Tuesday, 10 February 2015
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
131. To ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the position on the development of the Ulster canal, in view of the fact that the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in the North is awaiting approval from this State to proceed with works on the first phase of the project, which would restore the line of the canal as far as Castle Saunderson at a cost of approximately €2 to €2.5 million, with the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in the North meeting 100% of the capital cost; and the reason there has been such a delay in granting the approval necessary for preliminary works to commence. [5515/15]
My question is to find out the reason for the delay in progressing approval for the works on the first stage of the restoration programme for the Lough Erne to Clones stretch of the Ulster Canal, which is to be done at no cost to this State. I ask why we are now awaiting the grant for the first phase.
At the outset, I should make it clear to the Deputy that, contrary to the suggestion in his question, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in Northern Ireland is neither awaiting approval for, nor proposing to meet, the capital cost of the first phase of the Ulster Canal project. The facts are that in July 2007 the North-South Ministerial Council agreed to a proposal with the then Irish Government to proceed with the restoration of the Ulster Canal between Clones and Upper Lough Erne and, in that context, the Government agreed to cover the full capital costs of the project, estimated at that time to be of the order of €35 million.
Planning approval for the project has been secured from the relevant authorities in the two jurisdictions - namely, Cavan County Council, what was Clones Town Council, Monaghan County Council and the Northern Ireland planning service. An updated business case was recently completed for my Department, and options for progressing the project within the current fiscal constraints are being explored. This includes the option of enabling access from Upper Lough Erne to the International Scout Centre at Castle Saunderson near Belturbet in County Cavan at an estimated cost of some €2.5 million, including VAT as appropriate. I hope to be in a position to bring the matter forward for further consideration by the Government in the coming weeks.
I thank the Minister for the clarification and correction of what was stated in my question. However, that does not deal with why we are still awaiting physical progress on a decision that was taken in 2007 - that is, the proposal to reopen the Lough Erne to Clones section of what was a 73 km canal that went from Lough Erne to Lough Neagh. The project has potential in terms of the development of tourism and leisure activities, not just in Cavan and Monaghan but also in Fermanagh, Tyrone and Armagh, an area that has often been starved of funding and tourism. How quickly can we see progress on the section to Castle Saunderson, if it is to proceed? What about the overall proposal to deliver a restored canal to Clones?
I want to assure the Deputy that I am very familiar with this project, especially given the fact that it is in my constituency. My predecessor, Deputy Deenihan, did a lot of work on progressing this important proposal and I consider this project to be a priority for me. Planning approvals have been received for the project from the relevant authorities, as I said, in both jurisdictions. An updated business case will be completed very shortly.
I hope to bring the matter to the Cabinet in the coming weeks. I have had a number of discussions with my counterpart in Northern Ireland, Ms Carál Ní Chuilín, MLA, the Northern Ireland Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure. We both want very much to progress this project, because it is so important to the area that work on the canal be started. The first phase is to Castle Saunderson.