Thursday, 30 May 2013
Inland Waterways Development
10. To ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht his plans for capital investment in Waterways Ireland in the coming year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26149/13]
Waterways Ireland is the largest of the six North-South Implementation Bodies established under the British-Irish Agreement of December 1999. It is responsible for the management, maintenance, development and restoration of the inland navigable waterway system throughout the island, principally for recreational purposes.
Waterways Ireland has responsibility for approximately 1,000 km of navigable waterways comprising of the Shannon-Erne Waterway, the Shannon Navigation, the Barrow Navigation, the Grand Canal, the Royal Canal, the Erne system and the Lower Bann Navigation. In 2007, Waterways Ireland’s remit was extended by the North-South Ministerial Council to include responsibility for the restoration of the Ulster Canal between Clones and Upper Lough Erne.
While the Waterways Ireland 2013 business plan and budget is the subject of ongoing discussions with the co-sponsoring Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in Northern Ireland and will require formal approval by the North-South Ministerial Council, I have provided an indicative funding allocation of €4.071 million to Waterways Ireland for capital projects in this jurisdiction in the coming year. This will facilitate capital works by Waterways Ireland in developing, restoring and improving infrastructure for water based and activity recreation and tourism, consolidating facilitates and improving access to the waterways across the navigations.
I am advised that the Waterways Ireland draft 2013 business plan has a development schedule providing for 1354 m of additional moorings across the navigations. Works planned within this jurisdiction include a range of major projects such as upgrading Bagenalstown Lock on the Barrow; provision of a slipway and stabilisation of the dock walls at Grand Canal Dock, dredging the Grand Canal; development of houseboat facilities at Lowtown and Sallins; lifting the bridge at Tullamore depot; bridge upgrades, works on weirs and locks on the Shannon; and commencement of work on the Belturbet Service Block on the Shannon Erne and purchase of plant and machinery.
Waterways Ireland continues to work within the funding available to continue to improve facilities across the waterways network.
I welcome the many positive developments to which the Minister referred but one of our concerns is that since 2011 the funding available for Waterways Ireland has been cut from €35 million to approximately €32 million.
Studies over the years have shown that waterways tourism is one of the activities that is most likely to generate return visits. As a regular user of places like the Shannon Navigation, one never ceases to be amazed at the number of non-nationals one meets on that waterway who have been coming back to Ireland year in, year out. I wonder to what extent the funding the Minister has available to him should be augmented by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. These waterways are of immense value to the local populations privileged to live in the catchment area of each amenity, along with their huge tourism importance. What sort of interaction does the Minister have with tourism bodies north of the Border and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport? Is anything planned for the waterways under the auspices of The Gathering?
I have seen for myself the provision the provision of moorings at Killaloe and Ballina. Those have made a major difference to both towns in different counties on either side of the Shannon. The result of that investment is obvious and local people would accept that.
As regards involvement from Fáilte Ireland, Waterways Ireland is augmenting Fáilte Ireland's promotion of the waterways. Waterways Ireland is providing funding on an annual basis for the promotion of tourism on its waterways. It is a North-South body, which is also very important, because Tourism Ireland promotes the entire island and the waterways network of more than 1,000 navigable kilometres can really be pushed on an all-island basis and we are doing that. I have tried to minimise the reduction in funding for Waterways Ireland because of its North-South significance and its potential and considerable work has been done. We have improved facilities for tourists so we are now ready to proactively promote this great facility.
A number of groups are actively trying to create a green way along the Boyne from the estuary to its source. The Boyne is littered with internationally recognised heritage monuments and would be a fantastic tourist attraction that would bring people into the region. People who holiday in the region visit Trim Castle and Newgrange on coach trips and as ar result Meath does not get the full value of their tourism. The Boyne Canal runs from Navan to Drogheda. It is not covered by the Waterways Ireland network. Would the Minister agree that such a canal should be brought within the ambit of Waterways Ireland, along with other canals, and would he consider the funds that might be available to help with the development of such a green way along the River Boyne?
We have no plans to extend the present 1,000 kilometres of navigable waterways. The focus of our investment in capital development will be from Clones to Lough Erne to the value of €35 million.
As regards the green way, I do not have direct responsibility but any way I can help through Waterways Ireland, I will do so. As a keen cyclist and walker, I am all for encouraging green ways wherever possible. If the Deputy has a proposal I can forward to Waterways Ireland for discussion, I will gladly take it.