Wednesday, 26 February 2014
Inland Waterways: Statements
I welcome the Minister. Much of what I intended to say today has already been said by other Senators, so I will try not to cover the same ground again.
First, I reiterate the importance of Ireland's tourism industry. There was a small downturn in the industry for a number of years, but it is set to grow again. It is a vital part of our economy. In 2011, Ireland was voted the favourite holiday destination in the world by the readers of Farmers Guide, and it is undeniable that a contributing part of that would be our rivers and waterways. They are not just important for the tourism industry but are also navigational and economic arteries. They bring boat traffic for the tourism business and have significant amenity value to local communities. Boats are the lifeblood of communities along the waterways and we should encourage them to visit the canal navigations and waterways.
Like other Senators, I take this opportunity to commend the work done by the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland. Later I will raise issues relating to the by-laws and mooring fees. Being from Cavan, I note that the Ulster Canal has been mentioned. Can the Minister give an update on the progress of the canal?
Will the Minister update Members on the incremental progress being made by the inter-agency group on possible funding options? Has a feasibility study or any other study been conducted on the viability of the proposal to extend the Erne navigation from Belturbet to Killykeen and Killeshandra? I believe there were issues with regard to the environmental designations of the lakes. I would appreciate if the Minister would comment on this or revert to me at a later stage.
The Inland Waterways Association of Ireland, IWAI, has expressed serious concerns about the proposed by-laws. At a meeting on Monday, 10 February, it was reiterated that the proposed by-laws do not put user requirements, tourism development and local communities at the centre of the regulations. Does the Minister agree that user requirements, tourism development and the local communities are in fact at the heart of the by-laws? The by-laws will impact on the communities along the waterways. As part of the consultation process the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland, IWAI, arranged public meeting, met elected representatives, business associations and consulted with communities. A vast array of knowledge and experience was brought to bear on the consultation process and I think the Minister needs to consider the findings of IWAI. I will not develop that point further due to time constraints. My colleague Deputy Sandra McLellan tabled a question to the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht on the negative effects that increased mooring fees, annual cruising permits and annual houseboat mooring fees will have for the public. In the course of his reply the Minister said: "These seven waterways make a vital contribution to tourism". I do not think these proposals will help tourism. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that his response is balanced and takes account of the genuine concerns expressed by the IWAI, the communities they represent and all those who have been consulted on the matter.