Dáil Éireann debate –
Wednesday, 22 Jul 2020
20. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht her plans to provide additional capital funding for necessary upgrading work on the navigable inland waterways network; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17386/20]
27. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if additional capital funding will be provided to Waterways Ireland in 2020 and 2021 for the necessary upkeep and provision of additional facilities on the navigable waterways network; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17385/20]
I congratulate the Ministers on their appointments and wish them well in the important work they will be doing on behalf of all of us over the next number of years. As the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, is well aware, our inland waterways are an important natural resource and we want to ensure that we maximise them for the potential of our people and visitors to our country.
There was substantial investment in our inland waterways in the 1990s and early 2000s, and it is now time to re-energise the inland waterways investment programme, ensure we protect the investment that has already been made and prepare our inland waterways for greater traffic movement. There must be ongoing investment and the existing infrastructure must be protected.
I propose to take Questions Nos. 20 and 27 together.
Waterways Ireland’s work programme is critical to providing a safe and high-quality recreation environment for the public, while also preserving the industrial and environmental heritage of the waterways for future generations. These challenges must be balanced with the objective of increasing recreational activity across all of our waterways.
The Estimates for 2020 provide for an allocation of €25.6 million for Waterways Ireland, comprising €21.2 million in current funding and €4.38 million in capital funding, an overall increase of €546,000 on the original 2019 allocation. The funding of Waterways Ireland for 2020 is for investment in the management, maintenance and development of inland waterways under its control. Any proposed works to be carried out in 2021 are an operational matter for Waterways Ireland which will take into account its strategic business objectives for the waterways network.
Additional funding from Waterways Ireland in 2020 is not complicated by the Estimates process and it will, like other agencies under my remit, need to live within its capital allocation. As Minister, I have many competing and compelling requests for funding in 2021. I am acutely aware of the value of our inland waterways amenity and its excellent work and the excellent work carried out by Waterways Ireland.
Of particular importance is the strong community and business outreach and partnership policy that the organisation has implemented in order to engage with and deliver services for communities adjacent to waterways to create social, recreational, health and economic benefits. Inland waterways are also an intrinsic part of the Ireland’s tourism attractions and Waterways Ireland plays a key role in their marketing and promotion.
I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Over the past number of years it has been a source of concern to me that there has been a decline in boat movements on some of our inland waterways. When the Minister of State has the opportunity to meet various representative bodies I am sure he will become aware of this issue. We want to ensure that we arrest the decline in the number of people using our waterways.
When infrastructure is used it needs ongoing investment and maintenance, including repairs to banks, weirs and jetties and dredging. We would also like cycle blueways to be developed, which are a relatively recent development. I would like the Minister of State and his Department to fight hard to provide the necessary funding to ensure that there is additional capital investment in inland waterways activities.
Waterways Ireland is an all-Ireland body and we are very fortunate that our waterways are under its remit. It would send a clear message on re-energising areas that have an all-Ireland remit if we show that we are anxious to develop inland waterways and realise their potential for the benefit of our people from a recreational point of view, increasing tourism and attracting more visitors to our country.
I could not agree more with the Deputy. It is the objective of our Department to work very closely with Waterways Ireland to achieve the priorities outlined by the Deputy. I visited a fantastic project run by Waterways Ireland in Lough Allen last week. It was incredible to see how the resource is being used.
It is particularly pertinent during these Covid times that these resources are available for communities. They have been a lifeline for people’s mental health and well-being. That priority, in the discussions I have had with Waterways Ireland, will be forthcoming in its ten-year plan. I also want to advance liveaboards on the Grand and Royal Canals in Dublin. That is important and there will be a positive engagement in that regard over the next number of weeks and months.
I thank the Minister of State. I am familiar with the Drumshanbo development. The development of that great facility is a credit to everyone involved, including Waterways Ireland, the local community and statutory agencies.
The Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, and I have a particular interest in the restoration of the Ulster Canal. Some work has been done and it is essential that there is further development this year in preparing outline designs and preliminary investigatory work in order to facilitate the preparation of estimates for the restoration of a section of the canal in County Monaghan. It is a project that can be done incrementally, and each year we need to move that project on and get more work done. It has powerful potential in terms of providing more of our country with navigable waterways.
The restoration of the Ulster Canal is a long-standing commitment and goes back quite a number of years between the Northern Ireland Executive and our Government. I hope the Minister of State is able to give a commitment before the end of this year that the project will be progressed further. It has fabulous potential and is an important all-Ireland project. At a time like this, we want to send out a clear message that we are developing the economy and carrying out developments and projects on an all-Ireland basis.
I thank Deputy Smith for keeping this on the agenda. It is an important matter. I agree with the contention that the process should be incremental, because these are capital intensive projects, as I said at the outset. Budgets are limited and constrained.
I am encouraged by the positive engagement we have had with Waterways Ireland. It is very early days for me to get fully up to speed on all of these issues, but the upcoming planning process provides us with a significant opportunity to increase the usage and recreational advantage of this amenity, and develop biodiversity values of our inland waterways. They can be a recreational resource for the entire community, particularly, as I have said, as we live through these very challenging times. They are an amazing resource for local communities. I saw their tourism value for local shops and bakeries in Drumshanbo last week. That can be replicated throughout the country and I want to see that happen.