Wednesday, 26 February 2014
Inland Waterways: Statements
I welcome the Minister enthusiastically because I am aware of the energy and commitment he puts into these matters. Both he and Waterways Ireland must be congratulated on their work and it is appropriate to record achievements such as opening up the Grand and Royal Canals in the House. However, there is the issue of maintenance and I am not sure this is always properly done.
This House is charged with scrupulously examining proposals and many questions arise from the Minister's statement and from briefings I have had from various sources. I am glad the Minister raised the question of the Naomh Éanna. I am not sure he would have raised it spontaneously, but I raised this issue yesterday because I am concerned about it, particularly because they have already started removing the brass portholes from the boat. I understand the Minister may be concerned that we have other boats, like the Jeanie Johnston and the Dunbrody, but these were replicas and cost an enormous amount of money. The Naomh Éanna is not a replica. It is an historic boat about which a programme was broadcast on Radio 1 in the past couple of weeks. It is a fully riveted unique boat of Irish construction. I agree it would cost some money to restore it, but it might then generate money as a tourist attraction. For example, it might be brought back to Galway and made into an attraction there.
I appeal to the Minister to stop the dismantling taking place currently and to ensure, at the least, that it can be reversed. A group which has previously been successfully involved in restorations of this kind wants a six-month moratorium on this so that it can get the finance to carry out a restoration. Will the Minister please provide an opportunity for this historic boat to be restored? We do not have the full original Asgard. We have absolutely nothing fully original. The two 18th century sailing ships are very interesting and I have enjoyed being on both of them, but they are not originals.
I agree there must be some regulation of houseboats and people should pay for services if they get them. If they get bin collections, water and electricity, these should be paid for. However, how can they go from a minor charge or no charge to a charge of €3,500? That is madness, as with many of the new proposed regulations. I agree Waterways Ireland has done wonderful work. I am not sure who the gentleman is who is charge of this, but he is in the Visitors Gallery. Perhaps he is the man I am smiling at. Well done to him on the work, but he should beware of killing the golden goose. If these charges are raised suddenly to the extent proposed, they will frighten people off from using our waterways. The majority of people who use the canals and waterways are not wealthy people. They are not the kind of people who have yachts worth €1 billion in Monte Carlo and elsewhere. They are ordinary people and include former Members of this House. I know, for instance, that Joe O'Toole used to talk about buzzing up and down the Shannon on his little boat. He was probably one of the wealthier people with a boat, because he had a guaranteed income here. We need to be very careful and to give serious consideration to the situation.
I have received correspondence from boat owners and they make the point that the new levy of €3,500 will be prohibitive. Do we want to kill off our own people from using our waterways? The proposed cruising permit will require boaters to move their boats every five days. Why should people be asked to move along every five days? I am not good at arithmetic, but how many five-days are there in a year? It is in or about 60. Therefore people will have to move on 60 times or more in a year. We have Travellers on land, but now the Minister is trying to create Travellers on the canals as well. This is absolutely mad. If people do not move, they will be fined €150 or will have to pay a mooring fee of €2,500.
We do not have proper moorings in many places. I would like the Minister to send his inspectors to examine the places where these people are supposed to moor. They do not exist. The facilities are not provided in these places, so why should they pay this outrageous amount of money for being told they must move along every five days? They may have to move on to a place that is just a kind of gap in the bank. It is not a marina and no facilities are provided, so why should they be charged? There is no provision either for winter mooring. One only needs to go to Dún Laoghaire to see what should be available. There, many boats are laid up for the winter and the keels are scraped and the boats are repainted and so on. Why should people be charged for boats that are laid up for the winter and must they move what may be a half-painted boat every five days? These are significant issues.
I have a letter from the New Ross boat club in which it is stated that there are very few safe places to leave a boat, apart from St. Mullins, Graiguenamanagh and Vicarstown and that there are no private marinas on the Shannon. Therefore, the five-day rule will put genuine boating people off using the waterways. The canals were built for barges and have attracted heritage barges. A barge like that is great.
It is even lovely for those like me who may not be a waterways enthusiast. They will also be in trouble.
The maddest example of all concerns the two-week Dublin waterways rally. Under the proposed by-laws, many of the groups concerned which have voluntarily supported the work of Waterways Ireland will be charged €25 to pass under the lifting bridge on the North Strand and €25 each at the two locks into the River Liffey. They will be charged the same €75 on their return journey. They will, therefore, be charged €150 for supporting this organisation. They are not going to listen to Elvis Presley. I will send on the documentation I have received to the Department.
The cruising permit may actually be illegal because it violates navigational rights in existence for nearly 800 years since 1216. Yes, we must congratulate Waterways Ireland on the work it has done, but we must not let the measure go through the House without critical scrutiny. The Minister should take on board the points raised by me on behalf of people who genuinely love messing around in boats. They should be encouraged. I thank the Minister for giving support to a recent project in Killaloe. Lord Inchiquin, a descendant of Brian Boru, and others from Killaloe were grateful for the Minister’s support for the project there.