I wish to share my time with Senator Mullooly and Senator Magner.
Adjournment Matters. - County Roscommon Marina.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I do not intend to stand for election in Roscommon; I have no electoral interests of any description in Roscommon. I feel that somebody has to help shout for County Roscommon — the people believe they are getting a hard deal from the Government. In welcoming the Minister of State, Deputy O'Sullivan, I put my hand out to him as a fellow trade unionist and tell him I am about job creation, in an environmentally friendly way with proper access and development for the tourism industry.
There is no marina in the Roscommon area of the River Shannon. In 1995 65,000 tourists passed through the area — these are the Department's figures — and there were 500 new boats on the Shannon in the last year. This led to an increasing demand for support services. The project I am supporting and asking the Minister to approve would have spin-off effects in boat building and chandler activities, restaurants and bars.
I would ask the Minister to respond in the context of the general "saving the west" approach. This project involves local people looking at their area to see how it can be exploited in a way that is environmentally friendly and ties in with Government policy. This project is supported by Ireland West Tourism, the Aughrim-Kilmore Association, the Roscommon County Enterprise Board and many other groups. It also has the full support of the local people who see in this project a way of resuscitating their area.
Apparently the local roadway is causing some concern to the Office of Public Works. It is concerned the road would damage the canal and the bank. We do not wish to propose a project that would damage the environment, the canal or the area. However, these are technical difficulties to which it must be possible to find technical solutions. If the road to the site near the marina is in the wrong place for accepted and understood environmental, technical and engineering reasons, the proposer of the project is prepared to build a new road in a different location which will not create that problem. If the Minister finds it impossible to take that additional information on board in his answer, I ask that the proposer and supporters of the project be given an opportunity to make their case to the Minister and the Office of Public Works. I have the highest respect and regard for the judgment of those in the Office of Public Works.
This project could be of great value to an area where there is no industry. It is indicative of a community looking after itself; it is developing from what is in the community. The site is centrally located in relation to expansion into the Erne system. It gives an opening to a midland rural county in the west to create up to ten jobs almost immediately and more could follow. I ask the Minister to give the matter the fullest consideration, that the response of the person making the proposal be listened to and that we take the project on board with the technical advice of the Office of Public Works.
I thank Senator O'Toole for sharing his time with me. I support the case he has made. The location of this development is at Moy-glass, Kilmore, County Roscommon, and it consists of the provision of a marina which will cater for approximately 70 boats or cruisers. The development is supported by Ireland West Tourism, the Roscommon County Enterprise Board and by local community development organisations. I would have thought that the Office of Public Works would be very supportive of the proposed development in this location and would try to facilitate in every way possible the developer, who does not wish to do anything detrimental to the area.
I have no doubt that if this development is allowed to proceed it will result in job creation and an economic boost to a very deprived area of the west. If the small towns and villages along the Shannon are to benefit from the increased cruiser and boat traffic on the Shannon, then local entrepreneurs will have to be encouraged and assisted to provide the services for which there is a demand. I urge the Minister to ask the Office of Public Works to enter into positive discussions with the developer with a view to sorting out the difficulties and problems which have arisen so that this development can proceed.
If it is not possible, as Senator O'Toole said, to use the existing Office of Public Works roadway, the developer is prepared to provide a new roadway which will give access to the development. However, that roadway would have to be constructed over waste ground owned by the Office of Public Works. These problems are not beyond the capability of engineers and technicians to solve and this matter can be resolved in a positive and constructive manner.
I welcome my colleague and friend, the Minister of State, Deputy O'Sullivan, and thank Senator O'Toole for the opportunity to speak on this issue. An individual raised this project with me as I passed through a lock one sunny Sunday afternoon. I had an initial discussion with him and it seemed a very good idea. He gave me a list of reasons it should go ahead and I concurred with most of them.
Lacking the expertise to decide if it was an operation which could go ahead immediately, I said I would refer back to the Office of Public Works and check out the technical feasibility of the project. I subsequently had a discussion with the Office of Public Works and received a very positive reaction, although it voiced very serious concerns to me. I am not in a position to evaluate the opinions of the Office of Public Works in relation to those very technical matters but I have to accept that it is, above all else, the guardian of the system. Therefore, it must take very serious note of its responsibility to protect and preserve the system on behalf of the State. I was assured by the Office of Public Works — which I had no reason to doubt — that if it was technically feasible and within the bounds of the safety of the system as a whole, it would welcome such a development. My understanding was that it would communicate with the proposed developer, engage in various studies and, eventually, rule it in or out, based on the technical merits of the case.
I had not heard about it since then. When I discovered that Senator O'Toole was raising the matter in the House this evening I asked him about it and he very generously gave me two minutes of his allotted time. I do not know whether it is technically feasible, although I am sure that the Minister will tell us. I would welcome the development and the person involved seems to have very enthusiastic and good ideas. However, I am mindful of the need to protect the system, as Senator O'Toole and Senator Mullooly said.
The Office of Public Works' record on the Shannon is second to none. It has done wonderful work across the whole Shannon waterway, including the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal. I was in Banagher during the summer. It has a most cosmopolitan atmosphere with Germans, French, Dutch and so on thronging the streets. It has a wonderful marina which, according to the plaque, was opened by Senator Mullooly's colleague, the then Minister, Deputy Cowen. There are very nice lights on the pier but it does not have electricity for boats. It is crazy that it does not have a facility for boats which can use both shore and battery power to plug into so that people can watch videos, use microwaves and so on. That is a great lack in terms of development. There is such a facility in some parts of the Shannon Erne waterway on the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal. In addition to new marinas, such facilities are necessary to ensure that the existing marinas can offer the best that is available on the Continent and in Great Britain.
I had two sleepless nights in Terryglass and Banagher as there is no control over the marinas. On one occasion, people decided to set up a ghetto blaster at 2 a.m. and have a party. I felt like slinging them into the water but I was not allowed to do that. However, everybody on the boats that night felt the same way because so little regard was shown to children, old people and visitors. I subsequently wrote to the Deputy representing that constituency to complain about the lack of action on that occasion by the Garda as anybody within 20 miles of Banagher would have heard those ghetto blasters.
The Senator is getting old.
Perhaps I am, but those who come here from France, Germany, Switzerland and elsewhere are not all in the first flush of youth — nor is Senator O'Toole. A great deal can be done to provide facilities for boaters. We are at the dawn of a new age in terms of tourism, which is the Minister of State's responsibility. I welcome any development which would allow people to use the Shannon-Erne waterway and contribute to cross-Border activity. A marina fits well into that pattern and if it can be done within the strictures imposed by the Office of Public Works I would welcome it.
I apologise for the absence this evening of the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Higgins. I am glad Senator O'Toole declared that he has no intention of standing in Roscommon because the content of the motion is secondary to the fact that he tabled it. Many people will sleep easier tonight following his declaration.
I assure Senator O'Toole, Senator Mullooly and Senator Magner of the commitment of the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht to the development of Shannon navigation and the creation of jobs where feasible. Proposals have been put to the waterways service of the Department to develop a boat repair and maintenance service, as well as a mooring facilities business at Albert Lock on the Jamestown Canal. This canal bypasses rocky shoals in the Shannon between Drumsna and Jamestown, thus allowing boats from the middle and lower Shannon to proceed northwards towards Lough Key in County Roscommon or Lough Allen in County Leitrim or, alternatively, to avail of the Shannon-Erne waterway to get into the Erne system. The Jamestown Canal in a vital artery at the centre of Ireland's inland waterways.
The developer of this proposed business is a lock-keeper in the employment of the State. He occupies a lock-house and adjoining garden under a care-taker's agreement. I understand that he owns, or has the use of, privately owned property adjacent to the State's property. I understand also that he permits some boats to be moored on this adjacent property, but the proposals put to the waterways service involve a major expansion and development of the present arrangements.
As part of these proposals the developer has asked to purchase, or have a long lease on, State-owned land. In relation to the former, it has long been the custom and practice to dispose of State property by public tender or auction, thus safeguarding the interest of the taxpayer. Notwithstanding this issue, the proposer has made clear his wish to use the waterways service road running alongside the Jamestown Canal. This roadway was constructed at the same time as the canal, more than 200 years ago. It was built on top of the embankment, consisting of excavated material from the canal. The main component of this material is peat and it is up to six metres in depth. It has a low structural stability. Present information indicates that at present the road is traversed only by pedestrians, cyclists, animals and the occasional car or light vehicle. Over the decades, a major portion of this road has been prone to subsidence leading to regular maintenance on a continuous basis by the waterways service. This must be done if major flooding is to be avoided.
The business proposals, which involve, a full repair service, among other things, would necessitate the regular use of heavy lifting gear, as would the construction of long-term mooring facilities. The implications of this for the structural stability of the road are obvious. If the roadway were to collapse, there would be a major breach in the canal leading to inundation of large tracts of land and the severing of the middle and lower Shannon to navigation northwards and vice versa, as described earlier.
It is for these potentially catastrophic factors that the waterways service engineers have been unable to agree to this development. The creation of up to four full-time jobs, according to the proposer's estimate — a difference exists in this regard, as Senator Mullooly mentioned the creation of ten jobs — must be put against the possible dangers to the overall employment created from boating tourism.
To augment and consolidate the opinions of its engineers, the waterways service commissioned a study from an independent consultant who is an acknowledged expert in this field. His report confirmed the views of the waterways service engineers. He highlighted the very poor structural condition of this roadway, its liability to collapse, the major difficulties involved in attempting to reconstruct the road, widen it to allow for larger vehicles or even repair it. Such was the nature of this expert's report that the waterways service is considering possible restrictions on the existing usage of this road.
In conclusion, I repeat the Department's willingness to further job creation. It is, of course, open to the developer to seek another route from the minor public road to his own property. The waterways service is not opposed in principle to the establishment of a marina. Indeed it is very aware of the need for facilities to cater for the increasing traffic on the Shannon and welcomes the provision of good quality facilities by private developers to augment those which it is providing itself. I assure the House that developers who approach the service with viable schemes of a suitable standard will be given every possible co-operation and assistance. Furthermore, the Minister will be glad to arrange a meeting between officials of the Department and the proposer of this development.
I assure Senator O'Toole that any proposal for an alternative access route will be fully examined and this may help to overcome the present problem. If the proposer can suggest an alternative route, the officials of the Department will be more than glad to hear what he has to say in that regard.
In relation to ghettoblasters, I can only inform Senator Magner that I come from a seaside county and I believe he has become somewhat soft due to living inland. People on the south coast have to contend with the Atlantic and there are no plug-in facilities there. Nonetheless, I welcome the Senator's suggestion. My own area of responsibility is domestic tourism and I believe it would be a welcome development. I have made representations to the ESB, through my own Department, to see if this service could be provided.
I thank the Minister and the Department for a very positive response. My sole purpose had been to request that the Minister set up a meeting to discuss the problem and consider alternatives. The proposer is the third generation of his family and has a commitment to the area and to protecting the environment. I thank the Minister for such a positive response and either I, or Mr. Burke, the developer, will contact the Department to discuss the matter and the technical resolution to the problems.
The Seanad adjourned at 9.05 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 1 February 1996.