Wednesday, 26 February 2014
Inland Waterways: Statements
I welcome Ms Carmel Meegan and the representatives from the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland. I understand Waterways Ireland has discussed the by-laws with the IWAI and that IWAI works closely with Waterways Ireland in the development of many of the facilities we enjoy around the country. Having opened some of them, such as the new cruising destination at Boyle and the new marina at Ballina-Killaloe, they have changed both villages, and people such as Keith Wood would accept that his restaurant business has improved considerably since the new moorings were put in place. All those developments which have been provided in collaboration between IWAI, other organisations and Waterways Ireland are welcome.
Waterways Ireland is one of the most progressive and successful cross-Border bodies. It manages 1,000 km of waterway on both sides of the Border, most of which is in the Republic. That connectivity is very important. I work closely with my counterpart in Northern Ireland, Carál Ní Chuilín, on the Irish language and on waterways. I get great satisfaction out of this element of my Ministry as I see a positive future for the waterways in Ireland and, perhaps, extending them in the future. Senator Jim Walsh mentioned the possibility of extending to the Nore which is not part of it but, perhaps, extending it to other waterways in the future.
I acknowledge the work of the IWAI and its president and its commitment to the waterways and also in finding the right solutions. Certainly Members made very important contributions on the by-laws and other issues to which I will refer. I thank all the Senators who participated, especially Senator John Whelan and Senator John Kelly who asked for the debate. Of all the debates I have come to listen to and address, this one is opportune and it certainly informs Waterways Ireland and myself on what the by-laws are all about and the fact that they must be considered very carefully before a final decision is arrived at. I acknowledge the contributions of Senators David Norris, Terry Brennan, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Jim Walsh, John Whelan, John Kelly, Kathryn Reilly, Feargal Quinn, Paul Coghlan and Paschal Mooney, all of which were practical and helpful. I will mention a few of the issues raised.
Senator David Norris was very exercised about the Naomh Éanna.I remind the House that neither the Department nor Waterways Ireland own the Naomh Éanna. It is owned by Irish Nautical Trust and has been parked in the canal since 1989. People took an interest in it when they discovered for health and safety reasons that it had to be taken out of the canal because if it sunk it would have major environmental repercussions and also there is a good deal of asbestos on the vessel itself, which gives rise to health concerns. In view of the fact that Senator Norris appears to have some concrete proposals on this, I am prepared to extend the period within which people can come up with a proposal. As one who is interested in heritage and preservation, I will extend the time to 31 March. If any one has a concrete and realistic proposal and can show where he or she can get the money - which would be about €6 million - we can look at it. I am prepared do extend it to 31 March to see whether any concrete business plan emerges, including the source of funding, to restore the vessel and to keep it.
In the past Senator Norris made a point about the Jeanie Johnston and the Dunbrody. Preserving or restoring a vessel of this nature costs a great deal of money. Various issues were raised about the Jeanie Johnston at the time which cost in the region of €15 million. It is parked in the docklands and it attracts some interest but people have always questioned the amount invested in the Jeanie Johnston and its value. To restore and to ensure the re-use of vessels of this nature costs money. If I get a business plan, with Waterways Ireland and the other interested parties, namely, the Irish Nautical Trust, the owner of the vessel, I will certainly consider it.
As regards the by-laws, people were concerned about the length of the consultation period. That is set down in law in the Canals Act. Certainly, when 2,100 people made observations it meant it was sufficiently long. If it had been for six weeks maybe we would have got 4,000 observations. Obviously, the consultation was very successful given that it attracted so many submissions. Waterways Ireland is the body responsible for the by-laws. I have to sign off on them for the South, my counterpart has to sign-off on by-laws for the North. No doubt it will consider very carefully the submissions made but also the contributions made by the Senators today which are important. The Senators have a passion for the waterways and have a connection with them and speak with authority on them. When I get the proposals I will come back with the interested Deputies and Senators to discuss them. It is important that we have by-laws and regulations.
The regulations should enhance our waterways rather than discouraging the public from using them or even depending on them for a home. The IWAI plays an important role in that too.
A subject I am interested in is the Ulster Canal. In 2007, it was agreed by the North-South Ministerial Council that the Ulster Canal would go ahead and it was to be funded by the Republic from the sale of property in the docklands. At that stage, I suppose we were still experiencing high property values here in Dublin, the crash had not come and there was a realistic chance of getting €35 million. However, the crash then came and the funding was not available. Property prices are rising again and there may be an opportunity to commence the project. Certainly, that would be my intention. We had to go through a process of planning permission and that has now been completed. The next phase will be land acquisition. Generally speaking, people on both sides of the Border are co-operative in that sense. Land acquisition will be followed by the start of work. Waterways Ireland and my Department are exercised about this. It is something I would be delighted to be involved with during my ministry and, if it were possible, I would like to get something going. It will have my full attention in that respect.