Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 25 March 2014
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht
Canal By-laws and Naomh Éanna: Discussion (Resumed)
We will now continue with the meeting. The draft Canals Act 1986 (Amendment) By-Laws 2014 is aimed at providing better management of residential boats. It will also facilitate the modernisation of the charging regime and the introduction of a fixed penalty notice to give effect to the powers granted in the Maritime Safety Act 2005. However, concerns have been expressed that the new by-laws are not fully fit for purpose and this is why we have invited the witnesses here today. I hope this discussion will allow us to review the proposed Act and to identify any areas that need to be re-examined, and to recommend any changes that may be necessary.
I now call on Ms Livingstone, chief executive of Waterways Ireland, to address the committee.
Ms Dawn Livingstone:
I thank the committee for inviting me to attend this afternoon to discuss the proposed canal by-laws and the Naomh Éanna. I welcome the opportunity to hear the views of committee members on the proposed by-laws. I do not propose to refer to all the points that were made in the opening remarks. However, I would like to outline some background information before we discuss these matters in detail.
Waterways Ireland is one of six North-South implementation bodies established under the British-Irish Agreement Act 1999. Its statutory function is to manage, maintain, develop and restore seven inland navigable waterways, principally for recreational purposes. We also deliver an active and marketing promotion for the navigations. It is now estimated that the private boating sector is worth between €80 million to €200 million per annum to the economy.
Since its establishment in 1999, the number of boats registered with Waterways Ireland has increased by more than 50% to some 14,000 craft. The proposed by-laws relate to three of the seven waterways: the Royal Canal, the Grand Canal and the Barrow Navigation. There are now some 500 boats registered on these three systems. On behalf of the taxpayer, Waterways Ireland has invested over €50 million in the infrastructure of these three waterways. New and improved facilities have been provided and service blocks with toilets and showers continue to be developed in strategic locations as funds permit. That investment has both reopened these waterways and made them attractive for boat owners. It is also helping to develop them as vibrant recreational and tourist amenities.
The current by-laws have been in place since the 1980s and a lot has changed in that time. By updating the rules governing the use of waterways, Waterways Ireland is seeking to ensure that they are fit for purpose and best meet the needs of all waterway users. The details are set out in the documentation that I have sent to the committee. However, I would like to briefly outline the eight principal proposed changes. It is proposed to introduce a new visitor permit to encourage boats to come onto the canals. This would allow free cruising and passage through locks for a period of 30 days, and mooring for up to five days in any one location. To stay in the canal system for longer than 30 days, a boat owner would have to purchase a combined mooring and passage permit at a cost of €130 - this being a modest increase of €4 on the current charge of €126, which has remained unchanged for 24 years. This permit allows a boat to use the canals, moor for up to five days in any one location and pass through the local gates, allowing holders to spend up to a year on the canals.
The cost of the extended mooring permit would rise from the current flat rate of €152 to a charge of between €160 and a maximum of €1,600 per annum, depending on the location, services and length of boat. The extended mooring permit in the Grand Canal Dock would cost a proposed fee of €2,500 per annum. The extended mooring permit allows the use of a mooring identified by Waterways Ireland on the canals where a boat may permanently moor for up to a year. Waterways Ireland has identified 50 sites for potential extended mooring locations throughout the three canals, and has mapped and published these on its website.
The new by-laws also introduce a new houseboat mooring permit, which would be introduced with a proposed cost ranging from €1,250 for a location such as Shannon Harbour to €3,500 per annum in a city centre location such as the Grand Canal Dock. Waterways Ireland currently has six houseboat moorings in Shannon Harbour with access for mooring, water and electricity. Work on a project costing in excess of €500,000 is under way in Sallins to enhance moorings in the village and again provide a number of houseboat moorings with facilities. Further houseboat moorings will be provided in the future.
The proposed by-laws also propose to update the fees to pass through the major locks in Dublin from a current fee of 64 cent to a proposed fee of €25. It is proposed to increase the fee to pass through Camden Lock to €25 compared to the current charge of €12.70. There would also be a toll of €25 per boat to raise the Newcomen Bridge. To put this last fee in context, Waterways Ireland paid €10,000 to CIE last year for a total of eight lifts of the Newcomen Bridge.
It is further proposed to update the fees for dry-dock facilities. The current fee to use a dry-dock is €13.90 per day. This is too low to encourage effective use of these limited and valuable facilities, as it is cheaper to put a boat in a dry-dock and leave it there than lift it out and store it on hard standing. The new proposed charge is €50 for the first seven days, increasing to €75 for the next seven days, and €100 per day thereafter. This fee structure is to encourage owners to plan repair work effectively and do what is necessary in the dry-dock, and then remove their boat and leave the facility available for the next user.
The proposed by-laws also introduce a Barrow open fishing boat licence with an annual fee of €50. This will enable Waterways Ireland to provide for and regulate this use of the Barrow.
The proposed by-laws would also introduce a fixed payment notice. This was provided for in the Maritime Safety Act 2005 but a by-law amendment is required to make this available for use. The fixed penalty fine is €150 or prosecution. This has been introduced to provide Waterways Ireland with another deterrent to boat owners who persistently breach the by-laws.
There are other changes but those eight are the principal ones. I recognise that, in some cases, these big changes will affect a small number of houseboat owners who have been accustomed to a largely unregulated system up to now. However, it is no longer feasible to facilitate boat owners in tying up permanently or for extended periods in locations of their own choosing, where this use is not compatible with meeting the needs of other canal users or with health and safety or environmental considerations.
I believe that boat owners accept the need for a modern regulatory framework governing long-term stays and other issues, in the same way as we have arrangements governing our road system and housing sector.
They also accept the need to update the by-laws to take account of changes that have occurred since they were introduced 24 years ago, when there was no provision for or even thought of house boats.
Waterways Ireland is trying to achieve a reasonable balance between the various competing needs that have to be accommodated in this area. In that regard, the Canals Act provided for a statutory consultation period of 21 days when new by-laws are proposed. That consultation was carried out earlier this year. All of the interest groups were notified in advance and the consultation document was mailed to all boat owners. We were pleased to receive more than 2,000 submissions as part of the consultation exercise. Waterways Ireland will give full and careful consideration to all these submissions and the issues and changes they have brought forward. We will then prepare a report setting out our proposed approach, including revisions we may suggest to our original proposals having regard to the submissions received. The report will be submitted to the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and will thereafter be referred to the Minister, with recommendations for his consideration and final decision.
I look forwarding to hearing members' views on this issue.
Mr. John Dolan:
I thank the Acting Chairman and the committee for inviting us here today. The Inland Waterways Association of Ireland represents more than 3,000 enthusiastic members, with 22 branches across the island of Ireland. The association was founded in 1954 as a voluntary body to campaign for the future of the Shannon navigation. In the 1960s, the IWAI campaigned to prevent the Grand Canal in Dublin city from being turned into sewerage infrastructure. Fifty years later, we are once again campaigning to save the canals and the River Barrow system in terms of their navigation potential.
We regrettably advise that the proposed amendments to the canal by-laws do not put user requirements, local communities or tourism at the centre of the regulations. Two issues in particular should be noted. First, unlike the other navigation systems, the canals and Barrow navigations have no private mooring provisions or service providers. Waterways Ireland is a monopoly and there is no choice for boaters. Second, the canals are effectively linear waterways with specific issues and challenges such as low water levels, weed issues, and obstructions underwater and in locks. Travel on the canals tends to involve lengthy tours of duty, so to speak, rather than short cruises. This travel is typically done on weekends over a period of months, such as the trips on the green and silver route promoted by Dublin IWAI. The proposed canal by-law amendments are not compatible with current boating practices on the canals, being more reflective of boating practices on the River Shannon and lakes. They do not take into account the difficulties and challenges of canal boating.
The Royal and Grand canals and the Barrow navigation system are a magnificent marriage of nature and early engineering feats. They are beautiful picturesque navigations which wind their way through wooded valleys, peatlands, villages, townlands, larger towns and our capital city. They link the island's navigation systems to the north, south, east and west, as members will see from the chart in our submission, including the rivers Shannon, Erne, Liffey, Suir and Nore, all of which are accessible by boat through the canals and the Barrow river. There is a particular joy and magic to be found in canal travel, the slow pace of which is reflected by a speed limit of 4 mph. People on land move faster than the canal boats on the system. One can experience a sense of serenity, discovery, nature and the magic of a night under the stars while being only a few locks away from the big city and bright lights. Unfortunately, however, there is sometimes a different type of adventure to be had along the way, with some locations targeted for unsocial behaviour and boat users sometimes delayed for hours trying to remove obstructions from the canal or from the props on their boat. It is not all plain sailing.
Our submission outlines in detail our concerns regarding the proposed by-laws. These concerns relate to the downgrading of the original combined mooring and passage permit, the five-day rule changes, the absence of a specific winter mooring provision similar to that which applies on the Shannon, the lack of selection criteria or consultation on extended mooring, house boat management issues, dry dock tolls and proposed penalties of €150 per day. The Grand Canal, Royal Canal and River Barrow navigations stretch to a combined length of 336 km. The length of the waterways affected by the issues that have been highlighted is a couple of kilometres, or less than 1% of the total navigation. By-laws that would be detrimental to 99% of the route are being introduced to address issues affecting less than 1% of the system.
While aspects of the by-laws on their own might seem reasonable, they impose a huge burden and risk collectively, with no evidence presented publicly as to what risk analysis has been done in regard to the proposals or why only one user group is being targeted for payment. The proposed by-law approach is akin to using a sledgehammer to crack a nut without taking into account the mess that will be left behind. IWAI has a long history of working with various statutory bodies, including Waterways Ireland, and we appeal to the regulators to heed the voices of boat users, which are clamouring to be heard, along with those of communities and international organisations. Waterways Ireland received more than 2,000 submissions in a consultation period that lasted only 21 days.
Other users of the waterways are to be welcomed, including bikers, hikers, anglers and paddlers, but never at the expense of the lifeblood of the navigations, namely, the vessels that keep the waterways open. Irish boaters, communities and occasional visitors have helped to keep these navigations active and open. It is time now to expose them for national and international tourism. With appropriate promotion, management and community engagement, they can be a vibrant recreational resource for the 21st century, linking waterways tourism with invaluable industrial, archaeological and environmental legacies. The Grand Canal, Royal Canal and Barrow navigations can be a world-class branded waterway route similar to the Lakes of Killarney, the Norfolk Broads, the Four Counties Ring in England and the lakes of Canada. For that to happen, the canals and Barrow navigations need proper by-laws that put user requirements, local communities and tourism at the centre of the regulations. They must not be suffocated by excessive and poorly written regulation.
Mr. Andy Roche:
I thank the committee for the invitation to address it on these issues. Rather then going through our written submission in detail, I propose to highlight certain aspects of it, after which I will be delighted to answer any questions arising. The Heritage Boat Association was established in 2001 and is a specialist niche group representing owners of heritage boats, the majority of which have their origins as working boats on the Grand and Royal canals. Although our members use the waterways throughout the country, these particular navigations are near and dear to our heart and we use them regularly as part of our touring and cruising activities.
The association was launched by the then Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Síle de Valera, when four barges made the journey from Shannon to Dublin. It was a journey fraught with many challenges, to which Mr. Dolan alluded. We are proud to acknowledge the progress that has been made in improving the canals in the intervening period. We had the pleasure of bringing nine barges last year on the Royal Canal and back out on the Grand Canal, on what is well known as the green and silver route. We acknowledge the assistance we had from Waterways Ireland staff in undertaking what was, despite our boats being made for those navigations, a demanding journey. We appreciate their support. Our objectives include promoting the use, preservation and restoration of heritage boats and, as I said, we have a particular interest in the canals. In the course of our activities we seek to engage to the maximum degree possible with communities through joint activities, cultural and otherwise, and with State organisations such as Waterways Ireland.
We have some concerns about aspects of the by-laws, which I will outline by reference to the headings Ms Livingstone mentioned. We had what we consider a constructive exchange with Waterways Ireland some years ago, where, if we are correct in our assessment, we were listened to carefully and attentively. We look forward with great hope and optimism to having impacted on many of the proposals that will emerge in the final documentation. I will deal with the headings in sequence.
The five day rule causes us great difficulty. As a general mooring period for boats in transit, five days is not practical on a canal. With the exception of occasions when a boater is undertaking a trip to Northern Ireland through the Shannon-Erne system, as we will do later this year as a group, boats that are cruising in or around their usual location will be within a few hours or at most one or two days of their mooring. If a boater has a difficulty and must leave his or her boat, he or she can, under the five day rule, leave it somewhere on the River Shannon and may also have an opportunity to return to his or her harbour. When one is somewhere west of lock 12 or east of Mullingar on the Grand Canal one does not have this luxury. The reason is the pace of travel on the canal and the difficulty with locking and so on, which means that, in a linear sense, one can be some distance away from one's mooring. Furthermore, the journey time over which one would make a trip such as the one we made last year on the Green and Silver route imposes a commitment of several months travelling at weekends on those who have a day job. At some stage on such a journey, one will come unstuck and need to leave the boat somewhere for a longer period than expected. For these reasons, we strongly urge that the five day period be reviewed and a new arrangement made that is specific to the canals.
On the cruising permit, we would prefer if this were a lock passage permit rather than a cruising permit. We can expand on this point if members wish.
We have asked Waterways Ireland to consider the merits of a winter permit for mooring. Arrangements are in place on the River Shannon to enable boats to moor in public harbours during the winter months when traffic is low by payment of a fee to Waterways Ireland. We ask that consideration be given to introducing a similar special arrangement for the canal.
I will make a small point of detail on the issue of extended mooring. When applications for extended mooring permits are approved, they should include a facility allowing the permit to be used in more than one of the 50 locations in any given year. In other words, the permit should be transferable, perhaps by arrangement.
On mooring charges, the upper end of the charges places a heavy burden on boat owners. It is unclear how the charges will be applied. We made the point to Waterways Ireland that it is difficult for us to comment in detail on the issue of mooring charges until such time as we see how the schedule is to apply. While we have some idea of the criteria to be used, we would welcome information on how they will be applied. Our position may well have been taken on board as an issue to be addressed in the next phase.
Only those of similar age to Mr. Treacy and me will recall our boats being used as work boats on the canals. Our boats are typically 61 ft. by 13 ft. To be subject to a regime under which length is a criterion for calculating the charge for a given boat would cause us a difficulty because the heritage boats, which belong to the canal, if one likes, would be penalised most. We have asked that consideration be given to implementing a derogation for heritage boats if a length criterion is to be applied.
On house boats, the charges need to be assessed against market value and more detail needs to be made available on how they would be applied in particular locations.
We have a difficulty with the Liffey transit charges. Crossing the River Liffey is quite a task. While we are reluctant to use the expression that we have "difficulties in principle", we have some difficulties in principle with paying a fee to go under Newcomen Bridge because the bridge blocks navigation and was built outside the parameters of the criteria laid down in the guide books for the height of clearance under a bridge. Whereas a charge is imposed by one State body on another for using the bridge, the issue should be addressed in a way that avoids the imposition of a levy on motors.
On the dry dock, owing to the nature of the boats, a number of a major refurbishments must be undertaken during their life and a substantial period is required to carry out any such refurbishment in a number of cases. For this reason, the cost of the new schedule would be simply prohibitive. Without getting into much technical detail, a number of us have done major works to re-plate the bilges of our boats because they were worn from many years working the canals. Having done this work a number of years ago, I did a retrospective calculation and found that if I were to do these works with my boat today under the proposed charging regime, it would cost about €11,000 for docking fees, which is more than the cost of the steel required for the work. We believe Waterways Ireland understood this point and we hope it will be reflected in the final proposals.
The fixed payment notice of €150 is higher than the fine imposed on drivers who are unfortunate enough to be caught speeding on a dual carriageway. While the figure is substantial, of greater concern is that the only method of challenging a fixed payment notice appears to be to go before the courts and risk a €5,000 fine. There is a strong case for introducing an intermediate appeals process if the fixed payment notice is to be applied.
The Heritage Boat Association acknowledges that it has a pragmatic relationship with Waterways Ireland on various issues. Moving a large fleet of boats or individual vessels on the canals and other waterways will always give rise to issues and we have found that Waterways Ireland has worked positively with us to resolve any that have arisen. However, we do not see the spirit of this relationship reflected in the proposed by-laws. In recognising that legislation is a hard fact, we believe that the treatment of events and discretion to recognise special circumstances as they arise should be empowered in the final outcome. This would mean that if, at some future point, the Heritage Boat Association must deal with different personalities in Waterways Ireland from the accommodating individuals with whom we currently work, we will have something to wave at them. We would welcome a formal acknowledgement of this. We recognise, however, the context outlined by Ms Livingstone. We will be pleased to discuss any issues members wish to raise.
I welcome the officials from Waterways Ireland and the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland and thank them for their comprehensive presentations. The canals have been a recreational amenity for people for decades and it is important that they are kept open, accessible and usable for everyone. We do not want the introduction of by-laws to result in their closure or a prohibition on boating on them. I have walked large stretches of the Royal Canal as I live in the canal valley close to Abbeyshrule, a village that has received considerable national and international recognition in recent Tidy Towns competitions. The aqueduct in Abbeyshrule is also unique. Many of the bridges over the Royal Canal have been named after directors of the companies which constructed it. People living in the area have been using stretches of the canal for decades and prevented it from becoming a weed filled dyke prior to the commencement of the major reconstruction process.
The canals are part of our marvellous heritage. I compliment RTE on broadcasting a documentary which provided a great insight into the solitude, peacefulness and tranquility of canals as recreational amenities. The canals have been used for years for fishing, boating, canoeing and so forth and are a major rural tourism project. Moreover, they provide a historical link between Dublin and the midlands. The canal from Dublin to Cloondara is 146 km in length.
Construction on it commenced in 1789 and was completed in 1817. Shortly after completion, the development of the railway system signalled the slow death knell of the Royal Canal. We do not want a situation to develop where by-laws will lead to it being closed for a second time. That is what will happen if the very stringent by-laws proposed come into place. We need to return the changes to the canal by-laws document to Waterways Ireland. I intend no disrespect to Ms Livingstone but I am of the view that there is a need for a complete reconsideration of what is proposed. That is my opinion and it reflects the views of many individuals I have met during the course of the debate on this matter.
In the context of the proposed amendments to the by-laws, people were given a very short period in which to make submissions. This matter was sprung on them in early January and the closing date for submissions was in or around the beginning of February. Those who use the canal were not aware of the extent of the problems to which the amendments to the by-laws would give rise. In the context of the section of the canal which runs through the midlands, the proposed five-day rule is going to have a serious impact on local users. If the rule to which I refer is put in place, it will not be possible to navigate the system. This matter should be re-examined and dealt with in a more sympathetic way in the context of how the canal is used. There are many more issues relating to mooring areas along the canal, the development of slipways and harbours, etc., with which we must deal. This entire matter must, therefore, be considered in great detail. Significant funding has been obtained from the Departments of the Environment, Community and Local Government and Transport, Tourism and Sport in respect of the redevelopment of the banks of the Royal Canal, which are used by walkers and others. I want the canal to be developed as a public resource. In that regard, I am of the view that the by-laws - as presented - are going to have a detrimental effect on the future of this fine tourism amenity.
I do not know what level of support I might receive for doing so but I propose that we return the proposed changes to the canal by-laws document to Waterways Ireland in order that they might be reconsidered in their entirety. I am of the view that Waterways Ireland must return to the beginning and reconsider this matter from a very practical point of view. What is proposed is going to lead to the closure of the canal. Local people were the guardians of the canal for generations when it was not in use. Those who use it now are on low incomes, etc., and they will not be in a position to use this facility. This is giving rise to annoyance among them. There is a need to attract public support when one proposes to develop tourism infrastructure.
Ms Dawn Livingstone:
I thank the Deputy for his comments. I assure him that it is not our intention to destroy the use of the canals. These by-laws are in addition to the very extensive set of by-laws introduced in 1988. They contain the provision for anyone to seek the commissioners' permission to stay beyond the five-day rule. The five-day rule has not changed from the old by-laws to the new ones. However, it became clear - from the consultation process - that people see the five days as an issue. This is a matter we will actively look at addressing.
One can portray the worst-case scenario, namely, the figure of €1,600 or that of €2,500 for the Grand Canal dock. However, these charges are specifically designed to provide a choice for people. Those with modest means can pay €126 and use the canal for a year. This is a very modest fee and it is only being increased by €4. Equally, they can choose to opt for an extended mooring. There will be lots of the latter available at a cost of €160. Overall, it is not a huge fee in terms of being able to leave one's boat permanently on a canal and use it for the year. It was noted in some of the earlier presentations that there has been no private inward investment on the canals. One of the reasons for this is that the charges are so low. It was also pointed out that Waterways Ireland is a monopoly which owns all of the canals and that, therefore, there is a public duty on it to ensure that there is a range and choice of options available. The by-laws are designed to future-proof the canals. It is wrong, therefore, to assume that the top charge will be automatically applied.
I assure the Deputy that it is not our intention to make the canals less accessible to people. It was stated in earlier presentations that problems have arisen in respect of 1% of users. Unfortunately, the problem we are trying to address is that boats are clustered in the honey spots such as Lowtown, Sallins and villages where one might wish to dock for an afternoon if one were out cruising in one's boat. One might want to visit such locations and spend some money or have a drink or a meal there. The locations to which I refer are not accessible as a result of the number of boats clustered there. That is why we are engaged in the process of introducing permits. We are very much supporting people who tour the Green and Silver route. Those who use the canals at present will be aware that they can leave their boats for extended periods. It is only a matter of letting us know what they are doing. It is a small system and our lock-keepers know the identities of those who are making journeys. Boats are not left just for five days, they are often left for two or three weeks. We know this because people have gone home and made phone calls. What we are asking is that people should not leave their boats in prime locations. They should move their boats to moorings and leave the central locations free for touring traffic. That is what we are trying to encourage and hence the introduction of the visitor permit. The latter will encourage people to come onto the canals and, as a result, more boats will use them. We are trying to facilitate that movement of traffic.
I thank the Deputy for his comments.
We do not want an "us and them" attitude to develop. There is a need for Waterways Ireland to provide this information to people who perceive the canal to be part of their heritage. The way in which information has been disseminated to date has not been great. There is a great deal of anxiety, fear and annoyance throughout the country in respect of what is going to happen as a result of the changes to the by-laws.
I thank the various groups for their presentations. I also thank the committee for acquiescing to my request to the effect that we should facilitate this discussion in order that members and others might be informed with regard to what has occurred to date and on the new guidelines, which, as has been stated, are in draft form at present.
I agree with what previous speakers stated in respect of the level of investment in our canals in recent years on the part of the current Government, that which preceded it and Waterways Ireland. I acknowledge the contribution and commitment in that regard. Those of us who live in the vicinity of inland waterways greatly appreciate the improvements that have been made and the benefits to which these have given rise for users and for the communities through which those waterways pass. The improvements in question have also allowed the general public to see the potential that exists in the context of providing further recreational facilities on our canals. That potential has clearly become more visible as a result of the improvements made in recent years.
I acknowledge that all of the work relating to our inland waterways, both that which has already taken place and the improvements which Waterways Ireland would like to be completed in the future, must be paid for and I accept that this factor must be taken into consideration. I and other public representatives in my county have been well informed by the Offaly branch of Inland Waterways Association of Ireland, IWAI, with regard to the scale of the proposals contained in the draft by-laws. I contend that the majority of the submissions Waterways Ireland received in respect of this matter would have been similar in nature. I support the submissions made by the IWAI and those who represent the heritage boats, which also require permanent moorings. There must be a point at which a negotiated agreement or settlement can be reached as opposed to one being imposed against the wishes of those who made the vast number of submissions received by Waterways Ireland.
I am also conscious of the success of pleasure boating on the Shannon and the differences between the charges. There must be greater synergy to bring the costs involved in both cases in line with one another. I am especially conscious of the need for an effort on the part of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland and the Departments to bring together stakeholders to agree on progress on the provision and installation of new guidelines. That can only be following a consultative process and an agreement on the basis of which all parties can move forward rather than - as is feared by many to whom I have spoken at public meetings - to impose an outcome without consultation, conciliation or agreement. People should not feel pushed out of an activity they have grown up with, love and wish to pass on to other generations and the community to help local economies with the tourism income it can provide.
I thank everyone and acknowledge the standpoints from which parties come. Everyone has the same intention for there to be a successful conclusion and progress and greater appreciation of facilities for the benefit of all. If we can do that on a conciliatory and all-encompassing basis, there is the potential for everyone to succeed. I ask the powers that be to use their influence to ensure a mechanism is put in place to allow meaningful negotiation with a view to a successful conclusion emanating from that.
I welcome everyone. I have long admired the work of Waterways Ireland. It is one of the few bodies established under the North-South agreement. As the chief executive said, waters have no boundaries. Reference was made to 2,000 submissions. They are not on the Waterways Ireland website. Will they be put up for the public to view?
All the organisations are doing good work. There is a great deal of misinformation and misunderstanding on charges in particular. I watched the programme on RTE to which Deputy James Bannon referred and saw a woman in Clondalkin who lived on a houseboat for 30 years. She was fearful that it was the end and that she would not be able to afford a fee of €3,500. Waterways Ireland has indicated today that there will not be exorbitant fees and that houseboats will survive. There is an urgent need for clarification on what Waterways Ireland is proposing. While recognising the work the bodies presenting today are doing, 99% of the people will be affected. There is only 1% of the people who should be affected, which is a consideration. John Dolan used the expression, "using a sledge hammer to crack a nut", which is what we do not want to do. I was on a local authority dealing with by-laws and recognise that they have to change and move with the times. Obviously, charges have to change and move with the times, but not to an exorbitant or prohibitive extent. One of the best facilities Ireland has is the canal network. I envy everyone who can get into a boat and enjoy it. It should be facilitated in every possible way.
When I was a member of South Dublin County Council, I raised the issue of planning laws. While it has changed now, planning laws always turned their backs on the canals and failed to utilise their beauty and the facilities they offered. It is only in recent years that planners have looked towards the canals to see the beauty that exists. We want to ensure that is maintained, which is what the bodies are doing. One of Waterways Ireland's own proposals in the planning context was that the beauty of the canals would be utilised.
We need more information on the pricing structure and on who will be affected, what they will be affected by, when they will be affected and where they will be affected. The debate will not finish today. The consultation process is ongoing. It has been put to me that a very short time period has been allowed for consultation, but I congratulate the boat owners. We would be doing very well if we got 2,000 submissions in 20 days in any public consultation. Obviously, boat owners are very exercised. When I see that number of submissions from the public, I say to myself that something is wrong here. I have the question of 99% versus 1% in my head.
The representatives of the Heritage Boat Association said that the consideration has not taken into account local communities and tourism. I would be fearful if that is true. My dealings in the past with Waterways Ireland have given me an impression. The box on the docks facility is a brilliant visitors' centre. It is closed at the moment for the season but everyone should visit it, including the committee members. It is only ten minutes walk away. It gives a brilliant picture of the work Waterways Ireland does and should be promoted among schoolchildren to ensure they get a love of their heritage.
It appears the five day rule is not going to be as onerous as I had interpreted. Someone said that if he had to get back to his boat in that time, he would not bring out his boat at all as the turnaround period is too short. Despite this, Waterways Ireland says a person can contact the body. Are there exceptions to the rule? If there are, we should know about them. The interpretation of many is that the five day rule is sacrosanct and, as such, not workable for many.
The Liffey transit charge is one we will have to look at. Is there an unfairness if it is free to go over the Liffey but there is a charge to go under it? Is there an unfairness on traffic? If we were using boating to go up and down the Liffey to alleviate pollution, we would be better off. I am not sure what Mr. Roche was seeking in terms of a derogation for heritage boats. Is it a free-for-all derogation for heritage boats?
The process of implementation is important. I am fearful that proposals will be implemented without further recommendations. Can the process to change and implement the by-laws be outlined? It would alleviate worry to say that we will have another day to come back. Mr. Roche said that he had experienced co-operation from Waterways Ireland on submissions he had made and he that he looked forward to changes.
That is what consultation is about and that is what we are about at this meeting. I have many questions but I do not have sufficient time. I hope I will have an opportunity on another occasion.
Ms Dawn Livingstone:
In terms of the online submissions, we would be happy to publish all of them. They came in a number of distinct categories. There were two standard letters, which were signed as a petition, and we had excellent, meaningful and lengthy submissions from various interest groups. I would be happy to make those available online.
The process is that as well as the submissions, we have meetings with the key stakeholders, to which the HBA has referred, including the IWAI and the Irish charter boat association. It is a process of consultation.
The five day rule existed previously and that is why it will still exist under the by-laws, as will the commissioner's discretion, which can be used. A number of key issues have come up, including this rule, and we will actively look at this when we consider the revision of the proposals that will go to the Minister.
Mr. Greg Whelan:
We are uncomfortable with the five day rule and discretion. We have seen today the culmination of a commissioner's discretion. As the Senator said, there should be a defined process around that exception and that is something we could work with but there is, as she said, the need for clear, concise exceptions and how they could arise.
My constituency is Kildare North and both the Royal Canal and Grand Canal flow through it. I am familiar with Hazelhatch and Sallins, in particular. Sallins is the obvious location in the context of the number of boats moored there almost constantly. I am less concerned about the numbers and more about the principle, which is the key issue. The one-size-fits-all approach will not work. The craft and people who use the River Shannon are vastly different from those on the canals. It is a fair point that people may well have made different decisions in their lives if they thought that they would end up paying large sums annually for the lifestyle they have chosen. I acknowledge it has not been regulated or the regulations have not been enforced, but the ability of people to pay for berths must be considered where this is their chosen lifestyle.
The reason we were keen to have dialogue with the various groups early in the process is that a tight timeframe is envisaged regarding the introduction of the by-laws. Will that be relaxed to give time for further consideration?
Another fair point was also made that the only recourse open to people appears to be the courts. Will the witnesses comment on this? It is unfair given the courts are generally not accessible, particularly by people with limited means. The introduction of an appeals mechanism would be useful.
The by-laws will impact more heavily on a small number of people. I went out on the Royal Canal with members of the Royal Canal Amenity Group between Leixlip and Maynooth and one of their main criticisms was the inability to navigate that section of the canal because of the weeds, etc. that grow when there is not constant traffic on the canal. This section does not generate the same traffic as sections of the Grand Canal.
Many groups that have contacted members to say the proposed by-laws do not put the user requirements centre stage. We have heard some practical difficulties relating to the five day rule. While we will not resolve the issue this afternoon, is there a willingness to extend the timeframe to consider this because the rule will cause most difficulty?
An annual fee of €3,500 and ability to pay is a reasonable issue to raise where people do not have an alternative. Will Waterways Ireland consider examining this again?
Ms Dawn Livingstone:
I assure the Deputy we are involved in genuine consultation and we will look at all the key points that have been made and articulated both in person by the groups we have met and in the written submissions. That will include the five day rule. The €3,500 fee for a houseboat berth relates to the Grand Canal docks. There were no boats there until a number of years ago and, therefore, no one residing there has lived at that location for an extended period. We have referred to houseboats but it is important to understand that while the number of boats is small, even within that group, few individuals live permanently on their vessel. Some people live on their vessel for three or four months each summer, sometimes in the one location, while others leave to cruise and then return. We are aware of the individual circumstances of each person and there is a range of charges within the proposals in order that people have a choice. We also have been open in other circumstances to phased payments, for example, to make things affordable for people. I assure the Deputy we are engaged in a genuine process of consultation to try to get this right in order that it works.
The five day rule is included because it was in place previously but we appreciate the difficulty it has caused. Up until now, people have not moved every five days but they have simply telephoned the inspector of navigations to say they would not be back for a fortnight or they would not be down this weekend. From the consultation, we understand people's nervousness around that and the introduction of the €150 fixed penalty fine. The only penalty available to Waterways Ireland previously was to remove a person's boat, but that would happen at the end of a process of at least a year. We will have visited, stickered, e-mailed, telephoned and written to the person. There are many laws that 99.9% of the population never come into contact with because they live within the rules. We are a recreational and navigational authority and we manage by education, co-operation and liaison. We work closely with both organisations present and that will not change, but the fixed penalty notice gives us a cheaper option where someone has blatantly ignored us for months or years in some cases.
I welcome the groups and thank them for their presentations. I congratulate them on the work they do. Waterways Ireland plays an essential role in developing waterways for tourism and recreational purposes. Times change and organisations such as this need to change with them to remain viable and build on their success. That said, the huge increase in some fees is unacceptable and there is serious concern that the proposed fees will damage tourism and drive people from the waterways the organisation serves.
Having looked through the presentations, I believe the five-day rule does not appear to be practical. It has been stated some people have full-time jobs and may not be able to go on their boats every weekend, for one reason or another, and that some local communities and small villages really benefit from having such people tie up and stay on for longer periods. Therefore, the five-day rule needs to be re-examined.
Discretion does not really work. I agree that we need a clear definition. A point was made on the derogation for heritage boats. It is worrying that heritage boats could be charged most. This is another aspect that needs to be re-examined.
I have questions on the increase in mooring capacity and the registration of boats. Would this have increased Waterways Ireland's income by much? Would this income not help regarding some of the increases? Has Waterways Ireland explored increased funding or grants to offset the need for some of the higher increases? What extra services will people receive in return for paying increased fees? I acknowledge fees have not been increased since approximately 1984 but, if people are to pay more, they usually expect a better service.
I wonder how often boats are abandoned on the canals. Is this frequent or very rare? After a meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council, plans for the establishment of a board for Waterways Ireland were not advanced. Will Waterways Ireland concede to the necessity for the establishment of a board that includes stakeholder representation? If so, could the delegates outline a timeframe for its establishment?
Ms Dawn Livingstone:
First, I will comment on abandoned boats. Under the current regulatory framework, if one pays for the combined mooring and passage permit, at a price of €126, one finds it is cheaper to abandon one's boat than to remove it. The charge is not very high but there is a need for control and for people to register their boat and pay their fees. We have been removing sunken and abandoned boats over the past eight years. We spent €178,000 on this, and the process is ongoing. There were two sunken boats removed from Shannon Harbour in February 2014. Therefore, it is an issue. There is no charging on the other waterways but on those waterways boat owners pay to put their boats in a private mooring. The other delegates can verify this. Putting a boat in a private mooring requires a fee that could be between €400 and €1,000. This system does not exist on the canal so there is not the same management framework. It has been cheaper to abandon one's boat. Boats got to the point where they changed hands in pubs at night and nobody knew who owned them. They are abandoned and we are clearing them. I have photographs of the types of boats we are removing. As I stated, we manage through co-operation. Ours is a recreational authority. We are removing boats as a last resort. The type of activity in question is dragging the canals down, as those who live close to them will know.
The board is not a matter for the body but for the North-South Ministerial Council.
We have four questioners left and are pushed for time. Another witness is due to attend at 4 p.m. so I will take the four questioners together. I would appreciate it if members just asked questions. I call Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy.
I apologise as I am going to break the Chairman's request to refer to a wonderful film that was made on the Grand Canal under the Per Cent for Art scheme. I wish to take the opportunity to let people know about it today, particularly those who will not get to go on the canal. The film was shot along the waterway from Shannon Harbour to Edenderry in 2012. As part of the scheme, three Offaly artists used a journey along the canal to inspire new creative work. This is a wonderful advertisement for using the Grand Canal. I attended the launch in the head office of Waterways Ireland.
I have a number of questions I would like to ask the representatives of Waterways Ireland. The first concerns the winter mooring permit. Are there plans to introduce a winter mooring permit for the canals and Barrow similar to that for the Shannon?
I was raised in west Offaly and am very familiar with the Belmont-Shannon Harbour area. I am very conscious of the difficulties being experienced in Shannon Harbour owing to old, rotting boats, etc. Does Waterways Ireland intend to explore the possibility of changing the terms and conditions for houseboats? One can see the difficulties that the current terms and conditions have caused in the area. Does Waterways Ireland intend to change the approach in this regard?
What does Waterways Ireland regard as an obstacle to the development of the canals and Barrow navigation? What are the expected social and economic benefits of the suggested visitors' permit? What will be the impact be on communities adjacent to the waterways? With regard to Waterways Ireland's promotion of the canal and the Barrow, what is the approach in respect of navigation?
Ms Livingstone mentioned a net benefit to the economy. She quoted an annual figure of €80 million to €100 million. Will she expand a little on this? In respect of what areas does the benefit accrue to the Exchequer?
How does Waterways Ireland cater for capital budgeting? It seems that if there is to be capital expenditure, on upgrading, for example, there has to be a budgeting arrangement.
On the subject of dispute resolution, there are two diametrically opposed views being expressed today on the new by-law proposed. Does a mechanism exist for the resolution of disputes or contrary views? The new by-laws will make exacting demands on users of the canal. What are the overall implications in terms of financial demands on the users of the canals and other waterways? Is it possible that people may be forced out of the system because of economic circumstances and may have to decommission their boats and yachts?
I am from Graiguenamanagh, where we have a great relationship with Waterways Ireland although the canal by-laws have caused a great deal of angst and stress in the area. The delegates will know from their submission that the two most important points that arise are the five-day rule, which I believe is completely unworkable because there is no way anybody could have moved his boat in recent months because of flooding on the river, and the need to make a distinction between people who use boats for pleasure at the weekends and those who reside in their boats. From what I can see, the boat owners are not retired millionaires from the Caribbean. They are very concerned about the increases in fees that they might be asked to pay. Waterways Ireland should take cognisance of what the boat users are actually saying. Anybody who takes a boat from Monasterevan to Graiguenamanagh knows it takes approximately three weekends to do so. Therefore, there is no way the five-day rule will be enforceable there.
I understand Waterways Ireland has difficulties and that there are towns that could be considered boat graveyards.
However, there is another area in the submission that did not take cognisance of the fact that there are preferred destinations, particularly along the River Barrow, because boat users tend to congregate in areas where other boat users are located. The witnesses need to take note of that. If one has to move 3 km one way or the other there may not be a place for one to moor. I have much more to say but we welcome the investment by Waterways Ireland.
I will change direction slightly and speak briefly about the Naomh Éanna. I thank the witnesses for supplying me with the Frank Jackson marine survey of the ship, which I found useful, but would they agree it appears to be quite limited for a 41 m vessel? I ask for the witnesses assistance. The lower tanks, which are under the floor, are 18 in. deep but there does not appear to be any survey of those. That is where the ship frame and keel are contained and they are quite inaccessible because of the amount of rubbish and combustibles on the ship. Do the witnesses have any additional information on that?
On the dry docking of the ship, it is going into a 200 year old protected dry dock and I am concerned that the ship is not securely moored within that dry dock. Having grown up in the area and still living in it I would be very concerned that damage would be done to that dry dock. Regarding the monitoring of the contractor, I did not witness this but somebody mentioned to me that there has been some dumping of concrete near the vintage slug mechanisms. I would be grateful if that could be investigated.
If there is a need to continue to break up the ship, for proper assessment all that rubbish needs to be removed. I know Waterways Ireland is acting as facilitators and I do not mean to be in any way critical in what I am saying but the ship is probably one of the last remaining examples of a riveted ship built in Dublin in 1958, the year I was born, and therefore it is very early for it to be going to the scrap heap.
I would have a keen interest, therefore, in ensuring that this can be preserved because it is part of Dublin's maritime history as it was built in Dublin and because of its historical connection with Galway and the Aran islands. The witnesses might address those points.
I have another safety concern. If the ship is in danger of sinking, is it safe to have contractors in place? Should it be properly dry-docked before any demolition or deconstruction of it takes place?
Mr. Nigel Russell:
As Deputy Humphreys rightly said, Waterways Ireland is facilitating this project. Waterways Ireland does not own the Naomh Éanna; it is owned privately by the Irish Nautical Trust. The Frank Jackson marine survey was done privately for the Irish Nautical Trust, and Waterways Ireland is relying on that survey for its information on the boat. As Waterways Ireland does not own the boat, Waterways Ireland has no proposals to do a further marine survey on it. As the Deputy will have picked up from the marine survey to date, it states that it is fragile.
Mr. Nigel Russell:
Yes. The Naomh Éannais currently in the dry dock. We have moved it into the dry dock to secure it from the main dock where if it did sink it would pull out the main dock. Waterways Ireland's proposal is to await the outcome of the Save our Naomh Éannagroup's proposals to see what they can place on board following which Waterways Ireland will consider what to do with it. The current proposal by Waterways Ireland is to scrap it. We believe it is suitably placed in the dry dock and we will secure it from there.
We realise there are security issues with the Naomh Éanna. One of the ropes released over the weekend. We asked the contractor about it and the Irish Nautical Trust came and secured the boat on Monday morning. In that area there will be an ongoing issue with that type of thing happening but we have our own harbour master there, and we have the Irish Nautical Trust keeping an eye on it. To do anything else would be significant cost to us, and we do not propose to go down that line at the moment.
The presentation from the Save our Naomh Éannatrust is being given to us tomorrow so we will await that.
Deputy Corcoran Kennedy had a number of questions for Waterways Ireland on terms and conditions for winter mooring of houseboats in Shannon Harbour, obstacles to developments and so on. Who will take those questions?
Mr. Charles Lawn:
Winter moorings are currently available on the River Shannon. That allows vessel owners leave their vessels, for a fee, in the public harbours from 1 November until 31 March each year. That is what is being proposed by the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland, IWAI, and perhaps the Heritage Boat Association also. Vessel owners pay the fee at the start of November and they can leave their vessels in the public harbour until 31 March. Thereafter, the five-day rule kicks in.
The enforcement of the by-laws falls to my responsibility. We are very much aware that people are engaged in their pastime, therefore, enforcement is done with a small "e". We are not out rattling the cage every day of the week and getting people to move on. If they have a genuine reason for wanting to stay beyond the five days, we accommodate them. That can be where somebody has a death in the family, a Communion or other family event. In that case we endeavour to accommodate them, and we always will. As the chief executive said earlier, it is only when vessels become persistent harbour huggers on authorised moors that we move them, and that can be at the end of a two-month boating season. That would be the extent of it. The idea that anybody is removed from the navigation after five days would be incorrect.
Ms Dawn Livingstone:
It is certainly something that has been raised in the consultation. It is not something we had thought of providing because if people have an extended mooring permit, that is, they have somewhere they can permanently moor their boat, they do not need another winter mooring permit.
Ms Dawn Livingstone:
In terms of the Exchequer benefits, and it is the whole benefit in terms of the boating activity, those were calculated from the per diem spend based on the Bord Fáilte figures for people who use their boats, how often they go out, what they spend as day visitors, fuel and so on. It also takes in the purchase in terms of all of the industry behind boats including private marinas, boat repair, and capital build. It is an all-encompassing figure, and it was updated as recently as two years ago.
Ms Dawn Livingstone:
I have two things to say about the dispute-resolution mechanism. First, there has been criticism that we take a refundable €250 security deposit as part of an EMP. I spoke earlier about it being cheaper for people to abandon a boat or all their rubbish. There is not a dispute-resolution mechanism. We can only use that to recover direct costs from dealing with refuse or an abandoned boat. We are actively considering how we can get an independent avenue to do that.
Until these by-laws are completed we have not worked through the background to fixed-penalty notices. This is a consultation process and whether they will come to fruition is still to be agreed. I do not know. We will find out and will write back to the committee. I do not know if within the legislation it is possible to have some form of discretion. However, we will find out and revert.
Ms Dawn Livingstone:
As Mr. Lawn and I have tried to outline, the current by-laws provide commissioners the ability to grant any form of extended stay and we are not averse to dispute resolution. We are not in the business of being car park attendants whereby we will give a ticket to someone who stays five minutes too long; it is not that type of business. However, there is a need to deal with people who persistently do not try to work in the better of interest of all the users.
I had asked some other questions which were not responded to. One related to the current approach to the terms and conditions for houseboats. One related to the potential obstacles to the future development of the canals and the Barrow navigation. The other one related to how Waterways Ireland is promoting the canals and the Barrow from a navigation point of view. I also asked about the social and economic benefits to the local community of the visitor permit.
Ms Dawn Livingstone:
I will work in reverse order and the Deputy can pull me up if I drop any. On the visitor permit, there are 14,000 boats on the navigations and 500 on the canals. Not all the boats on the other navigations will fit on the canals, but a fair percentage of them will. We want to attract those people to come on to the canals and make significant journeys. They should come and join the rallies and the other events the IWAI runs. We need to increase the number of people using them and increase the benefits economically and recreationally to the local communities.
On promoting the canals, we have worked very closely with Fáilte Ireland, NITB and Tourism Ireland through the lake lands and inland waterways initiative to place the inland navigations at the very centre of Ireland's tourism product when it is promoted both here and abroad. By pooling our resources we have tried to maximise the impact of that. We also work closely with local authorities and leaders to bring together development and promotion on a local scale.
On the challenges we face, like all public bodies we have declining resources. Someone asked how capital expenditure was funded. It is funded by each jurisdiction in which we work. As with all bodies that has been a declining resource. Waterways Ireland has had a 24% reduction in funding over the past three-year period and will have further reductions in the next three-year period.
What was the other question?
Ms Dawn Livingstone:
We are actively reviewing the terms and conditions of houseboats. These by-laws give certainty for people who want to live on a boat as a lifestyle choice. Previously there was no provision for them - they could not be managed, as they did not exist in the by-laws. I can appreciate people's concern about losing that way of life. However, some people, who live on their boats, cruise and move continually. Those people only need to buy the €130 permit. They do not need an extended mooring permit because they are always on the move. For people who wish to live in one location, we are trying to create houseboat locations close to where they are located so that it is somewhere they have lived and want to live. We are sensitive to meeting the needs and making sensible provision to ensure that everybody can be included.
Mr. Greg Whelan:
Today we have highlighted the fears and concerns that members have. We talked about €80 million to €100 million being spent. That is being spent by our members. They are the people who are delivering this economic value to the small towns and villages of Ireland. They are happy to do so and are proud to spend their holidays and pastimes in Ireland. That is what we are about and it is what we are trying to protect. We want to ensure that the money can stay in the country - we need it. We want to be able to do it on waterways that are vibrant and lively.
Mr. Andy Roche:
We again thank the members of the committee for the opportunity to make our points today. We believe our agenda and concerns have been central to discussions. We are quite satisfied that we have aired what we had to say. I repeat that we felt the discussion we had with Waterways Ireland was constructive. We hope our assessment of that is correct and the proof of the pudding will be in the eating when we see what comes along. At this stage we welcome that the process has taken place. We would like an opportunity to comment on whatever further proposals Waterways Ireland might make at the next stage of this process.