Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 9 July 2024

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government

Waterways Ireland: Discussion.

3:00 pm

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Good afternoon. I welcome everyone to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Today's discussion is with Waterways Ireland. I welcome Mr. Éanna Rowe and Mr. Patrick Harkin back to the committee again. This is their third time with us in recent months, and the committee appreciates the level of engagement that they have shown. We are joined by many people who are concerned about the by-laws or have an interest in them. I welcome all the guests to the committee today as well as those looking in.

Before I start, I will read a brief note on privilege. I remind members of the constitutional requirement they must be physically present within the confines of the place where the Parliament has chosen to sit, namely Leinster House, in order to participate in public meetings. Those witnesses attending the committee room are protected by absolute privilege in respect of contributions made to today's meeting. This means they have an absolute defence against any defamation action for anything said at the meeting. Members and witnesses are expected not to abuse the privilege they enjoy. It is my duty as Chair to ensure that this privilege is not abused. Therefore, if witnesses' statements are potentially defamatory in relation to an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks and it is imperative that they comply with any such direction.

Members and witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or entity outside the Houses, or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

Mr. Rowe will make the opening statement on behalf of Waterways Ireland. Before we commence, as we are dealing with waterways, on behalf of members of the committee, I offer our condolences to the family and friends of the two men who tragically lost their lives in the canal last weekend. I invite Mr. Rowe to make his opening statement.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach agus le baill an choiste as cuireadh a tabhairt dúinn don athuair chun teacht os bhur gcomhair agus dréacht fódhlíthe na Sionainne agus na Cánálacha a phlé libh inniu. Is mór linn an tsuim, léargas agus an rannpháirtíocht ón gcoiste agus táimid ag tnúth inniu le breis plé agus díospóireachta faoin ábhar tábhachtach atá faoi chaibidil againn.

I thank the Chair and members for the opportunity to return once again to the committee to provide an update on the proposed changes to the canal and Shannon by-laws. My name is Éanna Rowe and I am operations controller in Waterways Ireland. I am joined by my colleague, Mr. Patrick Harkin, regional manager. Before I commence my opening statement, on behalf of Waterways Ireland, I express my sincere condolences to the family and friends of the two men who sadly lost their lives on Saturday morning in the Grand Canal.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamacha.

As with our previous appearances before the committee, we have provided a more expansive briefing document that provides additional information about our role and remit. Established 25 years ago under the British-Irish Agreement, Waterways Ireland is the cross-Border navigational authority responsible for some 1,100 km of inland navigable waterways across the island of Ireland. Our statutory function is to manage, maintain, develop and restore specified inland navigable waterways, principally for recreational purposes. The navigations we manage run through 20 counties on this island, in which some two thirds of the population reside. We create social, economic and environmental well-being valued at over €600 million annually, for the public good in Ireland and Northern Ireland. There are some 3.2 million users of the waterways deriving benefit from the management, maintenance and development of the on-water and waterside experiences provided.

Over the past 25 years, we have: completed the restoration of the main line of the Royal Canal from Dublin to the Shannon, crossing counties Dublin, Kildare, Meath, Westmeath and Longford. We have doubled the mooring capacity on the Shannon, increasing berthing at numerous locations and catering for more than 3,000 vessels. We have established new waterway journeys and boating destinations in counties Galway, Roscommon, Leitrim, Cavan, Longford and most lately, Monaghan. We have transformed through investment, development and on-site works many waterway assets across the 20 counties through which the navigations travel. We have been instrumental with Fáilte Ireland in the establishment of the Hidden Heartlands tourism offering. Waterways Ireland has formulated and is implementing the Shannon and Shannon-Erne tourism master plan, the Lough Erne visitor experience development plan and many other local area tourism plans. It also has developed and promoted greenways and blueways in counties Dublin, Kildare, Meath, Westmeath, Longford, Offaly, Leitrim, Roscommon, Cavan, Fermanagh, Clare, Tipperary and Galway. In fact, Waterways Ireland is the leading provider of greenways with over 600 km of trails developed across the network of navigations.

At an operational maintenance level, Waterways Ireland is responsible for a vast range of infrastructural assets, including navigation channels, embankments, towpaths, adjoining lands, harbours, jetties, fishing stands, bridges, culverts, aqueducts, overflows, locks, sluices and lock houses, together with buildings and archives. The current valuation of the rebuild costs of this infrastructure is estimated at €1 billion.

From a restoration perspective and as many members are aware, we are also presently undertaking the restoration of the Ulster Canal. This is a transformative project of scale and significance that will link navigation from Lough Erne to Clones. Phase 2 of the Ulster Canal was opened on 19 June 2024 in Clones by An Taoiseach, Deputy Simon Harris, the Tánaiste, Deputy Michéal Martin, the Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys and the Minister, Mr. John O’Dowd MLA.

My colleague Mr. Patrick Harkin and I appeared before this committee on 21 September 2023 and again on 30 January 2024 to engage with members on the proposed changes to the by-laws at which members made several observations and suggestions about the public consultation process and about the substance of the proposed by-laws. Those observations and suggestions were welcomed by us and have been taken on board as part of the consultation process.

The public consultation process undertaken by Waterways Ireland began more than a year ago and the consultation was split over two phases, with 178 days of open engagement with stakeholders, businesses, community groups, representative organisations and political representatives. Phase 1 of the consultation commenced on 15 June 2023 and ended on 28 October 2023. A total of 933 submissions were received during that period and we published a detailed report of phase 1 of the public consultation on 15 January 2024, which outlined the revisions to the draft by-laws. Many of the concerns raised by members of this committee were addressed also. A copy of the consultation report was included in the information we sent to the committee for its meeting on 30 January 2024.

Phase 2 of the consultation commenced on 15 January and ended on 26 February 2024. A total of 866 submissions were received during that period and we published a detailed report of phase 2 of the public consultation today. The report outlines the further revisions to the draft by-laws.

As part of the consultation, we published draft and revised draft by-laws for the canals and Shannon navigation, along with explanatory notes and the public consultation report on our website. We advertised the consultation widely in both the national and local press, across social media channels and online. We held ten public consultation information events at which stakeholders were informed about the proposed by-law changes. We presented the revised by-laws to the members of various local authorities and received positive and welcoming comments in the discussion that followed. We invited the public to visit the Waterways Ireland website or to visit one of 17 public libraries in which copies of the draft by-laws and revised draft by-laws, explanatory note and consultation report were available for review. We invited comments and submissions in writing, by email or on the submission form on the Waterways Ireland website.

In summary, over the two phases of the public consultation we issued more than 4,000 email invitations, held ten public consultation meetings, attended two Oireachtas joint committee meetings, held 27 stakeholder meetings, had 178 days of public consultation, held webinar events for all elected representatives across the 17 local authority areas, including all Senators and Teachtaí Dála, and received 1799 submissions.

Having considered all 1,799 submissions received during phases 1 and 2, we have made changes to the proposed by-laws to endeavour to equitably deal with legitimate concerns raised. The changes include the introduction and extension of a five-day rule on canal harbours to facilitate watersports activities, continuation of winter moorings on the Shannon navigation, removal of a proposed three-day rule at certain harbours on the Shannon navigation, removal of a proposed speed limit on greenways, blueways and cycleways and reduction in proposed houseboat permit fees in serviced urban, suburban and rural areas of the canals.

The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has acknowledged the imperative for the by-laws to be updated and made fit for purpose and has also acknowledged the rationale for the proposed fees. The Department, while appreciating the reasoning and approach into calibrating the amounts proposed, has suggested that Waterways Ireland may need to consider further on the proposals in relation to fees and charges and moreover. the rate and level of increase, taking a slightly wider perspective considering inflationary pressures in the economy, price pressures in the leisure and tourism sectors and the concerns raised in the submissions. Waterways Ireland, having taken that advice on board, is again reviewing the fees and charges proposed under the draft by-laws.

Mar fhocal scoir, the purpose of the by-law review is to update the regulation of our waterways. The by-laws are more than 30 years old and their application to the navigations today are no longer fit for purpose.

The needs of those who use our waterways, blueways and greenways have changed. The environmental landscape and health and safety considerations have evolved significantly and the waterways themselves have been transformed. Our by-laws need to reflect this. We are more than happy to address any questions from the Cathaoirleach or members present.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I thank Mr. Rowe. Before I go to members, could he outline what the next stage in this process is? Waterways Ireland has published the draft by-laws. What is the next stage? Does it go to the Minister to be adopted? What is the process there, for the information of members and for us all?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

The process for the by-laws is laid out in the primary legislation. The next step is to send them to the Department for the consideration of and signing into law by the Minister. However, the Department has suggested to us that we need to further consider the price fees and the price increases in the context of the wider perspective, including inflationary pressures in the economy, price pressures in the leisure and tourism sectors and the concerns reflected in the 1799 submissions. That process has only just begun within Waterways Ireland. We are a while off the point where we will be forwarding the drafts to the Department.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I am going to go to members for eight-minute slots. That is eight minutes for the questions and answers. I call Deputy Joe Flaherty.

Photo of Joe FlahertyJoe Flaherty (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the witnesses for coming in and engaging with us so fully throughout this process. At the outset and for a point of clarification on Mr. Rowe’s contribution in response to the Minister's question, I will be suggesting and recommending that Waterways Ireland come back to us again when they have revised their pricing. Obviously pricing is a key issue. The €200 charge on the River Shannon in particular is a red-line issue. In anticipation that the figures were finalised for today, I had intended writing to the Minister and asking that the committee also write to him and request that he not accept the draft by-laws. In view of what the witnesses have said, I will be requesting that Waterways Ireland come before the committee again in the autumn, with finalised proposed draft charges. The witnesses have been very forthright and have given us all the information. As people living on the River Shannon, what we are concerned with is the marked decline in the number of people using it, as the largest waterway in this and the adjoining country. There was a 21% drop in people using the river between 2018 and 2023. Members will have seen a significant article in The Irish Times last week, almost a page in length, in which many of the business owners in the community were spoken to. This was directed at business owners in the Leitrim area in particular.

They voiced serious concerns about the drop-off in people using the River Shannon. The concern with the new by-laws for the River Shannon is that they will further alienate the people who only go out on a boat one day in the year.

What I am disappointed with personally is that we have not seen a plan or a strategy to encourage more people on to the River Shannon, in particular. We are probably seeing here an effort to constrain access to the River Shannon and to make it harder for people to get on to it. For people and businesses, particularly in counties Longford, Offaly and Leitrim, the River Shannon was a lifeline for those key summer months where we had tourists coming. When I went back to my home town last weekend specifically to check it, I only saw two boats moored in Lanesborough whereas at one time we could have had anything up to 30 commercial boats moored there at the weekend. That is particularly disturbing.

One of the questions I would like the witnesses to address is why no research has been undertaken on the actual number of people who are using the boats and why there is no research in the fall-off in the number of boat users. Is the effort now to monetise the use of the Shannon not putting the cart before the horse at this moment in time?

The substantive issue is the registration fee. I understand from some of the Shannon boat users that in their informal discussions with Waterways Ireland there has been a possible misconstrual as to some movement on the €200 charge. I will await to see what Waterways Ireland comes back with in the autumn on that. That is very much a red line issue.

I ask the witnesses to come back to me also on the marketing and why we have not seen any research from that body on the fall-off in the numbers and why that has happened.

I have one further point to make on the Grand Canal and the Royal Canal. I refer specifically to by-law No. 22(1)(f). I am assuming that I understand what motivates that by-law but in anticipation of the response, could the witnesses outline how many boats are moored illegally, not in the Grand Canal Basin but in the linear canals in Dublin at this time? I could understand by-law No. 22(1)(f) if there was a significant issue with the illegal mooring of boats but my concern and that of canal boat users is that if that by-law comes into law, it will never be possible to allow the mooring boats inside the 12th Lock, which would be hugely detrimental.

We have seen from our travels both in Europe and London that there are large boat communities within which people are both living and enjoying life almost in a village-like status in key areas along canals. With the stroke of a pen, we will probably eliminate that possibility forever for Dublin city if we do that.

To repeat, can Waterways Ireland came back to me on the absence of research as to the fall-off in the use of the River Shannon and deal also specifically with by-law 22(1)(f) as to how many people are currently moored illegally on the linear canals in Dublin?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

I thank the Deputy. I will deal with the issue of the Shannon and the lock passage figures he quoted on the fall-off. It is important to understand that lock passage figures capture those boats that go through our locks at certain periods of the boating season. They do not capture or are not a true reflection of boat movement on the system. In the period spoken about by the Deputy, the number of private boats on the Shannon has increased from 6,000 to 9,000. That is a dramatic increase in the private boating sector.

The second factor at play is that the cruise hire sector has completely restructured. The restructure of the cruise hire sector is based upon market demand. Market demand and the demand of customers for cruise hire has fundamentally changed in the past ten years. Short breaks are now predominantly what is required by the market and not the long one week to ten-day or two-week breaks, that we were familiar with 20 years ago. That also affects boat traffic.

On research, both ourselves and our colleagues in Fáilte Ireland, which is our national tourism development authority, have a great volume of data and research into the Ireland's Hidden Heartlands proposition, which Waterways Ireland was fundamental, with our colleagues in Fáilte Ireland, in having established to promote the Shannon because the Shannon is the key attractor in this area.

When the Deputy talks about lack of strategy, I am very surprised he is not aware of the The Shannon Mighty River of Ireland, which is the Shannon and Shannon-Erne tourism masterplan. This is the first holistic tourism-based strategy which has ever been created on this island that deals with the Shannon and Shannon-Erne waterways. It was formulated and led by Waterways Ireland, with our colleagues in Fáilte Ireland and the ten local authorities from Cavan the whole way down to Limerick. Some €100 million of investment is behind the Shannon tourism masterplan. It is a ten-year strategy for the development of tourism using the Shannon as the spine of that tourism offering.

Tourism demands have also changed for people on land. We have and we continue to develop, as I said, greenways and blueways, using our navigations as the fundamental building block of those tourism offerings and the Shannon blueway, which encompasses a 10 km stretch in the Deputy's own constituency, has attracted more than 100,000 visitors to Drumshanbo and the snake in the lake, as we call it, in Deputy Kenny's constituency. There is also the looped blueway offering from Clondra to Tarmonbarry in Deputy Flaherty's constituency.

The market has changed and the response of the cruise hire sector to those changes has been fundamental in their offering but private boating has also dramatically increased in the period which the Deputy mentioned from 6,000 boats to 9,000 boats on the system. We have had to up our game on the development of assets based on the growth in numbers and, as I said in my opening remarks, we have doubled the mooring capacity in less than 25 years on the Shannon to cater for that increase in boats.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I thank Mr. Rowe. Can he come back to the question as to how many boats are moored illegally? I guess that is a hard question.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

We would not have that exactly here but we will certainly come back to the committee on the illegal moorings.

Photo of Joe FlahertyJoe Flaherty (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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On a point of clarification, is Waterways Ireland revisiting the by-laws as they stand with regard to the pricing structure? Is the committee agreed that we will come back to this before they are submitted to the Department?

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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We will put that proposal to the committee to be agreed here-----

Photo of Joe FlahertyJoe Flaherty (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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Okay.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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-----but I give a commitment to Deputy Flaherty that we will put that question for consideration by the committee at our next private meeting.

I call Deputy Buckley. He is very welcome to the meeting today.

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach very much, and the committee also, for having me. I want to further thank the witnesses from Waterways Ireland for coming in today.

We are basically here about houseboat fees where we hear about money in, repeatedly, but do not hear a great deal about services. I want to go back so that the committee understands where I am coming from when I am talking about fees and money.

Mr. Rowe stated last week at the Committee of Public Accounts that no unauthorised developments had been constructed in the past three years but that since that, on 4 July, I have been informed that 15 unauthorised developments have been built in the past three years. One is where 100 m of reed bank was dug out and taken away in the past 12 months. There is also a place on Lough Derg in County Clare, north of Killaloe, and another site with possible development there. Mr. Rowe accepted at the meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts that there were more than 70 large unauthorised commercial developments. The question arose then as to whether Waterways Ireland had done costings on how much revenue has been generated by these unauthorised developments and how much revenue it is missing out on as a result of them.

The reason I asked that question is that there are many people in the Gallery facing massive hikes in fees, yet we have many huge unauthorised developments. I have a photograph of one at Portaneena, County Westmeath, which Waterways Ireland is well aware of. That is a huge encroachment where there are perhaps 60 boats there but no revenue is coming from this, yet we have people here in the Gallery were facing huge hikes in fees. Why can Waterways Ireland not get its own house in order first to see how much money it is losing on all of these unauthorised developments and boats that are moored up? Who is getting the money? Perhaps, as Mr. Rowe said in his opening statement, "We create social, economic and environmental well-being valued at over €600 million annually."

That is a lot of money. That is pertinent to the question. We are talking about raising fees, which are fairly substantial in Dublin. Even the suburban fees are expensive. I spoke to Mr. Rowe the last time he was before the housing committee. There are more than 400 unauthorised developments yet, it seems to me, it is those who are on these boats - the live-aboard boats and so forth - who are being punished while Waterways Ireland has not even got its books in order yet. Surely, if it is done properly the amount of revenue coming from there should offset the need for the price rises? Is that possible?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

I am delighted to be able to discuss the matter of alleged encroachments with Deputy Buckley. As I informed the Committee of Public Accounts last week, we have identified more than 430 possible encroachments on the Shannon navigation. A total of 76% of those encroachments identified related to what we are classifying as minor encroachments, which means encroachments of less than five berths. They are in the form of in-cuts, single jetties or small private marinas at the back of people's homes. Categorisation of major encroachments, that is, encroachments accommodating more than five berths, which include the commercial marina developments, account for 23% of total encroachments. Almost 68% of these encroachments predate the establishment of Waterways Ireland. We have inherited this as a legacy item. Many of the encroachments date back more than 50 years. We have set up a new unit within Waterways Ireland in the last year to work on the encroachments. It is going to take us time. Each encroachments requires surveying, legal inputs and consultation with the local authorities and planning authorities. However, since we established the unit, we have 55 of the 430 encroachments currently in process, which we are trying to regularise.

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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I apologise for cutting across Mr. Rowe. I am thinking of the people living in these boats. There are other people paying mooring fees to people on these unauthorised developments and they probably do not even know they might not be covered by insurance and so forth. There are major implications in this regard as to who will get sued. I remember speaking to Mr. Rowe the last time he was before this committee. He mentioned planning issues now. If they are unauthorised developments, then no planning was asked for. Second, these people encroached on Waterways Ireland land. Mr. Rowe told me it is Waterways Ireland which is responsible for that. Why is there no urgency to go after all of these encroachments?

I do not know how much money is being generated by these big, major unauthorised developments that have in excess of 70 berths. The development in Portaneena is fairly big. I see a Waterways Ireland boat even parked up in the same marina. This is farcical. Waterways Ireland is running with the hare and hunting with the hound. That is basically what I see. Why can we not get our books and house in order and stop putting pressure on the people in the Galley who depend on this? This is their home. To me, Waterways Ireland is coming up with a very unsatisfactory plan when it does not have a plan.

I understand there are legacy issues. If Waterways Ireland inherited these issues, it inherited them. It is on its property, however, and it is supposed to serve the people. Waterways Ireland receives funding from both sides of the country. Why is it so difficult to do the right thing? Some of these encroachments are going on for more than 14 years, during which no fees or revenue were collected but yet people in the Gallery are looking at charges going from a possible €500 to €4,000. It just does not make sense. Is it possible to name the identities of the legal and authorised developments in order that boat owners can be sure that when they are paying docking fees, they are actually covered by insurance? This is what they face now with these large-scale developments. People are probably mooring their boats and paying a fee while not knowing where it is going or if they are even insured. How do we fix that?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

Out of the 430 identified alleged encroachments, as I said, we have taken a very proactive approach by establishing a new, dedicated unit within Waterways Ireland to deal with this. In the last year, the unit has opened 55 cases, resolved 17 and the rest are currently in train-----

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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Are there confidentiality clauses being signed on this?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

No.

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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Is there a timeframe to resolve of all these cases and to find out how much money is being generated and how much revenue is not being paid in tax?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

If we look at the 55 open cases at the moment, the timescale it took to do all the work associated with getting clear title etc. on those and resolving the alleged encroachments, it is going to take us three to five years to deal with all of the 430 alleged encroachments on the Shannon. Deputy Buckley can be assured that, when we were established, we had title issues right along the Royal Canal and on parts of the Grand Canal and on the Barrow, which we have resolved. Aside from a very limited number of encroachments on the Grand Canal, the last area with which we are dealing is the Shannon navigation.

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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It is indescribable that there are more than 700 developments with no planning permission. We are talking five years to resolve that. A good friend of mine put up a shed for a motorbike about which someone complained because he had no planning permission for the base of it. He had to take the shed down. It did not even take two weeks. I cannot understand why it is going to take so long or why this has not been done before. There will be repercussions for the service users.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Can Mr. Rowe clarify that in the case Deputy Buckley referred to about alleged unauthorised developments being within the seven-year statute-barred period, I believe Mr. Rowe said a lot of these even predate Waterways Ireland and therefore, there is limited scope within the planning system to address this. Is that correct?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

That is absolutely correct. The vast majority of these cases are outside of the seven-year-----

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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We had that conversation with the mobile home. If it is blocked and I go back up there and throw a caravan up on it and I leave it there for seven years, am I free to camp out for the rest of my life?

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I could not possibly advise in that regard.

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I just wanted Mr. Rowe to clarify that. Therefore, Waterways Ireland must pursue a different mechanism to rectify the issue.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

Absolutely. There is a large proportion which exceed 30 years whereby adverse possession becomes an issue.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I thank Deputy Buckley. I call Deputy Creed next.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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I am relatively new to the committee and certainly new to this issue. Like others, what is captured in some of the correspondence I received in recent days spiked my interest. I wish to make an observation from afar as someone coming from Cork like the previous speaker, Deputy Buckley. It is not a hot topic but it is for some. Looking at the two canals in particular, the Shannon waterway and the Barrow, which Mr. Rowe referenced, they do not seem to me to be hot spots of traffic. It begs the question whether we are maximising the potential of these resources both as a revenue driver but also as residential spaces for people who choose to dwell there? It begs the question what is the role of Waterways Ireland? Is it to encourage or to regulate and how does one strike the balance between the two, because one can come at the expense of the other? I just wonder, in that context, whether Mr. Rowe is satisfied Waterways Ireland has got the balance correct.

That begs the question in terms of stakeholders, there is some contention that Waterways Ireland has been captured in some respects by the commercial stakeholders at the expense of others, in particular the Irish Residential Boat Owners Association, the Grand Canal Dock Residents Association, etc. I ask Mr Rowe to comment on that because it goes to the heart of what the role is, and how collectively, as stakeholders, commercial operators and those who choose a residential option on the waterways, can all be signatories to a pathway forward. That brings up the question as to whether Waterways Ireland is sufficiently engaged with all stakeholders or has the organisation been the subject of corporate capture by some more than others. I am not making that particular allegation. I just want to be reassured or informed as to what the balance is in that regard.

I am struck by the comment about the number of unauthorised developments on our waterways. While I understand "statute barred", etc., the number of ongoing legal cases strikes me as rather low relative to the number of cases involved. Is there an active legal team involved in this, continuously? Is it in house or is it farmed out and at what cost? Why is the number relatively low? Is that informed by legal advice or by financial resources to pursue these individual cases?

My apologies, Chair, I have another meeting at 4 p.m. It is one of these issues of multiple committees going on at the same time, so I would like have some answers to those questions.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

I will respond as quickly as I can and if I miss anything, I will come back to the Deputy in writing. Regarding regulation versus encouragement, we work hand in glove in everything we do with partners such as Fáilte Ireland, as I have already mentioned. We were a catalyst in the establishment of the Hidden Heartlands as a destination to attract tourism to the heart of Ireland. We are a huge supporter of Ireland's Ancient East. The canals and the Barrow are critical to that proposition, as is the recently opened section of the Ulster Canal in Clones. We are also a huge supporter of the tourism offering around Dublin, and in particular what the canals in Dublin have to offer. We work hand in glove with Fáilte Ireland on the promotional encouragement advertising piece. Going back to the boat traffic on the Shannon, as an example, we witnessed the fact that the cruise-hire or commercial sector, was having difficulty attracting from its main market in Germany. In conjunction with our colleagues in Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland, we undertook a campaign in the German-speaking market - the predominant one for the cruise-hire sector - last year and this year, to encourage more people to hire boats in Ireland. That is just an example.

We also work hand in glove with all 17 local authorities in this jurisdiction and the six that we operate with in Northern Ireland. We work very closely with them on the development agenda, on the community enhancement and environment agenda and in the tourism space. We feed into the local tourism plans that the local authorities are statutorily responsible for developing. We also deliver many of the projects in conjunction with the local authority sector.

Regarding the commercial versus users question, from my perspective, our main stakeholders are our users. We have really structured engagement-----

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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How does Mr. Rowe define "users"?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

Our users are anybody who is on, or adjacent to our waterways, so it is our greenway users-----

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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Does that include residents and tourists?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

Absolutely. I live in County Clare and we will see the Deputy, please God, in a couple of weeks' time in Croke Park. I live beside the water and when I go for a walk with my family I am a user. If I am on my boat, jet ski or paddleboard or sitting enjoying the waterway at one of our facilities or cycling on one of our greenways, I am also a user. That is the user base. Our private boaters, the houseboat community and all of those who are gaining well-being or active participation also are part of our user base. We have good, structured relationships with the user base. For example, we meet on a quarterly basis with the private boaters' representative body. We meet the Heritage Boat Association. During the course of the by-laws process, we met 27 different stakeholder groups across the user base and we have also met representatives of the commercial sector.

On the commercial side, the three main areas are cruise hire, private marina owners and, crucially, those who are building new businesses such as small cafés, bike hire, stand up paddleboard hire and are basing themselves along the waterways. That is the client base.

Regarding the question about the legal team and the encroachments, the team is made up of eight staff with a solicitor and there is also access to the wider legal team. This team was established in the past year and it is making significant progress. There are 430 identified alleged encroachments on the Shannon, not 700 as may have been quoted earlier. In the first year of the team we are already dealing with 55 of them. Hopefully, I have answered all of the Deputy's questions.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I welcome Mr. Rowe and Mr. Harkin. I also welcome the people in the Public Gallery and the many who are tuned in to these proceedings outside of the House. We have had a lot of correspondence in relation to this issue. I think it is the biggest audience we have ever had in the years I have been on this committee, so there is huge interest in the matter. Let us keep it all very simple.

First, I want to talk about what I call the living communities on the water. These are the people who, by choice, not accident, wish to have a meaningful living experience with family and friends on the water. I see no difficulty with that and we have to get over that blockage first, as it is a sustainable way to live. It is not everyone's choice but those who make the choice should be supported. Obstacles should not be put in their way. From reading the correspondence, there is a view that people feel frustrated in that process and feel that there is an issue with Waterways Ireland wanting to curtail that. Yesterday, I heard a comment on the radio in relation to some other tax where we cannot have additional costs and fewer services. For any charges that Waterways Ireland is seeking to implement, people need to know what they are getting for their money. We have heard about water supply, waste and reasonable maintenance. We do not want to over-maintain our canal banks, because that is not necessarily the right thing to do. They are rich in natural diversity, as well as the diversity of the people who live along them. This is all very positive, as far as I am concerned.

Many people have made submissions, for which I thank them. I received a very interesting document called "Protecting Dublin's Canal Heritage: A call to action to help preserve the city's boating access and rights", so it is about access and rights and people wishing to live on the waterways. The witnesses will recall I met them in Athlone some months ago at a public consultation, which I thought was well organised. There were various panels and people explaining different aspects of the matter. I think we may have gone backwards since then. I understood that there was a much more sympathetic ear from Waterways Ireland officials. I know Mr. Rowe and Mr. Harkin were there but they were not manning the panels, for want of a better word. I was led to believe that there was going to be compromise and meaningful public consultation and engagement with the stakeholders, or the users to which Mr. Rowe referred.

That is an issue.

There were a number of issues about which the witnesses undertook at the time to report back on, including in respect of the relationship with the local authorities with which Waterways Ireland connects. I want to put to them a flavour of the sorts of questions I, and I am sure many other members of the committee, have received. There are issues regarding jurisdiction with Northern Ireland. There are two jurisdictions through which the canals flow. There are issues around the governance of the board of directors of Waterways Ireland. Has a full complement of directors been appointed? When will they be appointed?

There are issues around the freedom of information, FOI, legislation. This matter has been raised with me. Has a regulatory impact analysis been conducted on Waterways Ireland's proposals? I am not sure if the witnesses do not understand what I am asking or they are a bit shocked or surprised.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

I am not at all.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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Mr. Rowe is none of those things. That is great.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

I am trying to keep up with the Senator.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I will stop and take the witnesses through with baby steps. We will do it in a modular way. Perhaps Mr. Rowe will tell me what he thinks of what I have said so far.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

We see no difficulty either with houseboats on our navigations. We see no difficulty whatsoever. In fact, we warmly welcome houseboat communities onto the navigations. However, we are dealing with a brownfield site that is unregulated. The by-laws are an attempt to regulate that situation.

We held ten public consultation events. They were well attended and we garnered a lot of good feedback. There was also a lot of back-and-forth. In the latest set of draft by-laws published and in the consultation report, the Senator will see that we have compromised. For example, in respect of charging in urban areas, we have moved from a maximum of €7,500 to a maximum of €4,000. That is a sizeable move. Notwithstanding that move, we have been asked by the Department, as I outlined in my opening statement, to look again at those charges in a broader context and we are taking that on board.

We have made other changes. The rural service, for example, has moved from €1,500 to €1,000 and so on. We have made substantive changes. We have listened. I remind the committee that the cost for a serviced houseboat berth in Edinburgh, which is a city comparable to Dublin, is £9,000. I am fully conscious of the pressures in Ireland and the fact that we are starting from a base of zero, if you like, and £9,000 is a long way to travel in that regard. However, a value has to be attached to the services that are provided.

The Senator asked about governance and a board of directors. As I said at the two most recent committee meetings, six North-South bodies were established as part of the British-Irish Agreement. In respect of two of the bodies included in the legislation drafted by both governments, no boards were provided for. The North-South Ministerial Council has reviewed that position by which no board is provided for Waterways Ireland. The second body, for example, is the special EU programmes body, SPEUB. It does not have a board of directors either.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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May I move on? Time does not permit elongated responses. Another issue raised with me is that of the audit. A fit for purpose audit and risk committee is the challenge that I have been asked to raise with the witnesses. What is the story with the Waterways Ireland audit and risk committee?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

We have one.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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Is it fit for purpose?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

It absolutely is. We were before the Committee of Public Accounts last week, responding to our 2020 annual report and account.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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Waterways Ireland was happy with that.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

We were very happy, as was the committee. Going back to the regulatory impact assessment, one was undertaken on the by-laws.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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Where is it? Can the witnesses share it with the committee?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

Of course we can.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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Were there any observations in that assessment that were of concern to Waterways Ireland?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

No.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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It is the first time I have heard mention of it. I am glad Mr. Rowe has confirmed that. Perhaps he could send it to the committee because we could glean something from it.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

Possibly it could.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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It is not a matter of "possibly". We can glean something from it. I thank Mr. Rowe.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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We all agree that management of the waterways is important and a big part of that is having clear by-laws to improve them and assist in their management. It is an environmentally sensitive issue that also relates to people's homes. We get a lot of visitors. For people living along the canals, there is obviously concern when something about their living arrangements is going to change. I hope that a lot of the consultation that has gone on has shone light on that for people. I do not have any canals in my constituency so it is not constituents of mine with whom I have been dealing. However, I have been dealing with people in other constituencies and the overarching request is that any change is fair, equitable and proportionate.

We often talk about tourism potential. We should design our spaces and places for the people who live there for 52 weeks per year. When we do that, we naturally attract tourists. I heard representatives of Fáilte Ireland say that at the planning conference a few years ago. When we design for the people who live somewhere, we naturally attract people who want to visit. That should be overarching. The people who live there come first and the visitors follow afterwards.

I am confused about many of these costs. It would be helpful if Waterways Ireland could produce a list of the current charges that exist. Those are the charges that people pay today. In columns beside it, the witnesses could provide a list of the charges that were proposed in the first draft and the charges that are being proposed in this round. They referenced that some charges might be revisited. I also ask them to include what new charges are being brought in. That would be helpful for the information of the committee.

A €200 registration fee is being proposed. That fee does not exist at the moment. Is that correct?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

It does not exist on the River Shannon.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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What is that registration fee used for? I will have a follow-on question about the provision of infrastructure and services. Is the fee directly to fund the provision of services?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

All revenue received from any of the permits and fees would be reinvented in the infrastructure.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I am sure the witnesses have heard, because committee members have heard it a lot, that the pump stations are not working or people have to travel quite some distance to pump out or to get water and basic services. If these by-laws were to be introduced, what would be the timeline to install the infrastructure that is not in existence at the moment and to bring up to standard the infrastructure and services that are there but may not be working properly? Are the witnesses able to set that out clearly to give people some confidence as to when it will happen?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

There are two parts to the answer, if I may. We have an accelerated asset management programme in place. That programme is looking at the investment in the infrastructure through capital allocations from our parent Department. That includes what the Cathaoirleach is talking about, including the pump outs and so forth and so on. We have developed a second proposal around targeted serviced houseboat infrastructure. We only have 32 serviced houseboat facilities available at the moment. We want to increase that to 170 in the next five years. We have laid out how we will achieve that. It is subject to planning permission in various locations. We also want to look at a further investment of at least 170 houseboat units offline. It would be like marinas on the River Shannon and the River Erne, whereby we would take a cut off the main canal and create specific marinas that could cater for houseboats. That will take at least five years, if not longer, to develop.

The Cathaoirleach asked about categorisation and the pathway of the fees. We have laid out a table in appendix 1 of the supplementary information we have provided to clearly show the original fee proposal and where we have got to.

This includes phase 1, the KPMG proposal for fees, the IWAI proposals, our own phase 1 proposals and where we ended at. We have gone from suggestions such as the €7,865 that KPMG proposed to €4,000, at which we have now landed. Notwithstanding that, as I said, we are again reviewing those fees based on the suggestion of our parent Department.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Okay. Thank you for that. I also have a question on electricity charges. To clarify, what is the current charge per kilowatt hour for somebody availing of those electricity charges?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

Our charges are greatly subsidised. Residents use a smart card they purchase to access our services, including electricity. That smart card gives X number of units. I will have to come back to the Cathaoirleach with the specific amount but it is greatly subsidised, perhaps in the order of 30%.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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On long-term living arrangements along the canals, there are probably different requirements for different levels of services. A destination marina, for example, where somebody is going on holidays, will need a shower and some other facilities like that. Waterways Ireland has separate proposals for people who are living long term along the canals, however, including those basic water, waste and electricity requirements.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

We are proposing two types of service. There is the basic level of soft-edge mooring with a mooring post. The proposed cost of a houseboat permit for that is €500. There are then three other types of service site, depending on location. At Dublin, which is currently capped at €4,000 in the proposal, there would be access to electricity, bins, hard-edge mooring and water. There would also be pump-out facilities and a service block nearby.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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It is proposed that the winter mooring charge will be €300, according to what I read. Under that mooring charge, is there provision of or access to those services all year round?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

No. Winter mooring provides no services apart from a safe harbour for a person's boat. Winter moorings only apply to the Shannon navigation. On the Shannon navigation, we are very conscious of the fact that there is already a large offering from private marina owners who have made an investment in their marinas. The last thing Waterways Ireland wants to do is to in any way undermine or undercut the offering provided by those marinas. As I said, there are 9,000 registered boats on the system. Last year, approximately 150 winter moorings were availed of on the Shannon navigation. The private sector is in that space.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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To clarify what was said earlier, it was referenced that boat movements were captured by lock activations, but that quite a number of movements do not go through locks. They just use a section of a waterway. Do such boats load in, use it and then load out, or are they there temporarily, permanently, illegally, or whatever you want to call it?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

I will take Lough Derg as an example. It is the second largest lake on the island. People do not necessarily go through a lock on Lough Derg ever, if they have a boat. There is a necklace of harbours and facilities right around the lake, which covers three counties, and people might never leave the lake. Therefore, they never go through the lock at Athlone or Victoria. The north Shannon is a little different in that while it has Lough Key and Lough Allen, there is a series of locks to get people down to Lough Ree. That is where we count the boat traffic, it you like.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Mr. Rowe referenced the table in appendix 1. Is that in a published document or was that just-----

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

It is in the document we sent to the committee.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Is that available to the general public or was it just sent to members? I think that would be helpful-----

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

We will publish it.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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It would be helpful just for that clarification.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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I also extend my sympathies to the families and friends of those who died at the Grand Canal.

I will ask about a couple of things. How much money has been spent on erecting fencing at the canals? How much longer will the fencing be left in place? Would the money not be better spent on fixing services and improving infrastructure? Is anything being done to keep homeless people who are sleeping on the canals safe, beyond spending money on the erection of fencing? Are there any safety concerns with respect to the fencing as regards impeding access to the canals? I have a second set of questions I will also ask.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

I thank the Deputy for his questions. Since 9 May 2024, we have had to remove more than 330 tents. In fact, today we removed another 30 tents from the Grand Canal. It is a very unfortunate situation that we find ourselves in, but paramount to us in Waterways Ireland is the health and safety of those who have unfortunately ended up rough sleeping. The tragic events of last Saturday have brought into focus how dangerous it is to have tented encampments along water. The erection of fencing is a direct result of our determination and risk assessments regarding having tented encampments along the canals.

We have spent upwards of €145,000 to date on the clearing of those more than 360 tents and the erection of fencing. We have undertaken an options exercise on the fencing. The option we are looking at is the acceleration of plans we already had in place with Dublin City Council around animation and activation of stretches of the canals, particularly the Grand Canal. That will not alleviate the situation but may take some of the pressure off it in that if more people use the canals, the towpaths along them, and the amenity that is the canals, then the likelihood of tented encampments may reduce. We are also looking at the introduction of various biodiversity measures as part of that same programme, landscaping, and more street furniture, such as seating, sculptures, etc. Unfortunately, however, fencing will have to remain in those areas that we find tented encampments springing up on. It is there to protect those people in the tented encampments.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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Might the fencing remain in place indefinitely?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

As I said, we undertook an options exercise that looked at the various options we had regarding the situation we find ourselves in. The option we are currently accelerating is around enhancement, and an animation and activation programme, on stretches of the canal.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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I will read a few excerpts from an email I got recently from someone who lives at the Castleknock lock. It states:

I have complained for many years in writing to Waterways Ireland about the severe lack of maintenance. The twelfth lock, Castleknock, is the second largest live-aboard community after Sallins, with over 35 people living here of which seven are children under the age of five. However, Waterways Ireland refuses to fix the existing tap because we are not a priority for location of a water tap.

It goes on to state:

Fixing the water tap only requires Waterways Ireland’s permission, as Irish Water committed to fix it for free if Waterways Ireland provided written permission, which they’ve refused to provide for many years now. Meanwhile, 35 people are taking raw water from the canal.

Is this correct?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

I do not know. I do not know whether there is an issue with water at Castleknock, but I will certainly take it away and have a look. Off the top of my head-----

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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It is just an incredible situation for 35 families, including seven children, not to have access to water simply because Waterways Ireland is refusing to give written permission, while Uisce Éireann is willing to fix that at no cost to Waterways Ireland.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

I will have to come back to the Deputy on that one.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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It is a potential infringement of people's human rights to access safe water. As it is very serious, I would be grateful were Mr. Rowe to come back to the committee on it and on what steps his organisation will take to address that. There is no excuse for that at all.

We got a huge amount of correspondence on this issue but one thing that was raised is we were told that at present, people who contact Waterways Ireland about having a boat lifted onto a canal are told there is a moratorium on this until the new by-laws are in place. Is it the case there is a moratorium on boats being lifted onto a canal?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

No. We are asking for people to contact with us and to seek our permission to put boats onto the system. We had a situation, unfortunately, on the Royal Canal, where boats were being placed on the system without our permission using a crane. That damaged the towpaths and the crane ended up in the canal.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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There is no moratorium on getting boats in then.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

No, but we need-----

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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People to make contact.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

-----written authorisation and our supervision of it. Our canals are fragile pieces of infrastructure and highly sensitive from an ecological perspective and we need to protect that.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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I have no issue with it being done correctly but it is good there is clarification there.

Under the current by-laws, all boats are treated the same whether they are lived on or not. Are there examples in other European countries where there is a distinction made?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

In England, Scotland and continental Europe. I quoted earlier the houseboat charges, for example, put in place by Scottish Canals. There is a very robust system. In England there is the Canal and River Trust and there is a large houseboat population provided for under houseboat permits.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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Going back to the situation in Castleknock, given there is such a big live-aboard community there, does Mr. Rowe not think his organisation should know what the situation is with respect to access to water for the community there? I do not expect him to know all the detail of everything around the country but this is the second-biggest community and it is about their access to water. It is not insignificant.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

I agree with the Deputy and as I said, I will take that away and have a look at it. My understanding of the houseboat situation in Castleknock is that it is unregulated and that no planning permission is in place for it. It is, however, one of the sites we have identified under our investment programme. We will go to planning and seek through the planning process the designation of Castleknock as a houseboat location and for the needed infrastructure to be put in there. I will certainly come back to the Deputy on the tap.

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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I thank Mr. Rowe for his opening statement. A couple of questions arise. Let us go back to the very large commercial developments that happened over the years. I accept many of them have been there for the best part of a generation in some cases. Mr. Rowe said 30 years and more. My limited knowledge of the civil law around this is that it is about whether a development is there without any challenge for 30 years. Were there no situations where either Waterways Ireland or its predecessors challenged any of these? Were legal letters never sent to people asking what is happening with a huge development built on the foreshore of a lake or river? Was it just completely ignored over that time?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

The unit we have established is not only undertaking surveys of the physical infrastructure but also is doing a trawl of the various files and paperwork attached to it. The 55 active cases currently being dealt with are being dealt with through that process. A lot of the files in Waterways Ireland, as the Deputy might understand, came across from various other organisations.

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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I understand that.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

We were a product of five different organisations on our establishment. Garnering and collecting all that data and information is a laborious process but one the team is going through at pace.

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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I accept that. The anomaly here people cannot get their heads around is we have had all this happening for so long with, as Mr. Rowe says, little or nothing save the setting-up of a unit to deal with it only in the last 12 months, yet we have such a vigorous pursuit of people who have a boat on the river or who have a boat on the canal. We all know about the housing crisis in the country. People cannot get their heads around why Waterways Ireland is so adamant it is going to deal with that issue while it has ignored the other one for so long. That is the big thing people cannot grasp. Does Mr. Rowe understand why people would be scratching their heads about this?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

I understand it but the by-laws are also a legacy issue. They are over 32 years old. The encroachments are a legacy issue and we are applying the same vigour to both processes. It is fair to say that when we were established, some of the legacy issues we were dealing with were around property issues on the Royal Canal and Grand Canal. We restored the Royal Canal and undertook the first registration of the entire property along it. It is important we understand we had legacy issues about property right across the navigations. We are dealing with the Shannon now in an accelerated way. We have 430 alleged encroachments and are actively working on 55 in the first year of this new encroachments team we have established.

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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All right. Mr. Rowe mentioned the user base earlier, I think in response to Deputy Creed. Waterways Ireland basically includes everybody, from people who walk along the river or canal to those who use it regularly to people who make their living from it. They are all part of the user base. Surely there has to be a distinction when it comes to use of the river. The "public good" delivered is mentioned in the opening statement. Surely one of the main aspects of the public good is public access.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

Yes.

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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It is ensuring there is public access and that public access is something that is there and is free and available to everyone. If I were to put a boat in Garadice Lough in County Leitrim, which the canal runs through, Mr. Rowe is telling me there is going to be a charge for it, yet if I go up the road and put a boat in Keeldra Lough, which is not part of the canal, there will be no charge. Where does the public access come in there? How can we say to the public it depends on which bit of water they put their boat on?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

Historically, we have had a permit in place on the Royal Canal, Grand Canal and the Barrow navigation. That permit was set at €127, which was £100 in punts, over 30 years ago. Our ambition is that there would be a similar permit across the network of 1,100 km of waterway we manage. At the moment, the proposal is to raise that permit fee from €127 to €200 and apply it not only to the eastern region or as we call it the Barrow and the Royal and Grand canals, but also to the Shannon, Shannon-Erne and Ulster Canal. Once we have completed the process of the by-laws in this jurisdiction, we will move to the Northern jurisdiction where the Erne by-laws will also be updated. A similar update will be applied across all 1,100 km of inland navigation.

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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Mr. Rowe talks of the €200, but he says his organisation is reviewing that in the context of all the-----

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

The ask from-----

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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-----the pressure that has come on. He says it is a while off going to the Department. How long is "a while off"? Are we talking about going into the next year or about a number of weeks or months?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

We started this process over 18 months ago. Our first iteration of the by-laws went through a lengthy process of stakeholder engagement and consultation. It took us the guts of eight weeks, or maybe longer, to come back with the second phase, so it will take us a period of weeks to robustly review, in the context of the ask from our parent Department, taking in that broader perspective, especially around inflationary pressures and indeed the pressures in the leisure and tourism sector. It is going to take us some time to review those fees again but I hope that early in the autumn, we will have that work completed and will be able to submit those and publish them.

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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Returning to that, I live in an area which has a lot of boats. The Shannon flows through it. There is a general consensus among people in the tourism sector, restaurateurs and people in the bars, even in the smallest villages along the area, that there is not the number of people using the boats as in the past and that the number of people is well down and that certainly in the last decade, there has been a marked decrease. I note that Mr. Rowe said boats on the Shannon have gone up from 6,000 to 9,000. What evidence is there of that? Is there anything we can stand over to show that? The boats we are talking about here are boats that people will stay on for a weekend or a few days. We are talking about cruisers. Those are the ones that are valuable to that sector. Those numbers do not seem to match the experience of people on the ground.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

We have a registration system under the Shannon Navigation Act. Those figures are from that registration system. It has grown from 6,000 to 9,000. However, I agree the market trends have changed, as I said earlier. People are not taking a week, ten days or two weeks on the Shannon. They are doing short breaks and shorter stints. Particularly from Thursdays to Sundays, one will see much more traffic on the Shannon than on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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On the canals and people who live on them, I noted Mr. Rowe’s comment that he welcomes people coming to live on the canals and for people to live on boats. Again, the experience of people who have done or are doing that is that they do not feel very welcome.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

It has to be managed. We only have 32 serviced moorings available. We are in a brownfield site. We have an investment programme to increase that to at least 170 over the next five years and potentially an additional 170 offline marinas that would service the growing houseboat community. We welcome all users to our waterways.

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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If Mr. Rowe is saying that Waterways Ireland welcomes all users, and there is an investment programme there to make services available, how appropriate is it to put charges in place before those services are available?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

The charges we are proposing are for the serviced sites. None of the charges that apply for serviced sites would be applied to unserviced sites. If someone is on a serviced site in a rural area it is €1,000 but we only have eight of those berths available. We need to invest in the infrastructure, and that will cost upwards of €12 million, and once those serviced sites are available those fees apply. However, those fees do not apply if we do not have a serviced site to offer the person. One cannot charge a service permit and we would not attempt to either.

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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On the number living on boats on the canals, particularly those in the city centre or near it, again, I expect the tragedy of last weekend is in almost everyone’s mind. What is Waterways Ireland’s position in relation to number of those boats that are available and expanding or growing that or curtailing it?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

We are looking to double the number of serviced moorings in the greater Dublin area.

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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To double it by when?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

It is subject to planning, first. Second, there is a storm-water overflow pipe that Uisce Éireann is currently working on to move it through the Grand Canal Basin. It received planning permission from An Bord Pleanála just last year. That development must take place before we can double the mooring capacity in Grand Canal Dock.

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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I think we were clear that the by-laws will not go to the Department for some time. We are coming into holiday season. It is likely that we will be back sitting before it happens. It will more than likely be the middle of September by what I hear, because of the amount of work that is to be done. It would be appropriate before it went to the Department, if the committee was in agreement, that Waterways Ireland would come back in with that to us for discussion then. Would that be appropriate?

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I was going to say something similar. It is something we will consider.

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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I know I am not a member of the committee but I am just making the point.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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It is something the committee has agreed to consider. I do not know what the process is on presenting documents for the Minister to the committee first. The general consensus is that it should be presented to the Minister but we will definitely be part of that process. We will discuss that in private session and try to work it into the schedule.

I thank Deputy Kenny and now call Deputy Canney.

Photo of Seán CanneySeán Canney (Galway East, Independent)
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I welcome Mr. Rowe and Mr. Harkin. I am not a member of the committee but I have an interest, some might say a vested interest, in waterways especially in my constituency. Listening to the conversation about by-laws and about infrastructure, it is most appropriate that I was at a meeting last night chaired by Charlie Killeen, who Mr. Rowe will know well, at Eyrecourt. It was discussing the Meelick Weir and infrastructure that is required there. Waterways Ireland has put in place one of the finest gems in our constituency in terms of waterway amenities in the weir that goes across. It is absolutely brilliant. It is a victim of its own success in that there are many people who use it and talk about it and then come back again and again to see what it going on. It is a unique project. I compliment Waterways Ireland on that first. I understand that the main priority was to get the connection between Offaly and Galway going again, if not in sporting terms but in waterways. The meeting last night was to discuss where we are now and what we are doing. I understand public toilets are being constructed at Victoria Lock and they will be open in the coming weeks. It is important signage is put in on the Galway or Eyrecourt side so that people know where the toilets are because at the moment they are knocking on the door of a neighbour to use a toilet. There was a good number there and they were all very positively disposed to what Waterways Ireland is doing but they would like to see more of the infrastructure and back-up infrastructure such as showers and signage. Another thing, which was mentioned earlier, is waste which accumulates around the place as well as campsites. There is some barbecuing there and fires, etc. There is a bit of a plan to put in place to make sure that everything is working properly. The other thing that came up was accessibility for people with disabilities and wheelchairs and to look at the gates going onto the weir onto the walkway. While everything is very positive, people were asking for a lot of things.

Needless to say, the Martello tower came into the equation and what is happening there. I understand some planning and drawings are being done and there is an environmental thing to be done. The committee was saying that it would like to have engagement at some stage with Waterways Ireland to see exactly what the plans are and to discuss everything that we discussed last night. The committee wants to help. Mr. Rowe might know the people involved in it. They are good people who want to see progress and want to make sure it is done for the right reasons. There is probably a call for Galway County Council to come in too to create a partnership because it owns some ground there that might be of use for parking or whatever. We could enhance what is there by putting in some services and also increase the numbers visiting the area and the economic dividend from that.

While I am talking about that, the works Waterways Ireland has done in Portumna are also a great credit to it, as well as to the people of Portumna who have looked for it for years. It has now been put in place and it is a credit to everybody. It is infrastructure that will remain in place for the benefit of the people, not just locally but those visiting. It is great to see that happening.

I look forward to seeing publication of the by-laws and to seeing where they are at along with the charges.

With regard to Waterways Ireland’s role, it cannot just be working off nothing or fresh air; it has to have some sort of income that is reasonable. A few times, I have come across the issue of electricity supply during the winter for somebody berthing with no place else to go. This is something we might consider in the interim. Last night’s meeting was a good one and it would be great to have a further gathering with the representatives to see what we might do.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

I thank the Deputy. With regard to the public toilets, the Deputy is right. We should have them open within the next two to three weeks at Victoria Lock and the old lockhouse, which is a beautiful structure. Very sensitive works are ongoing inside the structure, a protected structure, to ensure not only that we protect the structure but also that we provide the facilities and services required.

We are a victim of our own success. We never thought we would have the numbers now using the walkway at Meelick. I will certainly take this up with the regional manager, perhaps with regard to providing some additional facilities at the small marina, such as barbecue facilities, picnic benches and signage, which the Deputy has mentioned.

With regard to Martello towers, the committee might be surprised to hear that Waterways Ireland owns two on the Shannon. Such towers were built by the British right along the coastline to keep the French from invading Ireland. One might ask why towers were built on the Shannon. I suppose the thinking was that the French could have Connacht but would be stopped at the Shannon. All joking aside, we own the Martello tower at Meelick and have ambitious plans for it. In the first instance, we would like to open up a pathway so people can explore it. It is a hidden gem. In the longer term, we hope it can be opened up as some kind of visitor attraction. We have the designs for the walkways almost complete and the environmental assessments. We are in the special area of conservation, SAC, so the bar is higher, and rightly so. We hope to advance these over the next year. We will certainly sit down with the committee members and Charlie Killeen and take him through the proposals. I thank the Deputy.

Photo of Vincent P MartinVincent P Martin (Green Party)
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I welcome Mr. Harkin and Mr. Rowe and thank them once again for their generosity in making themselves available. I commend them for the work they are doing on what I hope will make the Martello towers in their ownership accessible to the public.

My first question is on the powers of Waterways Ireland in setting the fees, tolls and charges. The representatives will accept that the exercise of a delegated power, such as that of Waterways Ireland, in setting fees, tolls and charges for mooring under section 7 of the Canals Act, as amended, has to be carried out within the constraints of the delegated power conferred by the Oireachtas. I am referring to secondary legislation, not a carte blanche, and there are strictures on it. I am sure the representatives accept that. The intention of the Legislature has to be fully kept in focus, which the Legislature expressly or implicitly authorises Waterways Ireland to do. In other words, the legislation does not leave Waterways Ireland at large with complete discretion to decide which factors are taken into account in setting the fee, toll or charge. The terms of the Canals Act, as amended, make clear that the setting of a fee, toll or charge in respect of the use of the canals under the legislation is to take place in the context of the performance of Waterways Ireland’s duties of care, management, maintenance, control and regulation of the use of the canals.

While I am flagging this with the gentleman today, I do not expect a substantive answer today, but I believe they did receive a legal opinion after the consultation deadline closed. The basis for arriving at the fees Waterways Ireland proposes to charge is the KPMG report and, as a consequence, Waterways Ireland, in its proposal, focuses on local property prices explicitly as comprising the critical relevant factor in the setting of fees related to mooring, with the stated objective of generating funds for “expensive development works”. The legal opinion, which is that of an eminent senior counsel, Mr. Jonathan Newman, who is not prone to hyperbole, is ambiguous. My question for the witnesses, which is not a detailed one to catch them out or ambush them, concerns the legal opinion. I am not asking them to comment on it today as they are not lawyers, but would they, at the very least, get their own legal opinion from someone of the rank of senior counsel? Have they done that?

The conclusion of Mr. Newman states the fees envisaged by the Oireachtas under the relevant legislation appeared to be concerned with the proper operation and regulation of the canal system rather than the funding of its future development. No one wants Waterways Ireland to fall foul of the law, and it would be inadvertent if it did. I am not implying anything other than that the organisation is doing its very best and I am not saying there is no goodwill on Waterways Ireland's part, but there is precedence in this country, jurisprudence, indicating that organisations like Waterways Ireland sometimes overreach and usurp, through statutory interpretation, the primary intention of the sovereign Parliament when given their powers. Mr. Jonathan Newman concludes there is a substantial and very real risk that the adoption of the proposed by-laws is, in respect of moving fees, beyond the powers of Waterways Ireland, as provided for in the Canals Act, and that a court might so determine were the by-laws to be challenged on the grounds set out. I am reading from an opinion that is not marked private and confidential, nor is it privileged. I have privilege in this House anyway but I am here to be helpful. There is no extant court case. I would like the witnesses to comment on this.

My second question, which I flagged with the representatives before, concerns a perceived difficulty, as the expert said, in how Waterways Ireland arrived at the basis for the legal powers for arriving at the fee. I am referring to the rationale behind how it arrived at that fee. With regard to the fee itself, for somebody along the suburban canals with no service, the increase is 693%, albeit coming from a very low base. For serviced moorings in Sallins, the increase is of 440%. I said the last day that some can pay - there is no doubting that – but in Kildare, where I live and where there are canals, some cannot pay. Why does Waterways Ireland not move away from the one-size-fits-all approach and do something more humane like what is done with the TV licence, in respect of which there are exemptions, and in the issuing of medical cards, where age, ability to pay, financial reality and sickness are considered? Some people are elderly and may have difficulty paying. What is Waterways Ireland’s system? What can it tell those affected today? I invited the witnesses to address this on the last occasion and am repeating the invitation today. Waterways Ireland must not have an ad hoc response to the effect that it will do its best, be compassionate and hear someone out if they ring up. That is not indicative of a national scheme or system of the kind that pertains to the two examples I have given, which take into account the reality of people’s circumstances. I would be grateful for answers to my two questions. I thank the Chair for his indulgence.

Mr. Patrick Harkin:

I will take the first part of the Senator’s question and Mr. Rowe will take the second part.

We have read the legal opinion of Mr. Jonathan Newman in great detail. That legal opinion was based on one document, the KPMG document. It is based solely on that document and no other factors were considered, whereas Waterways Ireland has taken many factors into consideration in arriving at the fee of €4,000.

KPMG, for example, has quoted a figure of €7,800 for Grand Canal Dock but we took into consideration that the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland had proposed fees and that the Grand Canal Dock residents made a proposal to us on what fees they were prepared to pay in Grand Canal Dock. We also took on board 1,799 submissions across the waterways. All of those factors were taken on board before we arrived at a figure of €4,000. As Mr. Rowe said, we are reviewing that €4,000 figure again.

I fully appreciate and respect the legal opinion from Jonathan Newman SC but it was based on one document and not on the totality of the documents and submissions we received. Our proposed fee, as far as our legal team is concerned, is legally correct. We are not basing it on what Mr. Newman figured, which was on development. That addresses that part of the question.

I will go through some of the figures to show how we arrived at a figure of €4,000. For Grand Canal Dock, on which the KPMG legal opinion was based, the fee is €578 at the minute.

Photo of Vincent P MartinVincent P Martin (Green Party)
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Is Waterways Ireland not resiling from KPMG? Is that still Waterways Ireland main-----

Mr. Patrick Harkin:

We are taking all of these issues into consideration, in their totality. We have KPMG, the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland, the submission from the Grand Canal Dock residents and submissions from all the houseboat people on the canals. We arrived at a figure of €4,000 from those. I appreciate the legal opinion but there is a lot more to it than just a single document.

Photo of Vincent P MartinVincent P Martin (Green Party)
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Waterways Ireland is on record in the media comparing and contrasting local property prices.

Mr. Patrick Harkin:

No, the Senator will see-----

Photo of Vincent P MartinVincent P Martin (Green Party)
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Waterways Ireland used that example to justify.

Mr. Patrick Harkin:

The Senator will see no reference in the by-laws to local property prices or any such like.

Photo of Vincent P MartinVincent P Martin (Green Party)
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In some of Waterways Ireland's verbal communications it refers to the great deal the boat users are getting, saying people should look at the local property prices.

Mr. Patrick Harkin:

No, we have published the by-laws today on our website. The explanatory note is there and we have this document here, which we have agreed to send to the committee. Members will then see how we arrived at this figure. We fully appreciate Jonathan Newman's legal opinion.

Photo of Vincent P MartinVincent P Martin (Green Party)
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He is a very learned counsel.

Mr. Patrick Harkin:

He is, indeed. We sent the opinion to our legal team to review it because we do not want any judicial reviews of our by-laws.

Photo of Vincent P MartinVincent P Martin (Green Party)
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The last thing we want is for this to get stalled for years in the courts.

Mr. Patrick Harkin:

That is correct. We are very conscious of not having a judicial review. That is why we have taken on board the totality of documents-----

Photo of Vincent P MartinVincent P Martin (Green Party)
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Yes.

Mr. Patrick Harkin:

-----and we arrived at €4,000, which is not far away from what was proposed by the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland and the Grand Canal Dock residents themselves.

Photo of Vincent P MartinVincent P Martin (Green Party)
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With the indulgence of the Chair, I asked a second question and I would be delighted to hear Waterways Ireland answer to it, if Mr. Rowe has time. It was on the ability to pay.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

In my opening statement I noted that the Department had suggested to us that we further consider the proposals on fees and charges, and, moreover, the rate and level of the increase, taking a slightly wider perspective by considering the inflationary pressures in the economy and the concerns reflected in the submissions, one of which is ability to pay. We indicated earlier to the committee and we have indicated to our Department that we will take that advice on board and again review the fees and charges.

Photo of Vincent P MartinVincent P Martin (Green Party)
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There will be a move towards ability to pay to take account of the reality facing families.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

We will look at-----

Photo of Vincent P MartinVincent P Martin (Green Party)
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There will not be a blanket, one-size-fits-all approach.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

I cannot make a commitment on what we may arrive at but we will take on board again those submissions among the 1,799 submissions that specifically relate to the proposed charges and fees. We will also look at the wider leisure and tourism sector, inflationary pressures and ability to pay.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I thank Senator Martin. Deputy Buckley may contribute again.

Photo of Vincent P MartinVincent P Martin (Green Party)
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I have been called to a vote in the Seanad. My apologies.

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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Deputy Flaherty referred on the 12th Lock in Castleknock. The response from the Ombudsman was that it is not a serviced houseboat mooring location and therefore is not a priority location for the provision of a water tap. It goes on to say that the Office of the Ombudsman cannot ask Waterways Ireland to act outside its remit or in contradiction to planning permission or Government by-laws.

The KPMG report states that, as a consequence, Waterways Ireland, in its proposal, fixes on local property prices as being the critical relevant factor in the setting of the price for use in the form of mooring, with the stated objective of generating funds for expensive development works. In this instance, the fee, toll or charge, or whatever one wants to call it, is being set and appears to be unrelated to carrying out the task of care, management, maintenance, control and regulation, which is part of Waterways Ireland's remit in the context in which tolls or fees are being set. The KPMG report only refers to the need to fund expensive future developments, which is not the duty in the context of collecting fees or tolls for moorings. Is that correct? This is a contradiction.

I asked Waterways Ireland a question but did not get a response to it. It has spoken again about funding and planning, as it did during its appearance before the Committee of Public Accounts. Waterways Ireland is looking for a great deal of money for these expensive future developments yet we have 70 unauthorised massive developments at the moment. Can Waterways Ireland do a costing of how much is actually being generated by these unauthorised developments and how much revenue Waterways Ireland is missing out on as a result? This is about balancing books. I am afraid that if Waterways Ireland is tying fees to the property tax, they will go up. We know the State is not getting much bang for its buck from the property tax as it stands.

My next question is on a health and safety issue. Is Waterways Ireland willing to release the names and identities of legal and authorised developments so that boat owners can know that they are paying fees that are legal, authorised and above board and that they are, therefore, going to be covered by insurance? With the way things are going, I suspect that those who are not aware and are mooring boats in unauthorised areas are not covered by insurance. That has implications, I suspect, for Waterways Ireland.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

I will start at the end and will work my way back. Our fees are fixed in the by-laws. The only way these can be changed is through the changing of the by-laws. They are not index-linked, on a scale or linked to the consumer price index, CPI.

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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It is a scale because it is like the property tax in central Dublin compared with, for example, somewhere below in Leitrim, where the property tax is much different. Does Mr. Rowe understand my point here?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

Yes.

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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Price-wise.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

The property tax is attached to the value of the property.

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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It looks like Waterways Ireland is setting the fee based on the area in which the boats are moored, namely, Dublin city centre, and it is over €4,000.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

Yes.

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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It is like tying it to-----

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

It is demand-led.

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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-----the property tax in a way. It does not state that the fee is for maintenance, management or regulation. It is for-----

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

I was just about to answer that question for the Deputy.

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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-----expensive development works. Is it double taxation? Waterways Ireland receives public moneys from both sides of the country and it receives moneys from permits. Mr. Rowe said a while ago that all the money from the permits would be reinvested. There are between 6,000 and 9,000 boats on the waterways and there should be revenue from those. Waterways Ireland only has 32 houseboat facilities but there are hundreds of unauthorised developments where Waterways Ireland is not charging any fee and is not receiving any revenue, yet we are discussing by-laws to change the charge for people who live on houseboats. We have an absolute crap-show here given the fact that nobody knows what is happening here when it comes to development charges.

Some people are being made the scapegoat, while others are collecting a lot of money. God knows whether they are paying Revenue on it, but they are getting a lot of money. People with authorised marinas are then at a disadvantage. Yet again, it is all about trying to get money in. Waterways Ireland will not even go after those people who have unauthorised developments, yet it goes after the soft boys on the boats.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

We will publish the list of legal authorised marinas.

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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That is much appreciated. I mean that.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

The fees are fixed. The only way fees can be changed is through this process of by-laws. It is 30 years or more since the by-laws were changed. We have spent 18 months trying to get the by-laws over the line. The only way the fees can be changed is through the by-laws. As an example, the fee set for the permit on the canals was £100 in Irish punts, which is the equivalent of €127. If we applied the CPI to it, that would be in the order of €288 today. We are looking at a €200 increase after 30-odd years. The fees are set.

On the Deputy's assertion regarding massive developments, for the record, we have classified the alleged encroachments of unauthorised developments as those that are under five berths, which encompasses 76% of the 430 alleged encroachments. The others are more than five berths, which is not massive.

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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I counted nearly 60 boats in Portaneena.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

I accept the Deputy's point about some but-----

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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Where is this revenue going? If this is an unauthorised development, where is the revenue going? At the same time, we are talking about by-laws and increasing riverboat and houseboat fees. I keep going back to this. It is not personal but I just cannot get my head around how, in this day and age, you cannot get a tap in Castleknock for an unserviced site without planning permission, yet 70 major developments without planning permission have gone on for years. I accept that some of these are legacy issues but I mentioned ones that have happened in the past three years. There is one near Leitrim village where there has been construction of a navigation channel marker for several boats that have been damaged there. We do not know what that will be.

I mentioned Carrick-on-Shannon where 100 m of reed bank has been dug out in the past 12 months. At Lough Derg, near Killaloe, a sizeable development has appeared in the past 12 months, encroaching on Irish Water property, and appears to be without the benefit of planning permission or encroachment licences. What do we tell the people who feel this is an unjust charge when something else is running in parallel at the same time? It should be a wonderful opportunity for Waterways Ireland to collect all that revenue. It is about improving everything, including services and so on, but why is there not an urgency to go after the fees in respect of unauthorised development instead of houseboats?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

We are applying the same urgency to both. I answered that question previously. Of the 430 alleged encroachments, we have 55 active cases. For the record, the encroachments the Deputy mentioned are all currently being dealt with. They are not historical. They are currently being dealt with by our property and legal and operations teams. We have no new encroachments in the past three years that we are not dealing with.

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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What about where there have been new encroachments? I have been told about them.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

There are always people who are trying to encroach, particularly on the Shannon. They may be looking to-----

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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I was thinking of myself. It seems to be very easy to put something there.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

If I could answer the question, my point is we are dealing with those we have come across over the past three years. That is my point. All those encroachments the Deputy listed are currently being dealt with by our property and legal team. Of the 430 historical encroachments we inherited, the vast majority of which we inherited before we were established, 55 active cases are open. The Deputy can rest assured that we will be regularising all of those and will be licensing the operations involved.

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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That is good news. I thank Mr. Rowe. I thank the Chair for his indulgence.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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For clarification and for people's information, if people become aware of an encroachment or alleged unauthorised development, what is the best process for them to engage with Waterways Ireland or the local authority? Is there a preferred option?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

They should contact both. The local authority is the planning authority and, in most cases, we are the landowner. We ask people to contact our inspectorate or any of our operational offices across the navigations.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Waterways Ireland would appreciate that.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

We would, absolutely.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Did Deputy Flaherty wish to come back in?

Photo of Joe FlahertyJoe Flaherty (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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That is okay.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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It will be Deputy O'Callaghan, myself and then Deputy Flaherty.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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During my previous contribution, Mr. Rowe said he was not aware of the situation at 12th lock, Castleknock, where Waterways Ireland has refused to give permission for the water tap to be fixed. Will he clarify his comments on that?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

I am aware that there was correspondence between us and a complainant. That ended up with the Ombudsman and a decision was made by the Ombudsman. I do not have the details of the ins and outs of it to hand. I look after 1,100 km of navigation, with various requests from different people, so I do not have the situation at Castleknock at the top of my head. We have been made aware of it through correspondence and it ended up going to the Information Commissioner.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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Mr. Rowe is aware of the issues at the lock in terms of access to water.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

I am aware of the issue, yes.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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Before coming to the meeting, Mr. Rowe was aware there were issues with access to water at Castleknock lock.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

When asked by the Deputy, I could not recall the exact instance.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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Sure, but Mr. Rowe is aware of the general issue that there is a lack of access to water at that lock.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

I am aware a houseboat community has built up at Castleknock. It does not have the facilities and services a houseboat community should have. It is our ambition to develop those facilities as part of our investment strategy, but that will be subject to planning permission from the local authority.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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Given that Mr. Rowe is now aware that Uisce Éireann has said it will fix the water tap and it just needs written permission from Waterways Ireland to do that, will he give us a commitment that he will give that written permission so that water tap can be fixed?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

I will bring it back to the senior engineer in Waterways Ireland. I will ask that person to re-evaluate and reassess to see whether we can resolve the situation.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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The current situation is that 35 people are living there, including seven children, there is a tap that could be fixed, and Uisce Éireann has agreed to take that cost. It is just awaiting written permission from Waterways Ireland so those families can access water, which is a human right. Does Mr. Rowe not think that needs urgent action? This has been going on for years. Will he give a commitment to give that written permission to Uisce Éireann so those families can access water?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

Without knowing the ins and outs and the detail, including whether there are land ownership issues or anything, I do not know. I cannot give that commitment here but I will come back to the Deputy immediately. I will talk to the senior engineer involved. If there are no impediments by way of property issues or anything like that, I will certainly ask for it to be resolved.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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Is Mr. Rowe saying that if Waterways Ireland owns the land the tap is on, it will go ahead and give permission for it to be fixed?

Mr. Patrick Harkin:

There is obviously quite a bit of activity in Castleknock. A lot of boats have built up there, where there were never any facilities. For example, there is no pump-out service there. There was a pump-out service at one time but it is not there now because it went through a hotel that is closed. It is out of our hands. There is a sewage and water quality issue there as well. This is the issue Waterways Ireland has inherited. Houseboat communities have built up in areas where we do not currently have facilities. That is why we have come up with the investment programme and need the new by-laws.

When the new by-laws are in place, we will be able to issue houseboat permits and we will have an investment strategy. Castleknock is included in the investment strategy. We will look for planning permission. I am sure there are residents in houses in Castleknock who may not be as keen on houseboats as houseboat people are. We have to balance that as well. In future, we will look for planning permission in Castleknock for fully serviced houseboat jetties with pump-out, sewerage, water, electricity and refuse facilities. We are not there yet.

We cannot be everywhere and we cannot put in services everywhere that small communities spring up. We have a community that has sprung up in Castleknock. It is very difficult for us. We are playing catch-up with communities that are springing up along our canals.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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Of course, but this is not just any community. This is the second largest liveaboard community after Sallins. It is a significant one. Given that there is simply a water tap that needs to be fixed, Uisce Éireann is going to fix it, will pay for it and all it wants is permission from Waterways Ireland to do it, will Waterways Ireland give that permission or are we going to have a situation continue where families and children do not have access to a safe water supply?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

As I said, I will take this back to the senior engineer. If there are no other impediments to it, I will certainly have the situation resolved. There is one difference between Sallins and Castleknock. Sallins has 12 fully built, serviced houseboat moorings, with all the facilities that are required and went through the planning process. Castleknock does not. It is important to understand that while Castleknock is mentioned as the second largest community of houseboats, that community has sprung up with no services available in Castleknock. We need to follow with those services.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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Did Waterways Ireland ask An Post not to deliver post to the people living on the boats in Castleknock?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

No, I am not aware of that.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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Mr. Rowe is not aware of any complaints to ComReg about that?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

I am not aware of any complaints to ComReg.

Mr. Patrick Harkin:

I am aware of a complaint that went to the Ombudsman. I am aware that the Ombudsman found in Waterways Ireland's favour regarding that matter.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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That was related to the delivery of post.

Mr. Patrick Harkin:

It was related to a general complaint about everything.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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That included delivery of post.

Mr. Patrick Harkin:

I am not sure of the specifics but the Ombudsman investigated the matter.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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Has Waterways Ireland met with the community in Castleknock to discuss these issues?

Mr. Patrick Harkin:

Yes, we met with the community during the public consultation. We had a meeting in Dublin in one of the hotels and then we had a further meeting with the Irish Residential Boat Owners Association, IRBOA, out in Newbridge. This was a specific meeting for the houseboat communities in the greater Dublin area. We then had an additional meeting with the Grand Canal dock residents in the Clayton Hotel. That is three meetings in the Dublin area with houseboat occupiers.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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Will Waterways Ireland meet with them to resolve the issues I have raised?

Mr. Patrick Harkin:

We have met with them three times.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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There is still no access to water. Will Waterways Ireland meet with them to get that resolved? Do the witnesses think access to water is important to people? These are human beings. What is Waterways Ireland going to do about it?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

Of course it is. I have answered the question. We will certainly meet with the residents.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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Does Mr. Rowe agree it is a human right for people to access water?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

Of course I do. I will take it on board to meet with-----

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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This is not even in my constituency. I have no skin in the game on this, as such. I have to say, however, that I am appalled that people wanting to access water are facing this kind of delay and obstruction.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

As I said, we are dealing with a brownfield situation, where houseboat communities have sprung up from the ground on our waterways with no services adjacent to them. It is possible that the rationale for the location of houseboats is to do with access to the city and public transport. The consideration of houseboat communities regarding access to services is not taken on board.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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I will leave it there.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Before I go back to Deputy Flaherty, the opening statement referred to a removal of a speed limit on greenways and blueways. Will the witnesses explain what the issue was there?

Mr. Patrick Harkin:

That was in phase 1 or the first phase of the by-laws. We were proposing a speed limit there for the greenways. There was significant opposition from cycling and sporting clubs, so we moved away from the speed limit and went more towards a code of conduct. There is a by-law in the draft by-laws which states individuals will behave on the greenways in a respectful manner towards other greenway users. We will also be do an education and signage programme. That particular one evoked a lot of submissions, and we removed it from the phase 2 by-laws. It has remained outside the by-laws.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Was this a consideration that some people are walking on the greenways, some are cycling, some might have a boat moored on a greenway and some might have children playing on the bank beside a greenway? A code of conduct is always a good idea, but where there are boats moored and there might be children and families, will Waterways Ireland erect signage to say "Caution: this is a residential area"?

Mr. Patrick Harkin:

Correct. The Royal Canal is a 130 km long, the longest greenway in Ireland. We are now building the Grand Canal greenway from Dublin out to Shannon Harbour. It is well developed. We then have the Barrow blueway from Lowtown down to Athy. These are getting huge usage, particularly at the weekends with families. The idea behind the speed limit was to address where you have mammy, daddy and two or three children out walking along and a cyclist or e-scooter whizzing along behind them at high speed. Quite a lot of issues were raised during phase 1 and into phase 2 at the public consultations. This is proof that we listen because we listened to the people who had issues with it. There were issues around enforceability and whether we were going to be standing with speed guns, measuring the speed of the e-scooters and bicycles. Enforceability issues would have arisen with regard to the staffing levels that would be required to man every stretch of greenway. Instead, we have gone for a code of conduct, which marries up with the greenways that already exist and are developing. We will very soon be managing approximately 600 km of greenway, so we want to get it right.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I do not see how a speed limit would be enforceable anyway. Common courtesy by people who use shared spaces is what we should be looking for there. I have a question about lockkeepers' houses. Are there many such houses still in existence? Are they still in the possession of Waterways Ireland? Lockkeepers get old and may not be needed as much anymore. When the houses are not needed, do they go back into community use or are they used as maintenance depots? What do they become?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

We have a mixture of uses for our lockhouses right across the navigations. I mentioned earlier that we are transforming a lockhouse in Victoria Lock for use as a public convenience for those who are visiting Meelick Weir and all that goes with it. We also have a group of lockhouses that are still being occupied by our lockkeepers. That system of a lockkeeper being employed by Waterways Ireland and having accommodation predates Waterways Ireland. It was discontinued before Waterways Ireland came into existence. We have lockkeepers still living in the lockhouses. We also have another cohort of lockhouses that are used by community-based or tourism-based activities and offerings, whether that is cycling hire, canoe hire, cafés, etc. We hope to have a programme of investment in the just transition area. We have an application that we are preparing for just transition to look at bringing forward further proposals regarding 16 lockhouses, particularly around their future use as potential accommodation for tourists.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I would like clarification of what I asked earlier about the investment and infrastructure. Mr. Rowe spoke about accelerated asset management programme. Is that asset investment dependent on capital funding from the Department and the fees as proposed? Are they also for capital investment as well as current and ongoing maintenance? My question goes back to the concerns that people have raised regarding when these facilities will be in place. How long is it going to take? My experience generally is that people are willing to pay for good services and facilities. If they can, they are willing to pay for them. Are we dependent on the Minister or Government of the day to ensure the capital investment from the parent Department is available for the substantial part of the infrastructure investment?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

The way we are funded is that 85% of our recurrent funding comes from this jurisdiction and 15% comes from the Northern Ireland jurisdiction.

That is for our day-to-day work. It is based on the proportion of waterway in each jurisdiction. When it comes to capital investment, the capital comes fully from our parent Department in either jurisdiction for the development in that jurisdiction. We are very fortunate that we have grown the capital envelope quite substantially over the last three years, which was voted through the Houses of the Oireachtas to our Minister and to ourselves. We now have a record €16.5 million of capital, which is currently being invested in two main ways. One way is through the asset management programme. This programme is based on inspection and priority rating. It deals with weir lock structures, lock houses, embankments and all of the other assets that maintain the navigations. The second, smaller tranche is used primarily in leveraging third party funding through the just transition fund, Fáilte Ireland, the rural regeneration and development fund and other outdoor recreational infrastructure schemes to allow us to develop new assets.

Our investment programme for the house boats will look at accelerated investment of 170 house boat moorings across a number of locations right across the canal network. Two of those are currently in design stage and we hope to have them in planning early next year. There is a long lead-in time to any development. It takes a number of years to go from concept design to environmental planning and then to execution. In many ways, execution is the shortest part of the entire cycle, but the process must be adhered to and it must be robust.

Places like Castleknock, Pike Bridge, Sallins and Hazelhatch were mentioned earlier. They require detailed design and environmental planning before we can go into planning. The capital associated with that is an ask we have to our parent Department as part of the budgetary cycle for that Department.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Tullamore pumping station or something similar was referenced. When someone reports an asset not working, being faulty or out of order, what kind of asset management system does Waterways Ireland have in place? Is someone given what is generally referred to as a ticket number for that? If people ring in to most utility companies, they are assigned a ticket or a fault number which can be tracked. Does Waterways Ireland have an internal tracking system for how it manages assets, faults and maintenance? Correspondence I have received claims that stuff has been out of order for ages. If it is a Waterways Ireland-approved facility, how does it track its response and maintenance of those assets?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

As I mentioned, we have an asset management programme. We have built a lot of processes and procedures behind that. Part of that includes the tracking of the maintenance aspect, which is currently being delivered through our operations teams. We have our cyclical maintenance which happens at regular intervals and includes weed cutting, grass cutting, hedge cutting, etc. We then have the reactive type of maintenance which the Cathaoirleach has described. That gets fed into the operational teams. Each navigation has a number of operational teams and the work is proportioned based on what comes out of the assessment management programme from a maintenance perspective and what comes through as part of reactive or cyclical maintenance. There is a lot of maintenance being dealt with by the teams on each of the navigations. That is the internal system. We hope, over time, as part of our asset management programme, to be able to deliver inputs and outputs insofar as receiving inputs from our customers, that is, those using the waterways, and be able to provide the same kind of outputs that one can expect that facility to be fixed by etc. However, we are not there yet.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Okay. That would give some reassurance to some people to know that. Mr. Rowe talked about the capital funding, the strategy Waterways Ireland has and what it hopes to try to achieve. It has an asset maintenance programme, which probably focuses more on safety, reliability and the functionality of the different-----

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

Yes.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Whereas Waterways Ireland is going to proceed with the facilities aspect of it as well. The experience of a resident or visitor can be affected by the workings of a facility, more so than the reliability of a lock operating on the first press of a button.

Photo of Joe FlahertyJoe Flaherty (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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I wish to make a clarification in case it is thought I do not understand or appreciate the great work Waterways Ireland does. Obviously, in my constituency, we see the ongoing restoration of the Royal Canal, the transformation and development of Richmond harbour in Cloondara and the ongoing development and integration of boating and recreational facilities at Abbeyshrule, as well as the planned water-based attraction at the Red Bridge, Ballymahon. All of those are to be commended.

However - and this has probably been referenced already - Leitrim County Council passed two notices of motions yesterday and directed the council to contact two senior Ministers in relation to Waterways Ireland and its by-laws. The council has asked the Minister for housing, Deputy O'Brien, to halt the implementation of Waterways Ireland's new by-laws which herald the introduction of new charges and regulations that will have a detrimental impact on cruiser traffic on the River Shannon. It says traffic is down by 50% this year. It is not just my view; it is the view of people looking at and living on the river and those who are dependent on the river for a livelihood. The council has also sent a similar notice of motion to the Minister for tourism, Deputy Martin.

I welcome the intervention of the Department which has asked Waterways Ireland to look again at the cost. It is fair to say its by-laws should not go back unless the costings are tweaked. I am heartened by the fact that Waterways Ireland has come to the Oireachtas so often to discuss this matter. I understand there are some informal discussions under way and I hope it can engage with boat owners on this specific point.

Mr. Rowe said there has been an increase from 6,000 to 9,000 in the number of private boat users. Using the €200 model, that is €1.8 million per year, which is significant coin in any man's language. It is probably excessive at a time when there is a legitimate concern that the use of the River Shannon is in decline, notwithstanding Mr. Rowe's statistics with regard to private boat users. There is a middle ground in relation to the charge, which is probably €100. The boating community would certainly be able to live with that. As I said, Waterways Ireland has been fulsome in the consultation process and it has done everything it needs to do to engage with the boating community.

In its online survey, 82 of the respondents said they strongly disagreed with the annual registration fee of €200. That is 62%. For both the Cathaoirleach and I, if we were getting a 62% approval rate, we would be very happy with that. Therefore, the users of a service are telling Waterways Ireland they are not happy with a €200 charge. If there is a take-away from this, it is that Waterways Ireland is proposing a lot of good things and there is a lot of good things in the by-laws - boat users on the River Shannon will say that - but the one that is going to be a catalyst for anger and which is causing a large amount of disquiet and concern is that €200 charge. I hope there can be engagement with those boat users and that Waterways Ireland will engage with them on the proposals they have put forward. If we can hit on that major figure of €100 annual charges, everyone would be sásta ar fad.

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

I thank Deputy Flaherty for his comments. He will be delighted to hear that Red Bridge jetties are open and functioning. It was a lovely investment scheme that Waterways Ireland, the local authority and Fáilte Ireland put together to bring navigation to Red Bridge beside Ballymahon where it never existed before. I thank him for his comments.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I thank Deputy Flaherty.

I want to address a couple of issues we discussed earlier. Mr. Rowe said Waterways Ireland would publish the fees list in appendix 1 that we referred to so that everyone can have clarity on that. He responded in detail to the Castleknock query. Please come back to us on the kWh rate for electricity when he has time to consider it. Please also provide a list of authorised moorings that Waterways Ireland has agreed to publish. Deputy Flaherty has been engaged with the Minister on this, as others have been as well. It is my understanding that the draft by-laws are with the Minister for further consideration and further interaction with Waterways Ireland on them. Is that correct?

Mr. Éanna Rowe:

Yes, we have been asked by the Department to reconsider the fee proposals, as I outlined, so it is on our desk. When that is completed, the statutory process requires us to submit them to the Department and then the Department will decide what it will do.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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The committee has made it clear that it wants to continue this engagement with Waterways Ireland and the Department. We will discuss how we will proceed with that in our private meeting. I thank Mr. Harkin and Mr. Rowe. They have both appeared before the committee three times and they have spent a considerable time on the matter. It is important to a lot of people so we thank them for their time and consultation on this.

The joint committee adjourned at 5.31 p.m. until 1.30 p.m. on Thursday, 11 July 2024.