Wednesday, 26 February 2014
Inland Waterways: Statements
I am delighted to take this opportunity to address the Seanad on the very important topic of our inland waterways and the very good work being undertaken by Waterways Ireland. I welcome the head of marketing for Waterways Ireland, Mr. Éanna Rowe, who is in the Gallery this morning. As Senators know, Waterways Ireland was established in 1999 under the British-Irish Agreement Act and is charged with the management, maintenance, development and restoration of Ireland's inland waterways, principally for recreation purposes. In total, Waterways Ireland manages some 1,000 km of waterway on both sides of the Border, including the Shannon navigation, the Erne system, the Lower Bann, the Royal and Grand canals, the Barrow navigation and the Shannon-Erne waterway, which this year celebrates 20 years since it was restored to navigation in 1994.
Since its establishment Waterways Ireland has restored the Royal Canal to navigation; opened up new cruising destinations such as Boyle and Ballinasloe; developed integrated recreational facilities at numerous locations such as Lough Key, Enniskillen, Clondra, Killaloe, Clashganny, Shannon Harbour, Enfield and Mullingar; doubled the mooring capacity on the waterways; developed a necklace of recreational services all along the waterways; placed the waterways at the centre of the tourism offering both nationally and internationally; and formulated and implemented numerous community and activity support programmes including its hugely successful sponsorship programme, its education outreach programme and its archive facility.
In fact, one of my first official engagements following my appointment as Minister was to officially open the wonderful new marina, service block and looped walk developed by Waterways Ireland in Killaloe. I witnessed at first hand that July morning in 2011 not only the fine facilities but the dynamic and active engagement between Waterways Ireland and the community of Killaloe-Ballina. I know that this deep and lasting partnership continues to flourish and was delighted to hear that Waterways Ireland is supporting and talking an active role in this year's millennium celebration of Brian Boru in Killaloe.
The benefits accruing from Ireland's inland waterways are many and varied. The waterways provide a direct as well as an indirect economic benefit. They sustain employment and they provide a social benefit as well as providing health and well-being benefits. The inland waterways support local communities, the growing recreation industry and the tourism sector as well as the local and national economies. In fact, many of the inland waterways travel through some of the most disadvantaged areas both rural and urban on the island of Ireland. The waterways are, in many instances, the only economic driver in those areas.
This year my Department will provide more than €24 million to Waterways Ireland and I know the economic benefit accruing from this investment is significant. Since its establishment in 1999, the number of boats registered with Waterways Ireland has increased by more than 50% to some 14,000 craft. Waterways Ireland, in research undertaken into the private boating sector, estimates that the sector is worth between €80 million and €100 million per annum to the national economy. In a separate study undertaken by Fáilte Ireland and Waterways Ireland into the cruise hire sector it is estimated that the sector contributes between €15 million and €20 million per annum. Waterways Ireland also supports myriad local, national and international events along the waterways and the 90 plus events supported in 2013 led to an economic boost of more than €8 million to the local economies. Waterways Ireland is planning further research later this year which will further quantify the economic and social dividend from the inland waterways.
There is no doubt also that the indirect benefits from waterway activity also contribute to the local fabric of the communities through which the waterways flow. In recent years there has been a significant growth in the number of activity centres, sail schools, canoe centres, walking and cycling offerings as well as angling hubs being established on the back of the capital and infrastructural development undertaken by Waterways Ireland. For example, following the development of an integrated harbour and service development in the small rural village of Clondra in County Longford on the Royal Canal by Waterways Ireland the village has witnessed the opening of a cruise hire base, a canoe school and a walking tour operator. Not alone that, but the community has witnessed and participates in these developments and has embraced the very positive change which the new harbour has brought to the village. This is evidenced through community engagement, voluntary participation and collective effort in all areas of the social fabric of Clondra.
Furthermore, while the waterways in question support a thriving boating and cruising sector, support and contribute to communities and contribute to the local and national economies in a significant way, the waterways also provide easily accessible, safe and welcoming leisure opportunities. The health and well-being benefits accruing to society from such leisure activities are many and varied, and the cycling and walking opportunities in particular and the general outdoor recreational environment provided by Waterways Ireland contribute in a very meaningful way to the welfare of society as a whole.
In order to maximise the economic and social benefits as described, Waterways Ireland continues to develop and promote the waterways and associated waterway activities. It continues to deepen and strengthen partnerships with other recreation and tourism agencies, its stakeholders and with the private sector. To that end Waterways Ireland continues to plan in a very strategic way the long-term development and promotion of the waterways in partnership with relevant local authorities, national tourism agencies, and the rural partnership companies as well as activity and accommodation providers through the formulation of product identification studies on the 1,000 km of waterways managed by Waterways Ireland.
Waterways Ireland has recently formulated a Draft Corporate Plan 2014-2016, which provides a strategic planning framework to guide Waterways Ireland's work programmes over the next three years. Waterways Ireland is carrying out a public consultation on its draft corporate plan until 31 March 2014. Central to its vision for the future is the development of recreational, heritage and environmental opportunities that link people, history and nature, providing both local communities and visitors with compelling reasons to spend more time in the waterways environment. It recognises that the inland waterways are an intrinsic part of our past and future. They are at the heart of community life, yet they also provide important regeneration opportunities to transform and create vibrant prosperous communities.
Waterways Ireland is the custodian of a valuable infrastructure built up over many years. One of its duties is to protect that infrastructure from risks that arise from time to time and in that context I would like to take this opportunity to address the issue of the Naomh Éanna. This vessel was purchased by the Irish Nautical Trust and moored at Grand Canal Dock in 1989, when it could no longer meet health and safety requirements to operate as a passenger-carrying vessel. Unfortunately, the ship has deteriorated substantially in the past 20 years and presents a real risk in the Grand Canal Basin in the heart of Dublin's docklands. In April 2013, a report commissioned by its owners on the hull condition of the vessel highlighted serious safety concerns. Based on the report's findings, the trust issued a notice to vacate to both of the businesses that had been operating from the vessel. Very significant investment would be required to preserve the already unstable hull of the vessel and to bring the vessel to the point where it would be safe and insurable. The ship's owners do not have access to finance on the scale required, nor is there any realistic prospect that such finance can be found. In the circumstances, Waterways Ireland offered to arrange for the removal and disposal of the ship on behalf of its owners.