal to the Minister to take account of what I am saying, that the Office of Public Works are about to start arterial drainage works next year on this particular stem. Basically what is needed to be done between Boyle Bridge and Drum Bridge is deepening and excavation and probably some lock control. There is already a lock at Drum Bridge. While the men and the machines are there that is the time to undertake the task.
The present limit of the navigation is about half a mile from the town of Boyle and extends to Drum Bridge, with which the Deputy is more familiar than I. I am informed by my engineering personnel that this would be a difficult task because the river is very shallow and probably would need lock excavation. In view of the Deputy's interest in the matter we will certainly have it investigated. Some preliminary investigations have been carried out but we will have it investigated further as a result of the views put forward by the Deputy. It would be appropriate to say at this stage that there are many similar areas where attention to some detail in some difficult areas which were neglected or abandoned in the past will need to be looked at as we develop a policy in this area over the next few years. That is why we specifically made provision for it in section 3 (3) which reads:
The Commissioner may, by by-laws under this section, exercise from time to time as occasion requires the powers conferred on them by section 39 of the Shannon Act to fix and determine the limits of the River Shannon, and the rivers flowing into it that are improved under the Shannon Act,...
That subsection as well as subsection (2) gives the commissioners all the statutory powers we need to carry out those extensions if it is necessary or desirable that they be undertaken.
The Deputy will appreciate that in many instances the first consideration must be the feasibility of undertaking a project such as this because of the engineering costs involved and whether it is possible, in view of that consideration, to undertake the works envisaged. The necessary power is in the legislation to undertake that work if there is a desire to do so. We will undertake an investigation and some cost analysis of the extension referred to. If there are community leaders and community chambers of commerce in Boyle who are interested in this project perhaps they would communicate either with the Deputies or with us and we will certainly meet them to discuss the matter and send our engineering personnel to the area to see whether it is possible — and whether it would be beneficial — to undertake the work proposed by the Deputy. It is not necessary to take the amendment suggested by the Deputy.
Thank you very much. I am grateful for the very helpful and sympathetic tone of the Minister's reply. He did not refer — no doubt it was an oversight — to the fact that when an investigation has to be carried out in regard to the cost of the project it would be shared by what we are already committed to under the Arterial Drainage Act, which is to carry out arterial cleaning, clearance and deepening on that stem and other improvements to Boyle bridge. I would reiterate that the costs will be shared by what is already being done. The urgency in bringing forward this issue, as in the case of the Lough Allen canal and linking it in with the Ballyconnell-Ballinamore project, is that if we find that next year and the year after that the arterial drainage works are carried out on the river——
The Deputy will appreciate that on Committee Stage it is difficult enough to proceed by dealing with one item of legislation. If we are to have the confluence of two items it would make it much more difficult apart from the fact that it would not be in order. We must confine ourselves to what is in the section, as proposed here, and what is in the amendment, as proposed.
In relation to what I have proposed in this amendment the reference to the arterial drainage works is extremely germane because arterial drainage works are about to be carried out on this stem of river. I am asking the Minister to bear that in mind as a major price factor when he is carrying out this survey. He laid emphasis on the fact that there would have to be a cost benefit analysis, etc. I agree with his anxiety about costs but I am asking him to bear in mind that much of the cost will already be covered by arterial drainage works which are committed on this river under the provisions of Arterial Drainage Act, 1945. The Minister has been very helpful in his reply. The point I am making before you questioned me——
I do not like the word "questioned." I thought you had already made the point. In so far as you indicated you were going to repeat it——
I do not think I am repeating it. My fear — it is not a repeat of the same point — when I was speaking on the last section was that if the Lough Allen canal was not taken, as part of the Ballyconnell-Ballinamore project, and you moved away from the maiden project, it would not be done.
I am afraid that the arterial drainage work will be carried out and no account taken of the proposal contained in my amendment which is to undertake the two together for good economic reasons. We are in this House endeavouring to do the best economic job possible for the country. I contend it would be a good piece of economic work to extend this portion of navigation. It would make good economic sense to have it done in tandem with the arterial drainage works proposed for this particular stem of river anyway. I hope the Leas-Cheann Comhairle now fully understands the point I am making.
I understood it before the Deputy made it.
You left me with doubts, Sir.
Any investigation carried out will take into account the proximity of the drainage. Certainly we will be undertaking some cleaning and maintenance. The advice I receive from my enginerring staff is to the effect that they would not feel that the type of cleaning and maintenance undertaken as part of a normal exercise would be sufficient for navigational purposes. I would not have any credibility at all were I to jump up and down here in response to every suggestion proposed, saying: Yes, we will certainly undertake that. We will effect the extension to Lough Allen, or wherever. The cost is the major factor in all of these extensions and developments. We must always bear in mind whether the resultant benefit will be worthy of the cost involved.
Certainly I would be willing to talk to the chamber of commerce people in Boyle ascertaining precisely what they have in mind, whether they might enter into some type of partnership arrangement with the Office of Public Works. In the drainage involvement there we will certainly bear in mind the desirability of undertaking the navigational work on that half mile stretch. I have not seen the place, I am not familiar with the terrain, but I am reliably advised that this would be fairly costly. Therefore, in the absence of any cost-benefit analysis I could not give the Deputy any definite assurance other than to say we are willing to have it investigated in order to ascertain whether we can arrive at some satisfactory solution.
The Minister will realise that he is equally advised by me that this would be a very worthwhile project, would withstand any cost-benefit analysis and yield a good return.
I must rely on the engineering and technical advice I receive as well. The Deputy will realise that we do not have any real cost-benefit figures available as yet. Nonetheless we will have it investigated in order to ascertain whether it would be feasible. If we can enlist the co-operation of the local chamber of commerce or other interests that probably would help to speed up the project and get it under way as soon as possible.
Is Deputy Connor satisfied that he has got the last drop out of his amendment?
I am happy about the co-operation of the Minister.
And you are not pressing your amendment?
We come to amendment No. 3 in the name of Deputy Connor. I note that amendments Nos. 5 and 6 are related. It is proposed, therefore, with the agreement of the House to take amendments Nos. 3, 5 and 6 together for discussion purposes. Agreed.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 5, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following subsection:
"(2) (a) The powers vested in the Commissioners under subsection (1) shall only be exercised by the Commissioner after consultations have taken place with persons representative of tourism, agriculture, fisheries, industry, navigation, the ESB and Bord na Móna where the interests of such persons would be affected by the exercise of such powers by the Commissioners.
(b) In the case of any objections being raised as regards a proposed exercise by the Commissioners of their powers under this section, any interested persons referred to in paragraph (a) shall have the right to seek the decision of the Minister and the power shall not be exercised until he has given a decision in the matter.".
This amendment has to do with the establishment of a formal body to discuss navigational matters on the River Shannon since it affects several interests on the main stem of the Shannon itself.
Over the years there has been much debate about the navigational operations on the River Shannon. The Office of Public Works are the main players in terms of navigational control of the river. But since the passage of the Act setting up the Electricity Supply Board and the hydro-electricity station constructed at Ardnacrusha — because the control of the flow of water is so important to the ESB — they too were given statutory powers to control flows of water on the River Shannon. I think that dates back to approximately 1926. There has never been great co-ordination between the two bodies; nobody will diagree with me in that regard.
The Minister may be advised that the position is not as bad as we portray. Generally speaking everybody would agree that there has never been great co-ordination between the two main players in charge of navigation on the River Shannon itself, that is between the Office of Public Works and the ESB. As a result many people, particularly farmers, have suffered. The ESB may feel they need more water for their generating station at Ardnacrusha at certain periods throughout the summer, or that they may need less water, when they will close certain lock gates. When one closes certain lock gates on a river such as the Shannon — especially in the region generally referred to as the Shannon Valley, that stretch of river running from Lough Ree almost to Lough Derg, where all the riparial or adjoining lands are very low — the elevation of these lands in relation to the top water level in the river, the mean top water level in the river is very close. When one raises the top water level even by a few inches one gets a huge lateral spread of water onto the adjoining lands or onto the adjoining systems that feed into the river itself, up the small drains, streams, culverts and so on. This has resulted in a serious economic loss to thousands of farmers over the past 50 to 60 years. It happens as a result of natural flooding when the channel can no longer absorb the amount of water dumped into it as a result of rainfall and so on, resulting in serious economic damage for many thousands of farmers. Equally it happens as a result of the manipulation of the lock systems on the River Shannon. The ESB may feel, for their own good reasons, they need to stem the flow of water. Equally, the Office of Public Works might feel that, for navigational purposes, to accommodate boats, they need to raise the level of the water in certain sections, let us say between Roosky and Termonbarry, or between Termonbarry and Athlone, when they manipulate the lock system and the waters rise resulting in the lateral spread of water onto the adjoining lands.
Farmers, farming organisations and others have complained very bitterly over the years about the fact that they had no method by which they could be consulted; certainly there was no way in which they could be compensated since compensation did not enter in at all. Always they felt that, had the operation of the locks system been better co-ordinated, much of the damage done could have been avoided. If I might draw an analogy, on the streets of Dublin, people contend that one week Dublin Corporation dig a hole in a street disrupting the traffic flow. That hole is filled in and the following week Telecom Éireann or somebody else digs another hole a few inches beside the former, again disrupting the traffic, and so it goes on. Everybody who has access to ducts, culverts or whatever in the street will do their own thing in their own time whereas a wise, co-ordinated policy would entail ascertaining or co-ordinating the plans of everybody with such access. It would be much wiser to co-ordinate all of those policies leading to one of them, saying, "You need to undertake an excavation here. Let us do the whole lot together." If I may transfer that analogy to the Shannon, similarly, there should be consultation between the main players, the Office of Public Works and the ESB, each asking the other, "Do you need to raise the levels today? For what reasons and for how long? Will your raising the level be in conflict with our lowering at another section?" The Office of Public Works will stress that they are looking after their interests only, the navigational interests, whereas the ESB will be interested in the water flow for their electricity generation purposes. Equally, in co-ordination, they might well ascertain what will be the effect of their actions on the riparial or adjoining landowners and overall drainage in the area. It does very severe economic damage. As a result of agitation by farmers and so on, a Shannon forum was set up last year, but it does not have statutory powers and is only an informal group of people representing farmers' interests, the Board of Works, the ESB, tourism and others. If they fall out or do not come to any agreement there is nothing anybody can do. The main players in the game can listen but they are not actually bound to do anything.
What I am proposing in this amendment is a formal arrangement for management of the navigation of the river itself, particularly those areas that are adversely affected by the lowering and raising of water levels, and I have requested that certain bodies should become part of this formal regulatory body. We are careful also to say that if they do not agree about questions of navigation of if there are disputes about water levels and so on, these problems would then be referred to the Minister for a final decision. It would put the onus on the Board of Works and the ESB, to have their own special interests, to be mindful of the interests of other people who are affected.
It is only right to involve tourism interests as well because we are talking about management of the whole system. There is no proper pollution control on the river. I do not know of any law that controls the discharge of sewage from boats into the river itself and there have been many complaints from visitors and anglers, etc., about the level of pollution, about raw sewage, etc., seen in the main river and in the lakes of the River Shannon system.
The bordering local authorities also have a major interest in the area so it would be only right that they would be part of this body. I know the Minister will say that last year the Shannon forum was a major step in the right direction. I agree that it was. I happened to attend a meeting of the Shannon forum in Athlone last February. It was a crisis meeting of the forum after the serious flooding which took place at that time. Management of average water levels could not be on the agenda that day; they were talking about the disastrous effects of the rainfall at that time. Although it is amazing that everybody agreed about the act of God, or of nature being very unkind because of the way the water levels were raised, the member of the forum could not agree about what might be done to alleviate the problem.
Farmers will blame Bord na Móna for silting the river. The Board of Works will say that they are responsible purely for navigation and keeping water levels at a certain level for navigation. The ESB have their statutory powers and they cannot have either a shortfall or an over-supply of water to the hydroelectric station at Ardnacrusha because either would damage the plant. In regard to the silting, it must be remembered that Bord na Móna's major operations in Lanesboro mountain, Longford and Roscommon all drain into the River Shannon. As we said at an earlier stage, the cutting of the bogs has removed a vast sponge that used to soak up billions of gallons of water after rainfall and allow it slowly back, by the forces of nature, into the Shannon system. That sponge has been largely removed now — David Bellamy and people like him have been telling us this for a long time. Now there is a huge rush of water into the system and into these areas of turbary. There is also a huge wash in of peat silt which has raised the bed of the main channel of the river. This has the knock-on effect of raising the top water level, with the lateral spread of the water into the adjoining drainage system and lands.
Something must be done, and I would be in favour of having Bord na Móna involved in this body or consultation because they have a major influence. I will leave it at that for the time being and await with interest to hear what the Minister has to say. This is something we are seriously interested in and if we are not satisfied with what the Minister has to say we will be asking the House for its opinion.
The amendment to section 2 of the Bill put down by Deputy Connor provides that before exercising any of the powers granted to them under the Bill, the commissioners would be required to consult with a multiplicity of interested parties who would be entitled to object to the proposed exercise of the powers, and to appeal to the Minister for Finance for a decision in the matter. I do not know if what the Deputy wants would be covered by what he is suggesting here. What is suggested here would totally paralyse the commissioners in undertaking their work in the area of navigation. This is a Shannon Navigation Bill. It is not legislation to establish some overall authority with responsibility for the management and control of the system.
We discussed this on Second Stage and reference was made to the fact that there was no overall scheme of administration in place to deal effectively with the problems that arise in the various areas. That is a totally separate matter and I do not think it can be dealt with by amendment to this legislation. Setting up a body to do that would be difficult and complicated because a number of State agencies have their own statutory responsibilities written in in legislation here. Setting up some superstructure would not, as far as I can see, have the desired results, but would complicate matters further. The amendment the Deputy is proposing would result in a totally unworkable arrangment. It would mean the commissioners could not even undertake urgently required maintenance work without consultation, negotiation and agreement with a variety of interests. If such interests prevented the work being undertaken, the commissioners would be in breach of their statutory obligations to carry out conservation work on the Shannon. The inclusion of this provision could mean we would be in breach of our statutory obligations in this area. A statutory requirement for consultation is not considered necessary as it is normal practice for the commissioners to consult with the various interests involved, where warranted, and to take their views into consideration.
The Deputy mentioned the Shannon Forum. That forum provides an opportunity for consultation but does not have overall statutory responsibility for the work, and it would not be practical to give overall responsibility to such a body. The Deputy might recall the difficulties we had in putting an overall statutory body in place to oversee the lower Shannon area. There were three Bills before the House in the last 12 to 14 years dealing with this matter and each of them collapsed. There is still no overall statutory body with responsibility in that area, but the work is carried out by individual bodies who have specific responsibilities.
I appreciate very much the sentiments expressed by the Deputy. I think there is consensus on all sides of the House on this matter but it would not be practical to put in place that type of legislation, and I would not even contemplate doing so. However, we have given an undertaking that full and meaningful consultation will take place, as has always been the case, not only with other statutory bodies but also with voluntary and community groups. We indicated our willingness to do that when discussing amendments here in relation to Lough Allen. At that time meetings took place with community leaders and politicians to try to find satisfactory solutions to the problems. The amendment the Deputy is proposing would be detrimental to the overall objective, and I cannot accept it.
The Minister has painted the worst scenario of what we are proposing. What we are doing is asking the Minister to provide a statutory basis for the forum that already exists, the Shannon Forum. The members of that forum, who comprise farming interests, tourism interests, Bord na Móna and so on, have no statutory rights. They feel the activities of the Office of Public Works are damaging their interests as the Office of Public Works are the final arbiters in all matters concerning them. We are asking that a statutory basis be provided for such a forum, which would meet on a certain number of occasions. There is no provision for that under the present arrangement. The Office of Public Works and the ESB who already have statutory power in this area can literally tell the other interests involved to go to hell. If farmers come to them and say that thousands of acres of land have been destroyed because of the insensitive way they have used the lock gate system, they can be given the same response.
We have been careful to provide that if there is a dispute between the Office of Public Works and the other interests involved, the matter would be referred to the Minister for a decision. We are asking that there be a formal legal basis for such a forum which would meet a number of times in any year or on any occasion that would warrant such a meeting. The people on this forum should have a statutory right to put their points of view. They should not be dismissed out of hand simply because the bodies who have statutory powers in the management of the river do not like what they are saying. These bodies should not have all the statutory power while the interests on this forum have no such power.
The Shannon Forum is already in existence and we welcome that. The Minister's predecessor was responsible for setting up that forum and that was a step forward, but the problem is that it is totally informal. The interests on that forum have no statutory rights and are profoundly unhappy about that. We are simply proposing in this amendment that there be a statutory basis for that forum and, as I have said, we have provided that if there is a dispute it would be up to the Minister or his successor to adjudicate at the end of the day on how any problem should be resolved.
- Ahearn, Therese.
- Allen, Bernard.
- Barnes, Monica.
- Barry, Peter.
- Belton, Louis J.
- Boylan, Andrew.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
- Bruton, Richard.
- Carey, Donal.
- Connor, John.
- Cosgrave, Michael Joe.
- Cotter, Bill.
- Creed, Michael.
- McCormack, Pádraic.
- McGahon, Brendan.
- McGinley, Dinny.
- McGrath, Paul.
- Mitchell, Jim.
- Nealon, Ted.
- Noonan, Michael. (Limerick East).
- Crowley, Frank.
- Currie, Austin.
- Deasy, Austin.
- Doyle, Joe.
- Durkan, Bernard.
- Farrelly, John V.
- FitzGerald, Garret.
- Flaherty, Mary.
- Flanagan, Charles.
- Harte, Paddy.
- Higgins, Jim.
- Hogan, Philip.
- Lee, Pat.
- Lowry, Michael.
- O'Keeffe, Jim.
- Owen, Nora.
- Reynolds, Gerry.
- Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine
- Timmins, Godfrey.
- Yates, Ivan.
- Ahern, Bertie.
- Ahern, Michael.
- Aylward, Liam.
- Barrett, Michael.
- Brady, Gerard.
- Brady, Vincent.
- Brennan, Mattie.
- Brennan, Séamus.
- Briscoe, Ben.
- Browne, John (Wexford).
- Burke, Raphael P.
- Callely, Ivor.
- Clohessy, Peadar.
- Connolly, Ger.
- Coughlan, Mary Theresa.
- Cowen, Brian.
- Cullimore, Séamus.
- Daly, Brendan.
- Davern, Noel.
- Dempsey, Noel.
- Dennehy, John.
- de Valera, Síle.
- Ellis, John.
- Fahey, Jackie.
- Fitzgerald, Liam Joseph.
- Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
- Flood, Chris.
- Flynn, Pádraig.
- Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
- Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
- Harney, Mary.
- Haughey, Charles J.
- Hillery, Brian.
- Hilliard, Colm.
- Hyland, Liam.
- Jacob, Joe.
- Kelly, Laurence.
- Kenneally, Brendan.
- Kirk, Séamus.
- Kitt, Michael P.
- Kitt, Tom.
- Lenihan, Brian.
- Leonard, Jimmy.
- Leyden, Terry.
- Lyons, Denis.
- Martin, Micheál.
- McDaid, Jim.
- McEllistrim, Tom.
- Molloy, Robert.
- Morley, P.J.
- Nolan, M.J.
- Noonan, Michael J.
- (Limerick West).
- O'Connell, John.
- O'Dea, Willie.
- O'Donoghue, John.
- O'Hanlon, Rory.
- O'Kennedy, Michael.
- O'Leary, John.
- O'Malley, Desmond J.
- O'Rourke, Mary.
- O'Toole, Martin Joe.
- Power, Seán.
- Quill, Máirín.
- Reynolds, Albert.
- Roche, Dick.
- Smith, Michael.
- Stafford, John.
- Tunney, Jim.
- Wallace, Dan.
- Wallace, Mary.
- Walsh, Joe.
- Wilson, John P.
- Woods, Michael.
- Wyse, Pearse.
May I make a comment, Sir?
We had agreed that we would discuss amendments Nos. 3, 5 and 6 together and it is now only a matter of putting the question, if the Deputy wishes to do so. However, we can now discuss the section. Deputies are entitled to discuss the section and refer to points which they feel have been missed before we agree to the section.
I find some of the points raised by the outcome of the vote we have just had regrettable. It should be noted that this is not the first time that the proposal for a separate Shannon authority was discussed in this House. The Official Report of 4 June 1986, volume 367, columns 1143-1154, deals with the subject of Shannon navigation. A number of the then Opposition speakers, but now Government speakers, including the present Minister for Education, Deputy O'Rourke, and the present Minister of State at the Department of Industry and Commerce, Deputy Leyden, contributed to the debate. It is interesting to see what they had to say. They literally tripped over each other in support of the principle of a statutory Shannon navigation authority which would be representative of all the interest groups, whose point of view we tried to put across this morning. I want to put it on the record of the House that it is a matter of great regret for me today to watch the Minister for Education, Deputy O'Rourke, and the Minister of State at the Department of Industry and Commerce, Deputy Leyden, walking through the lobbies and voting against the very thing they spoke so passionately about on 4 June 1986. I ask myself what in God's name has happened to change their minds so utterly in the two or three years since then?
The Deputy might be about to argue that a terrible beauty is born, but this is not entirely relevant to section 2.
What I have seen conceived or born today is not beautiful. The U-turn I have witnessed today is very ugly. However, I wish to put it on the record that I am astounded by what has happened. I am delighted to see that the Minister of State, Deputy Leyden, has come into the House and perhaps he will take the opportunity to explain to the House why he changed his mind.
The Deputy is out of order in encouraging any Deputy to interrupt him.
I can assure you, Sir, that I am not encouraging interruptions and as you know, Sir, I am the most orderly Deputy in the House, so why would I encourage disorder in the House? However, I ask the Minister of State at the Department of Industry and Commerce, Deputy Leyden, to explain why he voted against the Shannon navigation authority and the representatives on it, which I tried to provide for by statute. On 4 June 1986, he spoke so passionately in support of this, but today he does the direct opposite by voting against it.
It is water under the bridge.
I wish to put on the record that the Commissioners have done great work in the Ballinasloe area particularly making in the River Suck navigable almost as far as the town of Ballinasloe. We had been looking for this for a long time and this should bring immense benefits to tourism in Ballinasloe if we can make the river navigable right into the town.
Many people boat on the Shannon and the Suck but because the boats cannot get right into the town, Ballinasloe has suffered. I hope the Commissioners will continue with their excellent work. They have already found many artefacts will be the remains of our heritage in the Suck basin and I hope these artefacts will be put on display. In fact we envisage work being carried out on a museum for Ballinasloe and we also envisage that work will be carried out on the Aughrim museum to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Battle of Aughrim. I hope that the treasures from our past will be put on display.
Now that we are so anxious to preserve our canals — indeed the Minister has done a great deal of good work himself in promoting the canal system in the eastern region — I hope the Minister will be favourably disposed to work being carried out on the old canal into Ballinasloe, which is a most historic part of the canal.
If the Minister has not already visited Ballinasloe I invite him to do so and to see the ruins of that canal which hopefully will be restored and developed by the Commissioners of Public Works.
I had not intended to contribute to the debate but I came into the House for the vote. Deputy Connor usually resorts to writing to the papers about many issues affecting his constituency and I want to avail of this unusual opportunity to clarify one or two points in the Dáil. There was no vote on the setting up of a Shannon authority. Deputy Connor's amendement — I believe most of his colleagues would agree with me was ill-conceived and it would have made it very difficult for the Office of Public Works to carry out their functions in relation to the river Shannon. They would end up having to consult everyone and would not be able to get on with their work. Deputy Connor should have given more consideration to this matter before he put down his amendment. The inclusion of his amendment in the Bill would have a very damaging effect on its implementation.
I would be very reluctant to be drawn into an argument with the Minister of State, Deputy Leyden, on this issue.
The Deputy would be ill-advised to get into an argument with me.
The Minister would be ill-advised to be drawn into an argument with me. I was referring to what the Minister of State, Deputy Leyden, said on 4 June 1986 on the establishment of a Shannon basis inter-agency group. The Minister should read the Official Report of 4 June 1986, volume 367, columns 1143-54, in which he indicated his verbal support — I accept that there was not a vote — for the principle of the Shannon authority along the lines I suggested in my amendment.
My amendment is not faulty and no arguments have been put forward to show that it is. The Minister is in a very poor position in coming in here at this stage and saying that the arguments I made were somehow faulty when he did not hear them in the first instance. I am astounded that both the Minister of State Deputy Leyden, and the Minister for Education, Deputy O'Rourke who literally tripped over each other in their support for that motion in 1986 should say the direct opposite today. I ask the House and the wider public to judge all the evidence in the Official Report of 4 June 1986, my amendment, and what has been said here today. The Official Report of the Dáil debates will show everything.
What the Deputy has added to it will go into the papers.
Section 2 deals with the powers of the Commissioners in relation to Shannon navigation. They will have the power to:
dredge, widen, deepen, alter the course of or otherwise repair or improve the navigation channel or improve the supply of water for, or dispose of surplus water from, the navigation channel and for that purpose construct, alter, repair, improve, dredge, widen or deepen any stream, river, drain or channel carrying any water to or from the navigation channel and replace or repair any pipe carrying any such water or construct, repair or improve any pumping station required for such water.
The section gives very wide powers to the Commissioners to carry out cleaning operations on the Shannon river but Meelick Weir and the section of the river from Athlone to Banagher are very badly affected by silt banks generated by peat silt and other silts carried downstream. The amount of soil lost to the sea every year is astounding. We lose soil from the land into the rivers which in turn goes into the sea. The amount of silting which takes place and the solid material lost through the rivers is astounding.
The irony is that while the Minister has all these very wide powers he very seldom exercises them in terms of cleaning, clearing and deepening operations which are very necessary. We all know the old story about the draining of the River Shannon which was probably the longest lie in political history. It went on for about 50 to 60 years and was trotted out in my part of the country during every general election.
Much beneficial work could be carried out by the Office of Public Works if they regularly cleaned, deepened and removed silt from the main channel of the river during the summer months. They could use a long armed machine which can reach far into the river beds to remove obstructions there. As I said earlier, these obstructions which lie in the bed of the river raise the level of the water which then flows on to the adjoining land. Perhaps the Minister can explain why the Office of Public Works have been so reluctant to carry out this work. Why have the powers conferred on the Minister under previous legislation been used so sparingly?
It is difficult to reply to the Deputy as he did not give precise details about where this silting occurs. I am sure there have been problems with silting in various places from time to time. We are dealing here with the navigation channel and the powers available to the Minister. The advice I have received from my engineering and professional staff is that silt levels do not affect navigation. Even if this problem does arise, the Minister has powers under the legislation to deal with it and action can be taken very quickly.
Deputy Kitt referred to the desirability of proceeding speedily with the completion of the extension of the navigational system to Ballinasloe. As the Deputy is aware, considerable work has been carried out already on the lower section of the River Suck which is now navigable. During my visit to the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell area on 8 June I took the opportunity with my engineering staff to look at this work. The powers contained in section 2 will give us the authority necessary to complete the work on that section of the river into Ballinasloe. I have no doubt that the development and extension of the Shannon navigation into Ballinasloe will make a major contribution to the overall development of the economy of that area. Our first priority will be to continue the work which is being undertaken at present and to use powers contained in the Bill to complete the extension.
With regard to the display of artefacts and other valuable items found when the work was being carried out, this is a matter for the National Museum. I will convey to the museum authorities the Deputy's wishes to have the items of historical and other interest displayed in the Ballinasloe area. I am sure the museum authorities are aware that the anniversary of the Battle of Aughrim will take place shortly and if community groups in the area wish to make representations about the display of these valuable items in their area I will take the matter up with the museum authorities.
The Minister's reply justifies my reason for putting down amendment No. 2. He said that silt in the river does not interfere with navigation and his responsibility stops at navigation. Does this mean that irrespective of the damage caused by silt — water flowing out on to adjoining land and pollution — the Minister has no responsibility in that area? In other words, the only responsibility he and the Office of Public Works have is for navigation and the rest of us can go to hell. Not alone can silt cause damage to the river bed but it can also damage fish life. It has been agreed by all experts that peat silt is damaging to fish life. It is a matter for the Office of Public Works, who are chiefly responsible for the management of the river, to ensure that this silt is removed for all the reasons we mentioned. However, the Minister seems to be merely interested in ensuring that boats can navigate the canal. Our amendment is lost and we cannot cry over spilt milk but it certainly highlighted the shortcomings which need to be addressed.
This is a Shannon Navigation Bill, the provisions of which are to improve, manage and maintain further work in the development of the Shannon navigation system. We are not dealing with the overall responsibility for issues of fisheries and drainage, even though they have a bearing on the debate. I am satisfied that under the statutory responsibility we are taking here, we will have the power to deal effectively with silting if it arises. I am also satisfied, from my technical and engineering advice, that we do not have a problem in regard to silting in this navigation system.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 11, between lines 45 and 46, to insert the following subsection:
"(10) The Commissioners shall consult with the Minister for the Marine in relation to any matters which affect or could affect fish, fish life, fish stocks or fishing in the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell navigation or the Erne and Lough Oughter Navigation."
Representations were made to me, and the Minister of State at the Department of the Marine said that in the development of the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal we should consult him in matters relating to fisheries. This amendment is to provide for that.
This amendment was discussed with amendment No. 3. Is it agreed?
We agree with anything which helps to protect fish life and fish stocks in this new canal because it is a matter which could be overlooked. We are all aware of fish kills and the destruction of natural habitats which can very easily take place. This amendment reflects what I said in regard to the previous amendment. The Minister is taking responsibility for fish life, etc., in the canal, but when I raised these points on section 2 he seemed to disclaim responsibility for fish life on the river Shannon or damage to fish by silting. This amendment deals with matters which affect — or could affect — marine or fish life. The Minister, clearly, has the power to ensure that the law is strong enough to deal with people who cause damage. When I spoke about silting in the Shannon valley my concern was for fish life and to ensure that silting will not cause pollution.
I agree with the amendment because concerns were expressed locally about fish life when the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal is navigable. Seemingly there were suggestions that canals in England — before they were navigable — had very good fish stocks and were identified as fishing areas for anglers. However, when the canals became navigable the fishing stocks were depleted leading to a loss of revenue which was generated by enticing anglers to the canal. It is very important to ensure that this does not happen in the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal because the area is a major tourism attraction for coarse fishing. There are approximately 60 lakes within a ten mile radius in the area and the development of the canal is eagerly awaited.
I am glad that the Minister put down this amendment. It would be sacrilege to disrupt the fishing stocks in the canal because that, in turn, would affect the stocks in the lakes. I welcome and support the amendment.
Deputy Boylan rose.
I am calling Deputy Ellis. This amendment was discussed with amendment No. 3 and further discussion is leading to an element of repetition.
I did not speak on amendment No. 3 so I am in order now. The amendment is very welcome and it obviously has the full support of all Members of the House. However, I should like to ask the Minister whether the Shannon Fisheries Board will be responsible for the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal when it becomes part of the Shannon system or if it will still be the responsibility of the Northern Fisheries Board.
I welcome the proposal that the Minister for the Marine should be consulted in regard to any works pertaining to the fish life in the river and fish stocks. It is important, as part of the project is aimed at using a section of the canal for match fishing. The Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal flows through a number of lakes and some of them suffered as a result of fish kills. Thank God, for the past three or four years there has not been a major fish kill in the area but it is important that there are sufficient powers in the legislation to ensure that people responsible for fish kills are hounded, pursued and dealt with by the courts. This has not been the case in regard to fish kills in other parts of the country where people have been allowed to discharge effluent into rivers. This has gone on unimpeded while other people in the same area had fishery officers and pollution experts on their doorstep regularly. This happened in the Northern Fisheries Board area and I hope that the Minister and the Department of the Marine will take direct responsibility instead of handling it over to the various fisheries boards.
My concern is similar to that of Deputy Ellis. I welcome the Minister's amendment because fishing will be vitally important on this canal if we hope to attract people to it.
Is the Minister taking on responsibility in this area and, if so, does he have the expertise to monitor fish life in the canal and to restock? Will he delegate this matter to the Ireland Fisheries Board or the Northern Fishery Trust? He should spell this out. I do not think agricultural pollution will be a problem in relation to fish life on the lake or canal but pollution from the boats that ply the canal could be a problem, apart altogether from people discarding waste, oil spillage and so on which must be monitored. If there is a fish kill or fish life seems to be depleted in the canal, to whom do we make our representations? Who will have ultimate responsibility?
Statutory responsibility for fisheries conservation and development rests with the regional fisheries boards. In the case of the Shannon the area of responsibility and jurisdiction of the Shannon board is the catchment area of the Shannon. The Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal is not part of the catchment area of the Shannon. It would be part of the Erne system which is part of the responsibility of the Northern Fisheries Board.
Deputies area aware of the demarcation lines in the area of responsibility of the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board which is the catchment area of the River Shannon right up to its very source. Responsibility, control and ownership of the fisheries in the Shannon itself are vested in the ESB who do some conservation work, some development work and some protection work. They have their own protection staff. The Shannon Regional Fisheries Board have their own protection staff, the statutory responsibility and responsibility in the overall management and conservation area, and they have their staff in the Northern area.
In relation to the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell area we are seeking that we would have consultations with the Marine Minister and the Central Fisheries Authority. We have had very useful co-operation and consultation with the regional fisheries boards and with the Central Fisheries Authority who are the national agency involved in the overall servicing, stocking and management of the national fisheries. As far as this legislation goes we are quite happy that the same level of goodwill and co-operation as we have always received from the regional fisheries boards in their respective areas — the ESB have their own powers, authorities and responsibilities — and the Central Fisheries Authority can continue. Already in regard to the Grand Canal, the Royal Canal and the Barrow navigation where in the Canals Act the same type of provision is written in as we are putting in here today, we have had very worthwhile co-operation from the fisheries authorities and we succeeded this year in getting an extra allocation of about £0.5 million to cover a restocking and development scheme. We plan something similar in this regard.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 12, subsection (11), line 16, after "State,", to insert "and".
This is just a grammatical correction.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 12, subsection (11), line 18, after "river at", to insert "Kilconny,".
It is considered necessary to identify the pier in question properly as there is a second structure in the Belturbet area. This will remove any doubt as to which pier is referred to.
This section is opposed in the names of Deputies Andrew Boylan and Gerry Reynolds. I observe that amendment No. 9 is consequential, so section 6 and amendment No. 9 may be taken together by agreement. Is that satisfactory? Agreed.
I welcome this proposal to link the Shannon with the Erne and the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal. For that reason I am opposing section 6 and I want to bring to the attention of the House here my reasons.
It is important that we have goodwill and co-operation from the landowners in the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell region for this major development. We must recognise the deep feeling and pride with which the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell drainage district is regarded in that area. It is a historic drainage district, unique in the country in so far as it is the only drainage district with trustees carrying out the work. The Ballinamore-Ballyconnell drainage district trustees exist for the Counties of Cavan, Fermanagh and Leitrim and in particular for an area of those counties bordered by certain rivers and lakes which are set out in an award of 6 March 1860 and later confirmed in the Drainage and Improvement of Land of Ireland Act, 1892 and the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945. The function and the duties of the trustees were to carry out certain work relating to drainage in the area under their jurisdiction and in return to collect rates or payments for that work from the occupiers of the land over which work was carried out. This drainage district is unique in that it is a cross-Border drainage district. When the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945 was being drawn up, the legislator at that time saw fit to leave this drainage district intact, in place. Section 57 of that Act reads:
(1) This section applies as on and from the day appointed under section 21 of this Act to every drainage district which would be an existing drainage district for the purposes of this Act but for the fact that it is situate partly within and partly outside the State.
The drainage district is partly outside the State and for that reason it is unique. It would be wrong for us here today to do what the legislators in 1945 felt they could not do, that is give recognition to an artificial border that divides our country. I am advised outside this House that if we were to include section 6 it could be challenged in the courts and found to be unconstitutional under Article 2 of the Constitution. Rather than give recognition to that Border — we should be seeking the co-operation of the Fermanagh District Council in operating this drainage district as it was originally set out in 1860. Rather than give recognition to borders, we should seek to pull them down in the advent of 1992 and the general feeling of goodwill and the removing of borders and barriers right across Europe. That would be a step in the right direction because this development is a cross-Border development in that we are linking the Shannon with the Erne and the Erne is a Cavan-Fermanagh river. The development itself is a cross-Border development. The drainage district was left intact after 1945 because of its unique situation in that it is a cross-Border drainage district, and we should seek the co-operation of the people of Fermanagh in working more closely with us.
Secondly, the drainage works being carried out by the trustees here are important to the canal development in that many of the drains are feeder drains for the canal. The Minister's proposal is that this work be handed over to the country councils. Those of us who are members of local authorities know that the county councils, Cavan County Council and Leitrim County Council in this case, have not got the funds to do drainage works and have dropped them for the last number of years because any moneys they have got have been spent on road development. That is with the agreement of the local councillors. It is not something that they wish to do but they have no alternative because of the restriction on finance. This drainage committee strike and collect a rate and do the work for the farmers and the Council are statutorily bound to reimburse the farmers for the money they have paid to the trustees. More importantly the work is being carried out by the local people at half of what it would cost the local authority. The committee ask the farmers to tender for the cleaning of these drains and when work is slack the farmers take on this work which is done properly because farmers tender for work on the drains passing through their own land and they take pride in doing a good job. This system is unique and the work has continued non-stop from 1860.
When I became a Member of this House I sought a change in the cumbersome system which required the trustees to collect individually from farmers and hand in the demand notes to the county council. I suggested that a block grant should be paid to the local authorities for these works. On the advice of the legal people attached to both Cavan and Leitrim County Councils I was informed that because of the regulations setting up this drainage committee in 1860 and confirmed in 1892, they were statutorily bound to carry out the functions as they were carrying them out, even if they were cumbersome. That system has remained but I would ask the Minister to favourably consider my amendment to this section. This system has a cross-Border dimension which should be fostered. If those works are handed over to the county councils, because of restricted finance they will not be able to do the work, the drains will become overgrown and the flow of water essential to the development of the canal will cease. The local people will feel angry if the work in this drainage district is taken from them as this system has operated for over 130 years.
I support what Deputy Boylan has said on section 6. During their time the drainage committee have done tremendous work. The Minister must take into consideration that the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell project was established because of the linking of the Shannon and the Erne waterways. This is a cross-Border project and the Taoiseach stated in the House on a number of occasions that it was a project dear to his heart and that would be one of the flagships of tourism in the next century.
It will be remiss of us in this Bill to take away a function which gives cross-Border employment and which involves Leitrim County Council, Fermanagh District Council and Cavan County Council. The more cross-Border co-operation in employment that one can get, the better. For cross-Border co-operation it is very important to leave the drainage committee in place.
I am aware that the Minister met a deputation of farmers about the Ballinamore canal and concern was expressed that if the land along the canal were not properly drained it would be flooded on a lot of occasions. Deputy Boylan outlined how the drainage board worked. Because of the work done by the farmers a lot of land in Leitrim which would otherwise be under water for six or eight months of the year, is arable. The Minister should remember that there are a lot of small farmholdings in that area, that 93 per cent of the land in Leitrim in marginal and that the better land is along the banks of the canal. It is essential to have good drainage to save the land.
It is known that in the last number of years the money made available in local authorities for drainage of any of the rivers within the counties has been very little. The Rinn and Blackwater which are rivers in Leitrim — and Deputy Ellis can correct me on this — were allocated something like £5 in last year's estimates.
Do you want to read them again?
How much was it?
If £5,000 were made available it would not fund the work needed. Needless to say, £5,000 was not made available. If this happens in the context of the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal land will be flooded and a project backed by the community will run into difficulty. The retention of this board will ensure that the land is adequately drained.
If the Minister agrees to leave the board in place he might take into account that at the moment the bureaucracy involved here is overbearing to say the least. The money has to be collected and sent into the council and the council in turn have to reimburse farmers. In these days of cost saving measures this is not a very cost effective way of doing things. As far as this section is concerned, I hope the Minister can understand and accept our reasons for putting down the amendment and that he will give it favourable consideration.
We should ensure that the drainage work necessary to put the drains into a fit condition is carried out. Both Deputies Boylan and Reynolds have admitted that the drainage board have had insufficient funds from their own resources and from the contribution of the local authorities in the past number of years for carrying out even routine maintenance. Indeed, no work was carried out over a number of years as the local authorities were not in a position to finance such work. Reference was made to the question of providing funding to local authorities. It should be borne in mind that Leitrim County Council set aside a greater amount for drainage works than Cavan County Council. I admit there is a much longer stretch of the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal in County Leitrim than in County Cavan but, proportionately, County Leitrim provided the drainage board with a larger contribution than Cavan County Council. I see Deputy Boylan shaking his head but if he goes back over the records for the past ten years he will see that this was the case.
I have no doubt that the Office of Public Works will assess the implications of their proposals. Having regard to the plans drawn up by the Office of Public Works, in consultation with the ESB, there is no reason we should encounter problems with flooding. However they should ensure that these drains are in proper condition when they hand over to the local authorities. The local authorities will find it much cheaper to maintain the drains, if handed over in proper condition, than to continue to provide a subvention towards the cost of works of little or no benefit. However, it may be necessary to dredge some of the major drains.
It makes little or no sense to maintain a drainage board which is unable to fulfil its functions due to a lack of resources. I hope the local authorities will be provided with sufficient funding to maintain these drains once they have been handed over following the completion of the works being carried out. Indeed, by carrying out adequate drainage works on the canal system we could eliminate the need to pump water into the system at various times in an effort to ensure that the system remains navigable. I ask the Minister to ensure that these drains are handed over in good condition to the local authorities.
I rise to support my colleagues, Deputies Reynolds and Boylan. I am not very familiar with the position in relation to these drainage trustees. However, I can speak from experience as I was a member of a drainage board, the Lough Gara and Mantua Drainage Board, which became defunct two years ago. That board were charged with the same responsibility of carrying out maintenance work. With the passage of time, however, they became redundant not because they did not have enough work to do but rather because they were not given sufficient funds to carry out this work. Nevertheless, the setting up of this board can be justified in the same way as the setting up of the board of which I was a member.
The drainage board of which I was a member was made redundant when work on channels and rivers under the Boyle arterial drainage scheme was completed and the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945, was extended to cover the work done by this drainage board, who were funded by Roscommon County Council. While I am open to correction I think Roscommon County Council were compensated by the Office of Public Works. The board worked very efficiently and carried out maintenance work each year on several major channels, including the Breedougue river system. While the Office of Public Works did some excellent arterial drainage work on the river itself and its tributaries, including deepening, clearing and realigning channels, we now find two years later that maintenance work is required but it seems they are not in a position to carry this work out due to a lack of funding. If the drainage board had been allowed to continue in being this maintenance work might have been done and done cheaply.
The Office of Public Works, given the nature of their work, have many large machines and trundle around the country like a great army moving these great machines to various sites. Because of this they are not in a position to tackle ordinary jobs such as maintenance work when all that is needed is a shovel, spade or a small hydraulic machine. Having been a member of a drainage board I can see the wisdom behind the proposal of Deputies Reynolds and Boylan. The Minister should take on board their sensible suggestion. While the Office of Public Works are well able to carry out drainage works and construct bridges and so on, they are not very good at responding to requests to carry out maintenance work, such as clearing which can be done using a small machine or by one or two men operating hand-held tools. The drainage boards were very good at employing men and getting them on site very quickly.
Deputy Boylan has indicated that people from both sides of the Border, including the counties of Fermanagh and Leitrim, were nominated to the board. I take it that many of these were ordinary citizens nominated to represent the interests of farmers and anglers. Public representatives were also nominated by the county councils. The board provided a very good forum for discussion. People may well say that a group of county councillors or farmers from across the Border could not talk about anything important but I can assure them that they can. These ordinary men and women promoted co-operation between people on both sides of the Border on issues such as the economic welfare of the area in which they live which is very much bound up with agriculture. I take it that many of the people sitting on these boards from counties Fermanagh and Leitrim were nominated to represent the interests of small farmers. In their discussions they promoted increased understanding between people on both issues of the Border. Quite rightly, we have all referred to the need to promote reconciliation and understanding and have said that part of the problem is that there is a lack of understanding. However we have done precious little during the years to promote this. I suggest that much can be done at this level by way of discussion and co-operation.
I appeal to the Minister to allow this board continue in existence. All he need do is allow the Office of Public Works or the people they appoint as agents, such as the ESB, to carry out the main dredging, digging and construction work on the canal with the maintenance work being left to those cross-Border trustees who would be funded by the Office of Public Works. It should be fairly easy to straighten out this matter and if legislation is needed I am sure that we on this side of the House would facilitate him in putting it through. I ask the Minister to take on board the suggestion made by my colleagues and allow the Office of Public Works to go ahead and do the work quickly with the maintenance work, such as clearing, being left to the trustees who would be held accountable for the way in which they have spent the money. It is my experience that trustees spend money very efficiently and are well able to carry out such work speedily and well. They can respond when the water levels are low and they can get on with the work quickly. If there is one criticism I would have of the Office of Public Works it would be their trundling, slow manner of working. I had a particular experience of them in my own constituency where arterial draining works were in progress for a long time. I notice that every year the water levels began to go down in May and the Office of Public Works like to respond at that time because it is better to be using their excavators and digging out pieces of solid material from the bed of a river rather than when it is in spate or in flood when all that can be done is take out buckets of water, because obstructions cannot be dealt with when rivers are in flood. The Office of Public Works are fully geared up for their summer work in the month of October. From the month of May onwards they are thinking about it and getting the bits and pieces into place and so on. On the Boyle drainage scheme extra men were needed this year for bridge building. Dry, low water levels are needed for bridge building. The ideal time to start this year was in April when the water levels were never lower following a dry spring. There was not a hope that it could be organised because although the people in Ballaghaderreen were anxious that this work be got underway there was much to-ing and fro-ing. They were referring to the officials in St. Stephen's Green who, in turn, were talking to officials in the Department of Finance. Last week with more than half the summer gone, the weather broke, water levels have risen again and we find that the Office of Public Works are just about applying themselves to the task. That is what I mean when I talk about this ponderous, slow way but they do excellent work. This is where a greater level of efficiency could be achieved.
As Deputy Reynolds said earlier, I had the opportunity some weeks ago to meet with some of the people involved, the trustees. I take this opportunity to thank them for the work they have done there over the past number of years in very complicated and changed circumstances: rates have been abolished, the road system is changed, and much of the mechanism that was appropriate to deal with it at the time has now been overtaken by events. I looked very carefully at this section because I value the importance of local community involvement in this type of undertaking. I assure Deputy Ellis and the other Deputies who represent the area that we hope to see this work progress as speedily and as effectively as possible. To a large extent the work which will be undertaken should not have a detrimental effect on the drainage in the area. This is not a drainage issue but a navigational one. Nevertheless, views have been expressed to the contrary by the Deputies and by Deputy Ellis — who has spoken to me privately — and brought a number of people to see me. We believe that the restoration should not disimprove the drainage. I will be asking the personnel involved in the restoration project to ensure that as far as possible, to alleviate the drainage problem in the course of the construction, this kind of work might be undertaken.
The cross-Border element to which Deputy Connor referred has to a large extent disappeared. Many years ago the functions of the board in relation to Fermanagh were the subject of court proceedings. By and large the situation there is similar to what we are proposing here. The drainage authority for the area takes care of the maintenance and drainage. That system was operating in Counties Leitrim and Cavan. The section proposes to abolish this complicated system and to directly transfer responsibility for maintenance from the trustees to the local authorities in the area. They will also have to bear the ultimate cost. This has always been the case. I do not think we need all swings and roundabouts to arrive at the objective.
Perhaps there may be — this is something which the local Deputies might examine — some method by which the local authority would avail of the goodwill and co-operation of the farmers in that area. This would be a matter for the local authorities and the Department of the Environment. The goodwill of the local people and the local farmers along the canal system is desirable. Perhaps the local authority would make some voluntary arrangement to avail of the services of the farming community to continue that work.
Having looked at the situation very carefully, and in the light of the representations made and the fact that I met a deputation from the area and discussed it fully with them, I felt at the end of the meeting that they accepted that the neatest, cleanest and most efficient way to proceed was as proposed here, and I recommend that course of action.
I think the Minister is missing an opportunity in relation to the cross-Border dimension of this board to re-establish the contracts, which I accept have lain dormant over the years but which the legislators in 1945 said should be left in place. Today, 45 years later we come into this House and say we will close that down, a Border divides our country and we must recognise it. I am certainly not a party to that line of action. Regarding the points made by Deputy Ellis and the contributions from the county councils I should say there was never any problem with Cavan County Council. I cannot speak for Leitrim County Council but there are representatives here from that area who could explain the position. The standard of work carried out was second to none.
The administration cost was something else.
I did not interrupt you, Deputy Ellis. I am making points here which are very important.
The Deputy was shouting.
I will invite the Minister and any other Deputy to come along and inspect those drains in the morning. They carried out the works. I have no doubt, and the Minister will be well aware of this, that neither Cavan County Council nor Leitrim County Council will have one penny to spend on drainage. Those drains will become overgrown. They are important to the success of the canal so far as they are feeder drains for the people who are deriving their livelihood from the farms drained under the arterial drainage works. That is a side benefit. They are concerned about their livelihood and their lands becoming flooded with water. As Deputy Reynolds said the land could be out of use for six to eight months of the year. Now they can make full use of those holdings and are deriving a livelihood from them. They would hope to develop their livelihood because of the benefits from the canal by way of tourism and other ideas which they may have. They are an energetic, dynamic, hard working people and should be encouraged. I am making a very strong plea here that this board, in view of the cross-Border dimension and the work which was carried out for the past 130 years, should not suddenly come to an end because the Minister is bringing in the Shannon Navigation Bill. I plead with the Minister to leave this board intact at this stage of the development of our country.
I have nothing further to add to what I have said already. I have looked at the issue very carefully and I am satisfied that the method which we are proposing is the neatest, cleanest and probably the most effective one from the point of view of drainage in the future.
Is there any legislative way in which a sum of money could be made available for the catchment area of the canal? Experience of drainage within local authority areas in recent years — as has been highlighted — has been very poor.
The statutory responsibility rests with the local authority. The only advice I can give Deputies is to use their influence with their local authorities; that would appear to be where some influence is needed.
As it is now 1.30 p.m. I am required to put the following question in accordance with the Resolution of the Dáil of 29 June 1990, as amended:
"That the sections undisposed of, the Schedule and the Title are hereby agreed to in Committee; that the Bill, as amended, is hereby reported to the House; that the Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed."