Wednesday, 29 May 2019
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Inland Waterways Maintenance
I thank Deputy Martin Kenny for raising this matter which I am taking on behalf of the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan.
Meelick weir was originally built in the 1790s as part of the Shannon navigation. The weir which is over 300m in length with a 12 sluice barrage maintains and regulates the navigation level for that section of waterway between Athlone in Lough Ree and Meelick in Lough Derg. Navigation between both is through Victoria lock which is adjacent to Meelick weir. The weir and its walkway link the historic village of Meelick in County Galway to Lusmagh in County Offaly and forms part of the Hymany Way.
The weir level is increased by the installation of weir boards from an overhanging waterway to maintain an ordinary summer level for navigation while the boards are removed in winter to allow additional water conveyance outside of the boating season. The weir and its boards are an integral part of the Shannon navigation while also managing water levels and flows on the mid Shannon. The levels are managed by Waterways Ireland at Meelick in conjunction with those at Athlone and Parteen by the ESB.
In 2009, during an extreme weather event, the weir and its walkway from which the weir boards are placed and removed were extensively damaged. In the 2015-16 severe weather event, the last remnants of the walkway were destroyed. In 2012 Waterways Ireland began a design process including environmental assessment for the replacement and re-instatement of the weir, the walkway and more modern system of weir board management. In 2015 Waterways Ireland sought planning permission to replace the walkway and install a system of tilting weir boards from Offaly and Galway County Councils. Planning permission was received in 2017. In 2018 Waterways Ireland sought to appoint a competent construction company to undertake the works on its behalf and a competitive tender process was undertaken in August 2018.
On 1 March this year, I was happy to be able to announce that €3.2 million will be invested by Waterways Ireland in the restoration and replacement of the Meelick weir walkway. I had the pleasure of attending the turning of the sod for this development shortly afterwards. I am fully aware of the importance of this restoration to the counties of Galway and Offaly and, in particular, to the local communities which have been without the walkway for several years. Construction works have now commenced on site. The weir, adjacent quay and hardstanding area is currently closed to members of the public and will be for the duration of the works. Construction is due for completion by the end of this year, subject to favourable weather conditions and water levels. Access to the Beara-Breifne Way through the works site is restricted. However, alternative access to the way at various adjacent locations remains.
We are conscious this closure is impacting on the walkway but this is important and necessary work. The completed project will add immensely to the attraction of the area, safety and connection between the two villages in question. The Department has informed me that alternative ways are signposted. If the Deputy passes me on the concerns of Councillor Dermot Connolly, my former colleague, I will get the Department to respond on the alternative crossing points.