Wednesday, 29 May 2019
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Inland Waterways Maintenance
Positive work is being done at Meelick weir. It was damaged by floods in 2009 which caused much damage. While the work being done is welcome, it was needed to be done long before now.
The weir is a crossing point on the Shannon on an important walkway, the Beara-Breifne Way, which runs from Breifne in Leitrim to the Beara Peninsula, straight through Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands. It is important it is kept open. I know there is difficulty with doing the work outside of the summer period with the possibility of damage to the fisheries. The problem is that people using the walkway have not been informed it is closed. Many businesses, particularly tourism businesses, are directing people up the walkway as far as the bridge but they cannot cross it. Over the past several days, some tourists could not cross the river at the point. Perhaps a solution could be found to reroute users through an alternate route or have the footbridge open for certain periods of the day to enable people on hiking holidays in the region to get across it.
A simple solution can be found. I put it down as a Topical Issue matter because it was raised by the area’s Councillor Dermot Connolly with me. He told me it is a simple matter that could be resolved if raised at the right level. I trust the Minister or someone in the Department would be able to have a word with the Office of Public Works to find a solution to accommodate the work that needs to be done which is valuable and welcome, as well as accommodating the tourism industry to ensure the walkway is kept open.
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.
I thank the Minister of State for his reply. We are on the same page on this. The work is welcome but the difficulty seems to be that access through various adjacent locations is not clear to people using the walkway. If there is an issue with communication or signage, it needs to be dealt with. It probably should have been dealt with some time in advance with better communication and consultation with local tourism providers. I will tell Councillor Dermot Connolly that the Minister of State would welcome some contact for reassurance on this matter.
There is much work to be done across the Beara-Breifne Way, particularly north of Leitrim village. It would be welcome if the work could be done as speedily as possible. If reassurances can be given and better signage put in place, this issue could be easily resolved. In some of these cases, one can find individuals who do not think outside the box or do not try to find the solution when one is clearly there in front of them. Perhaps a word in the right ear might be able to resolve that issue.
I will engage with the Department and Councillor Dermot Connolly on this matter. If it is a simple issue in terms of better communication or signposting, this can certainly be dealt with.
There are different funding streams available through the rural regeneration scheme and LEADER for different sectors. I am sure the various local authorities on the Hymany Way and other routes are involved in progressing and forwarding plans and planning permissions. It is clear this will be a successful project once it is restored and will add significantly to the Hymany Way and the attractiveness of tourism in Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands. It is a wonderful project. I am sure the co-operation between the local authorities involved and the Department will continue to ensure the restoration of the full Hymany Way.