Seanad Éireann - Volume 154 - 31 March, 1998

Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Powers and Functions) Bill, 1997: Second Stage.

Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera): I am pleased to have the opportunity to open this debate on Second Stage of the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Powers and Functions) Bill, 1997, in the Seanad. This debate provides an opportunity to review the development of the functions of my Department, in particular those relating to inland waterways and the newly assigned responsibility for islands. Senators will have the opportunity to express their views on the development of our inland waterways and on our offshore islands and I look forward to hearing them.

Although the Bill is short, made up of eight sections, it is important. When enacted, it will confer on the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands certain ancillary functions in relation to property, clarify and extend the Minister's functions in relation to inland waterways and ferry services to offshore islands and amend the Heritage Act, 1995. There is also a degree of urgency attached to the enactment of the Bill as I have recently received legal advice that my powers under existing waterways legislation to close any part of those waterways apply only to the navigations and not to adjacent waterways property, such as towpaths and embankments. The power to temporarily close such waterways property is necessary to enable me to carry out maintenance and restoration works on the waterways, including works under the operational programme for tourism.

I will now deal briefly with the main provisions of the Bill. Section 1 is a standard interpretative provision and contains definitions of various terms used in the Bill. It defines inland waterway as meaning any river or lake, including canalised sections of a river or lake, navigation or canal specified in the Schedule to the Bill. Section 2 provides that I, as Minister, may add an inland waterway to, or delete an inland waterway from, or amend an entry in respect of an inland waterway in the Schedule by order which must be laid before each House of the Oireachtas, and that it is open to either House to pass a resolution annulling the order.

Section 3 sets out my powers and functions as Minister in relation to inland waterways. The inland waterways to which these powers and functions apply are defined in section 1 and specified in the Schedule. Subsection (1) provides for the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands having a broad role in the management and development of inland waterways. At present, my powers and functions as Minister in [1283] relation to inland waterways are restricted to the Grand Canal, the Royal Canal and the Barrow navigation under the Canals Act, 1986, and to the Shannon navigation and the Shannon Erne waterway under the Shannon Navigation Act, 1990. The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands has no statutory role in relation to any other inland waterway and is precluded from any involvement with any other inland waterway.

Subsection (2) provides that I may exercise any of my powers under the Canals Act, 1986, and under the Shannon Navigation Act, 1990, in relation to any inland waterway in the Schedule, but without prejudice to the rights of others under those Acts. This section would allow me, for example, to exercise my powers to enter on any land to carry out works under the Shannon Navigation Act, 1990, on the Grand Canal or, if the situation should ever arise, on the Ulster Canal within this State or on any other inland waterway which might be added to the Schedule in the future.

Subsection (3) provides that I, as Minister, shall be empowered to carry out works to public roads where the work is in respect of my functions relating to inland waterways. At present I am precluded by statute from carrying out works to a public road within the meaning of the Roads Act, 1993. This, in the context of the extensive programme of development works under the operational programme to which I referred earlier, has given rise to some serious problems. For instance, it has emerged that Moran's Bridge over the Royal Canal at Mullingar is a public road within the meaning of the Roads Act, 1993, and I am consequently precluded from replacing this bridge, work which is necessary for the restoration of the navigation.

In addition the necessary grading required on each side of the new bridge would also involve works to a public road. In order to overcome this problem the Office of Public Works who have the necessary legal powers under the Commissioners of Public Works (Functions and Powers) Act, 1996, are acting as project managers for this project. Similar problems are in prospect in relation to other bridges over the canal. The provision in this subsection will enable me to arrange for the necessary restoration works to proceed on schedule.

Subsection (4) provides that I may, for stated reasons, temporarily close an inland waterway, any part of an inland waterway or any land adjoining an inland waterway including any towpath or embankment. This provision is necessary because, as I indicated earlier, my legal advice is that under the Canals Act, 1986, and the Shannon Navigation Act, 1990, my powers to close any part of those waterways apply only to the navigations and not to the adjacent waterways property such as towpaths and embankments. The power temporarily to close such waterways property is necessary to enable me, for example, to [1284] carry out maintenance and restoration work on the waterways.

Subsection (5) is the interpretation provision for this section. It defines the terms “canals”, “develop”, and “the Shannon navigation”.

Section 4 provides that I may finance the building, acquisition, overhaul or repair of vessels suitable for the operation of ferry services to inhabited offshore islands in the State and may subsidise such services. At present, under the Aran Islands Transport Act, 1946, I may contract for “a shipping service available to the public for the transport of passengers and goods for reward, between the city of Galway and the Aran Islands”. Beyond this narrow power I have no specific power to subsidise ferry services to islands in general. This section clarifies the situation and will facilitate the implementation of the five year access plan for the islands.

Section 5 sets out the functions and powers of the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands in relation to land and other property ancillary to the Minister's other functions, including power to acquire an inland waterway, to acquire intellectual property, to deal with buildings or other property either alone or jointly or through an agent and to provide financial assistance in respect of matters related to the Minister's functions.

Section 6 provides for the amendment of section 10 of the Heritage Act, 1995, to state that this section shall apply to a building owned by a public authority which has been designated as a heritage building by order made by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands under the existing provisions of the section, and that the provisions of the amendment shall be deemed to have applied and have effect on and from 10 April 1995, which is the date of commencement of the Heritage Act, 1995.

The Heritage Act, 1995, provided for the establishment of the Heritage Council as a statutory autonomous body and set out its powers and functions. The main functions of the council, under the Act, are to propose policies and priorities for the identification, protection, preservation and enhancement of the national physical heritage. Section 10 of that Act conferred an important function on the council in relation to heritage buildings owned by public authorities, namely, the State, State agencies or local authorities. The intention of section 10 of that Act was to provide that a public authority will not proceed with a proposal to demolish, alter significantly or dispose of a building owned by it which has been designated as a heritage building by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands under that section on the advice of the Heritage Council or any land or other building adjoining such a building contrary to the advice of the council unless the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands agrees to the proposal or to a modified form of the proposal or the Government agrees to the proposal.

[1285] The interpretation of section 10 has been the subject of conflicting legal advice. While I am satisfied, on the basis of legal advice available to me from the Attorney General, that the provisions of section 10 apply only to buildings designated as heritage buildings by order made by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands under that section, the purpose of section 6 of the current Bill is to remove any possibility of uncertainty over the interpretation of section 10 by amending that section to state explicitly that its provisions apply only to buildings designated as heritage buildings by the Minister.

The Schedule to the Bill specifies the inland waterways to which its provisions apply and includes the Ulster Canal, in respect of which — as I previously stated — a joint North-South feasibility study on its possible reopening has been commissioned. The term “inland waterway” is defined in section 1 as meaning any river, lake navigation or canal specified in the Schedule. As already stated, this debate provides an opportunity to review the development of the functions of my Department, particularly those relating to inland waterways and the newly assigned responsibility for islands.

The Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, now the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, was established by the Government in 1993, with the former Roinn na Gaeltachta constituting the core of the new Department, and with functions and staff from a number of Departments transferring to form the new Department. The Heritage Service and the Waterways Service were also subsequently transferred from the Office of Public Works to the new Department. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the excellent stewardship by the Office of Public Works of the national heritage and inland waterways over the years prior to the transfer of these functions to my Department. Following the formation of the current Government, specific responsibility for the offshore islands was assigned to my Department.

With regard to inland waterways, completion and maintenance of the connected waterway network and the promotion of leisure activities and tourism on the inland waterways are my priorities. Our inland waterways are a living part of our industrial heritage, with their own unique ecology, all of which must be protected, while at the same time the leisure, amenity and tourism potential of the waterways should be developed. A major programme of investment in our waterways, amounting to £20 million, is well advanced under the Operational Programme for Tourism, 1994-99.

The Grand Canal main line stretches 131 kilometres across the country from Dublin to the Shannon. An offshoot, the Barrow line, is 45 kilometres long and connects the main line with the River Barrow at Athy, County Kildare. Improvements planned for the Grand Canal under the operational programme have been largely carried out. These involved the repair of several kilometres [1286] of embanked sections where the canal goes through bogs, the installation of several hundred mooring posts, provision of new jetties, quays and slipways, improvements to landing facilities at locks, repairs to a dry dock and improvements to culverts.

The Barrow Navigation is a river navigation with lateral canals by-passing shoal stretches. It is 69 kilometres long, 17 kilometres is in lateral canals and it extends from Athy, County Kildare, to St. Mullins, County Carlow, below which the river is tidal before entering Waterford harbour. The programme of works is well advanced and includes dredging the navigation channel and the lateral canals, the provision of new landing facilities, moorings, quays and slipways and the restoration of a dry dock in County Kilkenny. Some of the finest scenery of any Irish waterway is found along the Barrow Navigation. This waterway has yet to be discovered by a large number of the boating fraternity and indeed by business interests dedicated to tourism. A consultancy on a marketing strategy for the Grand Canal — including the Barrow Navigation — has been commissioned by my Department and a report is expected shortly from the consultants.

The Royal Canal stretches from Spencer Dock on the River Liffey, through the north side of Dublin to the northern reaches of the Shannon. It is 145 kilometres long. There is, in addition, a small branch line to Longford town of eight kilometres. Under the operational programme, £7 million is available for the restoration of the Royal Canal. At present, approximately 80 kilometres of the canal are navigable from Dublin to Mullingar in County Westmeath. In Dublin, removal of the low level railway crossing at Newcomen Junction, North Strand Road, has commenced and the installation of a new lifting bridge in its place will remove the last remaining obstacle to navigation to and from the River Liffey. This project will be completed in mid-1999.

Dredging of the main line of the Royal Canal is now completed. There are three sections where the canal goes through bogs. Last year a start was made in repairing the embankments in these areas. In addition the removal of nine culverted road crossings in County Longford and one in County Westmeath which impede navigation must be undertaken. Consultants have submitted preliminary reports which set out various options in terms of designs and costs for six of the bridges in County Longford, which the Department is currently examining. A contract was placed last year for the removal of the culverted road crossing and the raising of the road bridge on the Dublin road in Mullingar, County Westmeath, and works are now under way. When works are completed next summer a further 30 kilometres of navigable waterway to Abbeyshrule, County Longford, will be available.

Last year my Department commissioned a firm of consultants to examine the existing water supplies to the Royal Canal, which are on the low side for navigation purposes for the restored [1287] canal, and to ascertain where new supplies can be obtained. A final draft report has been received from the consultants and is currently being examined by my Department. A programme of lock gate replacement is also under way which should be finished this year.

The Shannon navigation offers 258 kilometres of cruising waterway right through the centre of Ireland. The Shannon navigation is a great success story with about 550 boats for hire, catering for about 50,000 tourists per annum. A number of significant improvements are under way or planned for this waterway. These include the extension of the navigation from Lough Key along a new canal, which is about 1 kilometre long, to a point closer to Boyle, County Roscommon, where a new harbour is to be constructed. The new canal will have ancillary facilities, such as mooring, car parking and a shower-toilet block. This project is now under way.

In Limerick city the dredging of the Abbey River, the reconstruction of Sarsfield Lock, the construction of a new weir and the provision of floating moorings is planned and work is expected to get under way soon. This project will greatly improve navigation between the fresh-water and tidal reaches.

The extension of the Shannon navigation into the River Suck will allow navigation from the Shannon to Ballinasloe, County Galway. This requires the construction of a new lock at Poolboy, which is well advanced, and the provision of mooring facilities in Ballinasloe. Additional moorings will be provided at Shannonbridge, County Offaly, and Ballyleague, County Roscommon.

The rivers agency in Northern Ireland, in co-operation with my Department, has commissioned a feasibility study into the possible reopening of the Ulster Canal which would provide a link between Lough Erne and Lough Neagh. This detailed study will include a full topographical survey, a condition survey of the canal and associated structures, environmental considerations, a water supply and demand study, a navigation study and a preliminary appraisal of the economics of the options.

It is expected that the results of this study will be available in the middle of this year. Restoration of the Ulster Canal would complete the last major link in the connected waterways network on this island and would allow boats to navigate from the Waterford estuary in the south-east of Ireland to Coleraine on the River Bann in Northern Ireland. However, any question of the future reopening of the Ulster Canal will have to be carefully considered in the context of the results of the feasibility study and, in particular, the major costs which would inevitably arise.

Government policy on our offshore islands is now for the first time under the ambit of one Department, with the islands getting individual mention in the title of my Department. The section of my Department dealing with the [1288] islands is in Na Forbacha, County Galway. It is my intention, in co-operation with the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív, who has specific responsibility for the islands, to carry out a comprehensive analysis of the access requirements of the inhabited islands. Because of their geographic isolation island communities are hindered in their development by inadequate and irregular transport services and at the same time have to bear higher transport costs. It is the priority of all islands to have a socially desirable, all year round minimum level of secure transport.

The Minister of State has already visited most of the islands and is in the process of analysing the priorities outlined to him during these visits. Access was one of the main issues brought to his attention on each island visited. In consultation with local authorities and with other interested parties it is my intention to draw up a comprehensive five year plan to ensure that populated islands, both Irish speaking and English speaking, have suitable access. Due to the fact that a number of different organisations are involved in the provision of access services to islands the strategy in the past has been somewhat fragmented. However, with overall policy for the islands now firmly established in my own Department and with the other Departments and organisations involved with island requirements fulfilling their own role, I am confident that the problem of access and the associated problem of landing facilities will be satisfactorily addressed during the lifetime of this Government.

Our offshore islands have contributed in no small way to Irish life, particularly in terms of culture, history and language. We all have a duty to preserve and promote this unique inheritance. In implementing an action plan for the islands it is my intention to address the many other issues raised with Minister of State, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív by islanders during his visits, together with those priorities identified by the local authorities. Fundamental services such as roads, electricity, water and refuse are essential so that islanders can participate fully in the economic and social life of the nation. Declining population is a major problem for most of our offshore islands. The report of the interdepartmental committee on Island Development highlighted a 35 per cent fall in the overall population of our offshore islands between 1961 and 1991. This, coupled with the fact that the average age of the populations on the islands is increasing, has major significance for the economic and social life of our island communities. It also affects the demand for public services such as health and education. It is heartening to note, however, that the 1996 census figures show an increase in the population of some of our offshore islands.

In co-operation with the Department of Health and the health boards, it is my intention to ensure access for islanders to all health services at equal cost to mainland communities. Special attention will be given to women's health, including pre and post natal care.

[1289] With regard to education, the Minister for Education and Science on 19 September 1997 announced that the means test associated with the remote area boarding grant for secondary school students was abolished from the commencement of the 1997-8 academic year. My Department has now agreed to provide subsidies on a pilot basis for the ferry services from the islands of Inishturk, Inishbofin and Clare island. These subsidies will ensure that schoolchildren from the islands who are attending school on the mainland will be able to return home at weekends. One return sailing per week is also included in order to facilitate islanders wishing to make a shopping trip to the mainland. In co-operation with the education authorities every effort will be made to provide education on islands where the provision of such service is sustainable. I regard the displacement of young children so that they can avail of schooling on the mainland as having a very negative effect on island communities. It is our intention that the interdepartmental committee on Island Development will co-ordinate activities pertinent to those Departments represented on it.

To return to the Bill before the House, the primary purpose of this Bill is to address deficiencies in the powers and functions of the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands which have come to our attention over a period of time. My Department is still a relatively new Department and it is really no surprise, given this fact and the varied nature of my Department's functions, that certain issues require to be addressed in legislation.

In conclusion, I must refer again to the degree of urgency attaching to the Bill before this House. I am anxious that, as provided for in section 6 of the Bill, the gap in my existing powers be closed at the earliest possible date in order to enable me to temporarily close property adjacent to waterways, such as towpaths and embankments, for the purposes of carrying out maintenance and restoration works. I am, therefore, requesting the support of Seanad Éireann to pass all Stages of the Bill today.

I recommend this Bill to the House.

Mr. McDonagh: The Minister's speech contained many noble aspirations which I hope she will see brought to fruition during her term of office.

I welcome the Minister and the introduction of this Bill to the Seanad. It comes on stream at a time when a range of new initiatives aimed at allaying the fears of farmers in relation to conservation have been announced, including the appointment of the former State Ombudsman, Mr. Michael Mills, as chairman of a new SAC Appeals Board. There has been much local concern about special areas of conservation. Our discussion on this issue comes at a time when there is a general feeling that local concerns should always be listened to and taken on board. I am sure the Minister will aspire to that feeling.

[1290] We also discuss this Bill at a time when great initiatives and development undertaken by fishery boards, such as the Western Fisheries Board, is currently held up due to lack of finance. This will have a detrimental effect on the fishing industry unless funding is made available so that the Western Fisheries Board can proceed with the works they have undertaken on the River Clare. I speak of these issues as areas salient to the Bill before us.

I support the Bill, which is effectively a piece of housekeeping bringing on stream regulations controlled by a Minister whose functions require co-operation across a very broad range of activities and impinge on the activities and lives of many people and communities throughout the country.

I, too, pay tribute to the Office of Public Works for the great work they have done in this area. There are other groups, oftentimes forgotten, which I feel should be mentioned — the national monuments committees of the county councils throughout the country. These advisory bodies show great interest, but unfortunately their advice and proposals often fall on deaf ears. I speak having been a member of the national monuments advisory committee of Galway County Council for 13 years. These bodies are made up of people who have their ear to the ground. The introduction of this Bill and the granting of powers and functions to the Minister will result in the transfer of powers from the national monuments advisory committees to the new SAC committees. These bodies should be thanked for the great work they have done. I would also ask the Minister that the national monument advisory committees be represented on the SACs when they come on stream.

Our inland waterways have enormous potential. In many instances this potential is only being realised. When this Bill was discussed in the Dáil there was mention of the development of strong cross-Border co-operation so that people, regardless of their political affiliations or religious beliefs, could see this type of development as having enormous economic potential for the benefit of everybody. Such co-operation between these bodies, North and South, would lead to enormous benefit for the people of Ireland as a whole. I support the views of our colleagues in the Dáil with regard to this type of co-operation.

I see this as a Bill with wide repercussions. The Minister will have to establish strong relationships with many different bodies in the State and these relationships will have to be open, cordial and devoid of rancour. There will have to be a close relationship between the Minister's Department, the Central Fisheries Board and the regional fisheries boards. A good relationship between the Department and Bord Fáilte is necessary as this is a unique island with beautiful waterways. This was brought home when my secretary rang to inform me that I would be speaking on this Bill. At the time I was making my way up the holy mountain of Croagh Patrick with two [1291] esteemed colleagues from the education world, a former chairman of Galway county board, Jimmy Halliday and Pat Gilmour, the Vice President of the Association of Community Schools of Ireland. As I got the phone call we looked down at the beauty of the lakes below us, with their 365 islands. We wondered why St. Patrick climbed this mountain. Many say it was to do penance and to pray for the sinners of the world, but we were inclined to think on that beautiful day that he went up there to look down on the beautiful waterways and islands which are part and parcel of the west.

Ireland is a beautiful country which has not been destroyed environmentally like other European countries. This is important when the tourist board market it as a destination. The tourists who avail of the magnificent lakes and inland waterways find their trips to be a wonderful experience. It is vital that there be a strong working relationship between the Department, the tourist board and the local authorities.

The local authorities are implementing many fine waterway development plans involving county managers, officials and local authority members. In Galway there are plans for the expansion and use of inland waterways, canals, lakes and offshore islands. I am deeply interested in these plans as a local authority member for County Galway and the Aran Islands.

I am glad to see the Minister has stated in her speech that Minister of State Ó Cuív, will have special responsibility for the islands. His heart is in the islands and I am confident he will assist the island communities as they have great difficulty with access and it is not an easy life they live. Accordingly they deserve every Government support.

I mentioned the problems in the farming community regarding the special areas of conservation. In the context of this Bill farmers and farming organisations must be brought on board and there must always be channels of communication open between the Minister's office and the farming community.

When this Bill was being discussed in the Dáil, drugs were mentioned, both the challenges this scourge present to this and many other countries and the danger that the waterways would be used for the transportation of drugs. I would hope this type of nefarious activity would never appear on the waterways of this country, but we should always be alert and a close relationship between the Department and the Garda Síochána is essential. I speak as a teacher who would be deeply concerned about young people getting involved in the drugs culture.

The Bill gives the Minister great authority and strong powers. I note that under its provisions island ferry services can be subsidised. I hope that in the future the Minister will extend the subsidisation of ferry services to other areas which deserve support because they are remote and access is required. I refer in particular to the area [1292] that extends from Headford in County Galway to Moycullen, with which the Acting Chairman is familiar. There is a great need in this location for a ferry service between the Kilbeg and Knockferry piers. There has been much discussion over the years about putting a bridge across the River Corrib which would greatly alleviate traffic and open a gateway between Galway and Mayo. It would also be of enormous benefit to tourists to this part of Ireland. However, for various reasons, successive Governments have not provided funds to the local authorities to build the bridge.

I hope the Minister will consider extending her powers to include the provision of subsidised ferry services to remote areas, particularly those which cater for tourists. This would be of enormous benefit to the people of the area and the tourism trade. I appeal to the Minister to examine this matter. There is no need to carry out any further studies on the benefits of a link up in this area. The idea of a ferry between Kilbeg and Knockferry should be considered by the Minister.

The Minister comes from the south Galway area which has been subjected to serious flooding in recent years. The Minister also has responsibility for this matter. Many difficulties were encountered by the action group when it endeavoured to develop low cost schemes to alleviate the problem of flooding by the provision of new water channels. As the Minster is aware, this area has been the subject of a major study recently. In the context of the Bill, protection should be provided to action groups which propose tested and meaningful low cost alleviation projects, such as the tried and tested scheme in south Galway to deal with the flooding in recent years. Thankfully, the weather this year has ensured that the terrible flooding of the past three years did not recur.

The Bill gives the Minister important powers. For example, the legislation gives the Minister the power to bring the islands into the 21st century in terms of the provision of access and facilities. These are most important to people who live off-shore on the various islands round the coast. I am particularly familiar with the three Aran Islands and Inishbofin. The Bill gives the Minister the authority to do an effective job in providing people with the opportunity to benefit themselves and their communities. It is exciting legislation which is more important than many people think. It will have far reaching repercussions.

I wish the Minister well in her endeavours in the context of the Bill, which is important to many people. The legislation will have major repercussions and strong powers will be bestowed on the Minister. However, I am sure she will use them in an effective and meaningful manner for the benefit of island communities.

Mr. Mooney: I join Senator McDonagh in welcoming the Minister. In keeping with the tone of the debates in both Houses of the Oireachtas, I enthusiastically welcome this important Bill. The Ministry involved has tremendous scope for creativity and as I said previously during the debate [1293] on another Bill, the Minister, Deputy de Valera, has demonstrated that she is more than equal to the task. I echo Senator McDonagh's comments in wishing her well with this Bill.

I will not comment to a great extent on the islands, not because I am not interested in them but because my friend and colleague, Senator Cox, whose constituency borders many of the important islands on the west coast, will address that matter among others during her contribution. It is important this enabling legislation includes provision for policy initiatives relating to the islands. They have been forgotten communities for many decades, perhaps because of a lack of resources rather than political will. The Bill could not have come at a better time because the country has a relatively prosperous environment at present. The Minister and her cousin, the Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy Ó Cuív, are brimming with ideas and I look forward to their initiatives in relation to access and improving the quality of life of people who choose to live on the islands, which are an integral part of the nation.

Perhaps the Minister could clarify an aspect about which I am confused. Last year in the House, two of our then colleagues, Deputy Michael O'Kennedy and Deputy Brendan Daly, introduced the Shannon River Council Bill. The purpose of the Bill was to establish an authority which would focus exclusively on the wellbeing of the Shannon navigation area. As this side was then in Opposition, the Bill was not passed and it is ironic that a similar Bill sponsored by Senator O'Meara was given a First Reading in the House in the past fortnight.

Although I live in the upper Shannon region, I have great concern for and interest in the entire Shannon area. As a result of ongoing representations, I contacted the Minister's office after Christmas to establish whether she intended to reintroduce the Bill initiated by the former Senators. I subsequently received a reply which stated that it did not come within the remit of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands and was a matter for the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. I am confused about how that can be the case because this enabling legislation relates to Shannon navigation. Perhaps the Minister could clarify this matter with her officials during this or the Committee Stage debate. It is important that such a council is established to assist the Minister in her deliberations. However, it is a policy matter and I am interested in the Minister's thinking in this area.

I agree with the comments made about the Ulster Canal. The Minister referred to the canal and it is included in the Schedule to the Bill because it is part of her expanded remit on the Southern side, which is welcome. However, it appears the Department is cautious about the potential cost. I understand the Minister's position in that regard, but there is a tremendous [1294] ground swell of support on both sides of the Border for this development.

The current position of the Ulster Canal, as enunciated by the Minister and others in official positions, is similar to that which pertained to the development of the Shannon-Erne Canal; there is a great deal of talk about costs. It was suggested — and has not been refuted — that if it had been left to the civil servants in Dublin, Belfast and London, the Shannon-Erne project might not have got off the ground. What it required, and received, was a personal political intervention by the two Governments. As was stated in the other House, the initiative was taken by Mr. Haughey as Taoiseach and irrespective of what one might think about him, given his current travails, the people who live near, work on and gain economic benefit from the Shannon-Erne Canal will be forever grateful to his administration for taking that initiative.

I ask the Minister to seize this opportunity. As has been said in both Houses, it would be to her eternal credit if she focussed on the development of the Ulster Canal once she receives the Commission report. There may be other obstacles which we cannot prejudge, and the Minister has indicated as much, but if the only obstacle is one of funding I suggest that she pursue the matter. Whatever else she does in the Department, this measure would benefit the tributaries of the canal and have associated benefits all the way down to Waterford and the south-east, as she indicated in her speech. This initiative would stand the test of time and be to her eternal credit.

I am a member of the Irish Central Border Area Network, which was set up about two years ago and comprises representatives from the local authorities in Cavan, Monaghan and Leitrim in the South and Fermanagh, Armagh and Dungannon in the North. This initiative was one of the first initiatives suggested by ICBAN in its first plenary session some 18 months ago, and the proposal was made by the Unionist side, who saw the potential of the project. In the spirit of the Minister's comments in the other House about cross-Border initiatives, I rest my case in that regard.

The upper Shannon region, where I come from, has benefited enormously from the active intervention of the Office of Public Works through the years. The most important local development was the re-opening of the Lough Allen Canal. Whereas the Shannon-Erne Canal development was undertaken by ESB International, much to the chagrin of the Office of Public Works, the Lough Allen Canal development was exclusively under the aegis of the Office of Public Works and it is a credit to their expertise. The development not only opened up the first lake on the Shannon to navigation for the first time in 60 years, it also regenerated the immediate area.

However, there is frustration in the Lough Allen basin with what is perceived to the slow rate of development by the Office of Public Works once it had put the structure in place. Lough Allen [1295] is seven miles long and three miles wide. If one takes a boat into the lake from Drumshanbo, one cannot get off the boat anywhere else — one can only moor at two platforms at opposite ends of the lake, both of which are about 300 yards off-shore. Locals are annoyed that the Office of Public Works has not responded to calls from the community and its political representatives to provide on-shore marina facilities for the communities on the east and west of the lake.

Mr. Pierce Piggot — who sadly has retired, although thankfully he is still in full health — took a particular interest in the upper Shannon region. He was the main driving force behind the Lough Allen Canal and I record my personal appreciation of his outstanding work on that project. Prior to his retirement he was aware that the infrastructure in the area was inadequate — this relates to the Minister's point about the resources and priorities within the Department. I urge her to look at the lack of infrastructural development in the Lough Allen basin and examine whether she could kick-start that initiative. I understand that land was identified on one side of the lake, near Drumkeerin, for purchase for the provision of a marina but I am not certain whether a similar plot was available on the Ballinagleragh/Dowra side.

This development would be a tremendous economic boon, considering the amount of money involved. Although Drumshanbo and its immediate hinterland is getting considerable economic benefit, the communities to the north and east are not. They see boats entering the lake at the Blackrock Lock near Drumshanbo, sailing around the lake, stopping at the platforms some 300 yards from shore, and leaving again. The people on the boats are not spending money or staying in the area, they go back to Drumshanbo or Carrick-on-Shannon. The Minister has shown her interest in developing small communities and helping their continuing economic viability in her work on the islands; similarly, she should look at the provision of on-shore facilities for these communities so that people who visit the upper Shannon can get off their boats and spend some of their money. They will receive a traditional céad míle fáilte in that part of the country.

How does the Minister respond to queries about the relationship between her Department and the fisheries boards, now that the enabling legislation is in place? This question relates to infrastructural development. My area has traditionally depended heavily on coarse angling whereas boating is a relatively new, and welcome, phenomenon. The Operational Programme for Tourism identified £19 million to be spent on coarse fishing facilities between 1994 and 1999. I had a number of jousts with Deputy Gilmore, the then Minister of State at the Department of the Marine, about the use of this money. He was not inclined to devote any of it to on-shore development because he thought his mandate was to spend it anywhere except on land.

[1296] The single biggest difficulty facing many coarse fishing communities — not just in Leitrim, north Roscommon and west Cavan but in other areas — is access to the fishing lakes. The fisheries boards have done excellent work in providing fishing platforms; the Minister will be familiar with them in her county. Where they have the resources the boards are also providing road access but in many cases it is non-existent. It is all very well to encourage people to come from all over Europe to fish in our lakes and rivers but they sometimes have to cross three or four fields or climb over stiles to get to the river. We need to enhance the product to get added value.

I am curious to know the funding relationship between the Department and the boards, if not in the current programme then in the one which will run from 2000 to 2006. The Minister should perhaps take more power to herself in this regard. She is already at the coalface of this development, as she indicated in her contribution, so she should go a step forward and take on some of the development activities of the fisheries boards. I am not talking about water quality or fish but exclusively about development. It is a frustrating and cumbersome procedure to have to encourage and make representations to various fisheries boards who, in turn, must pull money from the central pool, while the Central Fisheries Board has to go through the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources. That Minister should not be responsible for many of the things the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands has outlined here today. Her Department should be responsible for that.

The Minister referred to “intellectual property” and I am curious to know what are the implications of that phrase in this enabling legislation. I welcome the Bill and wish the Minister well in her endeavours.

Mr. O'Toole: I compliment the Minister and her Department on the extraordinarily good work that has been done on the inland waterways. I support the Bill and its intentions but I would like to ask a few questions. I have raised with the officials my concern over the Schedule which nominates particular waterways, starting with the Grand Canal and including the Barrow navigation. Does the Bill include the Longford canal running from the Royal Canal to Longford town? While I know it is a slightly different case, will it include the new Tralee canal which is now being built?

I have issued an outstanding invitation to the former Taoiseach, Deputy Albert Reynolds, and a family friend, Deputy Louis Belton, to travel on my boat from Richmond Harbour to Longford Harbour when that section of the canal has been completed. I am glad to see the work in Mullingar is progressing at some speed.

While it is not precisely within the area covered by the legislation, the Bill gives the Minister power and authority to improve inland waterways. Will the Minister give me a progress report [1297] on that? I raise that matter because, unfortunately, the way the development of the Royal Canal has taken place, while probably good from the point of view of the planners, is not very good for the canal users. One can neither enter the canal from the Dublin end nor from the Shannon end. While it would be unfair to say that all the work that has been going on for the last seven years has been wasted, the canal it is not usable.

The most beautiful village in Ireland has to be Cloondara, an inland village with a beautiful and unexpected harbour in County Longford close to the Shannon. The stretch of canal from Richmond Harbour in Cloondara up to Longford town should be completed as a priority. A number of bridges on that section need to be cleared. One of the big mistakes made over the years in the Longford area was to flatten a number of bridges over the canal which have made it impassable.

Senator Mooney raised the issue of opening up local areas and giving them something new. It would take one bridge and a lock to bring boat traffic as far as the picturesque village of Killashee and it would take another bridge to take the boat traffic to Longford town. That would bring about an extraordinary change in the culture of those areas, extending tourism well in from the banks of the Shannon. Six bridges between Longford and Mullingar would need to be improved before the canal could be opened.

As I understand it, the canal is open from Blanchardstown to Mullingar but it is difficult to get a boat as far as Blanchardstown or Mullingar unless one has a truck, trailer and clear roadways. What is the timescale for the completion of that stretch of the canal?

The Bill will allow changes to take place such as those currently under way at Jones Road and Croke Park which I saw recently. How does this fit into the plan? How soon will boats be able to use the Royal Canal? It would be an amazing tourist attraction to offer cruises on the Grand Canal through Dublin city and county into Kildare, including a trip down the Barrow navigation through the Midlands, including Tullamore, to the Shannon. Tourists could then cruise up the Shannon as far a Termonbarry and enter the new Royal Canal section at Cloondara, up through north Leinster and back down into north Dublin and the Liffey starting point. That would be a magical tour by anybody's standards and it would require very little investment — sorting out 12 or 13 bridges — to achieve it. We should impress upon the Government the magic of what is available there. There is something there which is not available in most other places and it would make the area a very attractive destination. The Minister should examine that possibility and it should be given priority.

Section 3(4) states that:

The Minister may for stated reasons temporarily close—

(a) an inland waterway, or

[1298] (b) any part of an inland waterway, or

(c) any land contiguous to an inland waterway including any towpath or embankment.

I am not sure if subsection (c) is correctly worded. Can one close land? The subsection goes on to mention “any towpath or embankment”. Perhaps it should be written the other way around. I mention this in case it is smartly raised by someone in court in future. It makes absolute sense to say that the Minister may, for stated reasons, close a towpath or an embankment but I am not sure how one closes land.

In her response, will the Minister indicate what is envisaged in the phrase “stated reasons”? I know some of the reasons involve the repair and upkeep of inland waterways as well as having to make fundamental changes but the Minister should outline the reasons in detail.

We have a shy Leader of the House who has been slow to respond to our recent questions about the introduction of the Shannon River Council Bill, 1998, that will give control of the whole Shannon area to a council. Although the Leader smiles at us wryly, laconically and sardonically, we do not get a clear answer. If the Bill was being rewritten I would like to extend it to include the Barrow. Will the Minister state, for the record, how many Departments have an input into aspects of the Shannon — be they drainage, fish, river banks, harbours and waterways? The area also includes industry, the Shannon Free Airport Development Company and various port authorities. So many different groups, including the ESB in Ardnacrusha, have control and every one is a power unto themselves. The most powerful man in Ireland is surely the one who controls the locks in Ardnacrusha for he can decide to raise the level of the Shannon before going to lunch on any day. That is real power, even more than a Taoiseach could so.

Will the Minister indicate how many different authorities, groups, companies and Departments have an interest in the Shannon area? When one takes water from the Shannon to fill one of the canals, how many different groups are we dealing with, including the Office of Public Works? Does the Minister feel it would tidy up things considerably if there was a council to deal with the Shannon and related matters? I know that is some way from the functions of the Bill, which in the main refers to canals, but it touches on the Minister's brief in a wider way. It is important for the Minister to have the powers set out in the Bill.

The reason for the Bill is the phrase: “It shall be and be deemed always to have been a function of the Minister. . . ”. I presume this is to allow the Minister to legislate for something that may have occurred earlier. The wording is similar to that used in previous legislation recognising judges who were incorrectly appointed. It is a favourite phrase of the parliamentary draftsman. The Minister is shaking her head; it appears I have interpreted [1299] the wording incorrectly. Why is it necessary to state “It shall be and be deemed always to have been. . . ”? My Latin teacher would have loved the phrase “deemed always to have been”. I am not sure what case it is.

I wish the Minister well with regard to the inland waterways. It is a hugely important area in the developing tourism industry. It is also important in terms of giving people pride in their place. I ask the Minister to extend the provisions of the legislation during her term of office. For example, there is much interest in extending the Ballyconnell canal to Killeshandra. This would open another community and would simply entail a dredging operation.

Ms Cox: I live in the constituency of Galway West. There are a number of Irish and English speaking islands off the coast of County Galway. In the past, the English speaking islands have been somewhat neglected. To this extent I welcome the appointment of Deputy Ó Cuív as Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands with special responsibility for the Gaeltacht and the Islands. It was a good move by the Taoiseach and the Minister because nobody understands the commitment and needs of the islanders, living as they do on the periphery of Europe, to the same extent as the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív. This will enable him to undertake a worthwhile and valuable job.

Access and equality are the two most important issues for people living offshore. Access is the greatest barrier to the development of any island. It is a barrier to employment, education, health care and social development. A number of weeks ago a deputation visited the Minister for Education and Science. They had to leave the island the day before, stay overnight in Galway, travel to and from Dublin by train and stay overnight again in Galway after making frantic telephone calls at 4 p.m. to ascertain if they could get space on a boat the next morning to bring them home. This kind of access is unacceptable today.

We know what it is like to try and run family households on a budget. If an islander is not making much money because of the lack of jobs, the additional worry about the cost of transportation for basic things, such shopping or visits to the dentist or doctor, is unacceptable. Access must be regular, cost effective, affordable and available throughout the year. It must also be the same for Irish and English speaking islands.

It is understandable that inhabitants of islands off the coast would expect air access. I hope, for example, that Inishbofin will receive funding for a much sought airstrip, thus allowing it to be connected to the mainland by air. A number of good airline companies are willing to run a service for the islanders at a reasonable rate. In this regard I welcome the commitment of the Minister to addressing the issue of access in a planned and [1300] comprehensive manner and to the hard work already done by the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív. Access must be effective and must make a difference. Plans to introduce equality of access over the next five years will make life on the islands more accessible and, I hope, more desirable.

Many people living on the mainland may not be aware of the impact on family life of living on an island. For example, during the winter months expectant mothers are often compelled to travel to the mainland and live in bed and breakfast accommodation or with family members for the two or three weeks before their due date. They sometimes have to continue to live in such accommodation after the birth because it is not possible to return to the island home. Often brothers and sisters are not able to see the new baby until he or she is two to three months old. They miss their mother, and sometimes their father, from the home for three or four weeks at a time when the birth of a baby has a huge impact on family life.

The Minister is interested in the health of all islanders, especially the health of women. A survey by the Western Health Board on the effectiveness of the services on the islands highlighted the inadequacies in the system and the difficulties of access. An attempt is being made to address these issues. I am delighted to note that there will be greater co-operation between the Department of Health and Children and the Departments with responsibility for the islands at ministerial and national level.

The issue of education is uppermost in the mind of the Minster and the Minster of State, Deputy Ó Cuív. Given the lack of access to boarding schools on the mainland within easy reach, children must stay in digs or guesthouse accommodation from 12 or 13 years of age until 17 years. That is unacceptable. It is unfair on those who chose to live on the islands and who make such a contribution to the national economy and to the rural development and life on the islands. Study for the leaving certificate is difficult enough without having to do it in that kind of environment.

I welcome the commitment to endeavour to provide education on site on the islands where possible. When I visited the Aran islands during the presidential election campaign I was amazed at the creativity and enthusiasm of the children attending the national schools and their capacity for hard work. Their generosity to their visitors led us to believe that the provision of education at home will enable children to return to live on the islands when they have finished their education. It is something to which we should all aspire. In this regard, I welcome the provision of subsidised ferries on a pilot basis to Inishturk, Inishbofin and Clare Island.

Jobs are vitally important if we are to encourage people to live on the islands and to develop an economy where island life is sustainable and it makes sense to live there all year. Tourism is a very big industry, particularly for the Aran [1301] Islands. However, on a note of caution, we do not want the islands to become too tourist oriented and over developed, because their culture and heritage is extremely important. One of the reasons people love to visit the islands, particularly the smaller ones, is for the sense of peacefulness and history as they look over the cliffs at the sea crashing against the rocks, which is one of the islands' most important selling points for tourists from America, the Continent and parts of England who spend two and three hours every day in traffic jams. I would hate to see the islands becoming over developed.

We need indigenous jobs. With the move to the computer age and the availability of ISDN lines, the IDA and Forbairt should work to develop on site computer based facilities for the islands. People can work on computers in their homes or community centres using the Internet and other technology to do work sent in from the United States and Europe. That type of employment is ideal for the islands, given that they are on the periphery of Ireland which, in turn, is on the periphery of Europe. It would keep young people in employment, generate money, help stem the decline in population and lower the average age of people on the islands.

I welcome this Bill. Tourism is a vital part of our economy and the islands are a vital part of that tourism. Our heritage is vitally important and the waterways are a key component in that success. The continued development and guarding of our heritage, waterways and island living are assisted and protected by the Minister and her Department. I fully support this very necessary Bill.

Mr. Gallagher: I support the Bill. The development of the powers and functions of the Minister proposed in the Bill is necessary for the development of the Department, which was founded in 1993. When driving home last night I heard the end of a lecture on RTÉ in which reference was made to music in education. It was pointed out that Count Plunkett was the first Minister for the Arts in the Second Dáil. The Ministry died a death until it was restored as a Ministry of State in 1982. It was then elevated to a full Ministry in 1993 with the formation of the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht. It was then further expanded and developed into the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. It has probably come as far as it is possible to do in such a small country. I was very struck by Senator Cox's powerful advocacy of island causes. I will move a little closer to home in my contribution.

As a Ministry is established and developed and as experience is gained on the ground, as functions are transferred from other Departments and the Department embarks on its own agenda of work, it is only natural for it to become apparent within a relatively short period of time that the simple transfer of existing functions from other Departments is not sufficient to allow a full scale [1302] Department operate to its full capacity and meet the existing demands to the fullest possible extent. Therefore, the extension of powers and functions and the further clarification of them in this Bill is to be welcomed.

The Department was drawn together from many different sectors and Departments in other areas of the public service. The departmental staff should be complimented on how quickly it got to work in 1993. There were various ups and downs in terms of its relationships with the Office of Public Works and the Department of Finance but they have now been ironed out. The Department is recognised at ground level in every community as providing a very important lead and support, not only in community development but, as has been mentioned, in the development of tourism.

I hope this will not be the only Bill to extend the powers and functions of the Department in the lifetime of this Seanad. It may become apparent as the Minister's staff deals in practice with various problems, initiatives and controversies, that further elaboration and clarification is necessary. We would be happy to give such clarification to the Minister if it were needed.

It is one matter to transfer powers from other Departments but it is quite another to find the staff to implement them. It is one matter to give the Minister powers in this Bill but another for her to go through the process of having to argue with the Minister for Finance to ensure the Department has adequate staff to meet the demands. I am concerned it is not possible for the Department to realise its potential without an adequate complement of staff. It is obvious the Department requires more staff and the Minister would have our full support in her battles and discussions with the Minister for Finance in that regard.

We are aware of the ongoing difficulty in relation to the National Museum. A number of us met staff last week who were in the vicinity of the House in regard to the number of contract staff employed in and by the Department. Those of us who are aware of the Department's work and its various branches on the ground realise the difficulties experienced by the heritage and waterways services in meeting demands. People are conscious of the potential of the waterways, national monuments, historic properties, wildlife and the national parks service. However, it is frustrating, not only for those of us active in communities as members of local authorities but also for the Department's staff, not to have adequate numbers of staff to ensure the demands are met. I am afraid that if the Minister for Finance does not listen to the Minister's pleas and does not recognise the Department's staffing needs, communities might start losing faith in the possibility of delivering on the potential which exists. The Minister has our support in that regard and I wish her luck.

I will give two examples, of which I know the Minister is aware. The development of the historic monastic site in Durrow in County Offaly [1303] has been fraught with difficulties since money was allocated to it under the current round of Structural Funds. It is a difficult subject. There are legal difficulties in implementing the decision to provide visitor facilities there. However it is a matter of great frustration to the local committee, the local authority and all interested in the history of the county that the money provided in 1994 cannot yet be drawn down because of legal difficulties. I am aware the staff in the Department do their best when we contact them. However, I have a strong fear the money will be lost if that matter is not resolved quickly.

The Minister recently made a sensible decision on the implementation of the habitats directive. I do not envy her staff who must travel around the country dealing with groups at local level because there is not enough of them to do it. I have no problem with the concept of the directive. The arrangements put in place by the Minister's predecessor and advanced by the Minister in respect of the appeals mechanism, consultation, etc., are lovely on paper but unless the national parks service has trained personnel who appreciate community development and local issues and who can listen to people at local level, we might be looking for a further postponement of the implementation of certain aspects of the directive. I hope that does not happen and that the necessary staff will be put in place to operate the sensible consultation arrangements announced by the Minister. The Clara bog group in my constituency believes the problem has gone away. However, it remains to be dealt with and that can only happen if there is adequate staff.

I want to mention the waterways service because the longest stretch of the Grand Canal and a fairly long stretch of the Barrow are located in my constituency. I welcome the higher profile given to the inland waterways and I compliment the Office of Public Works for the work it did down the years. The needs of the inland waterways are well represented at Cabinet by the Minister and these developments show the importance of such representation. The money made available through the operational programmes is being well spent but more is needed. I hope that, whatever arrangements are put in place for the transition period following 1999, the canal will continue to get funding because we are only starting to realise its potential not only for tourism but also for community development.

As regards the Grand Canal harbour basin in Tullamore, Tullamore Urban District Council has in its draft development plan zoned the canal area as a location for major development. In the submission we will make this week to the Minister for the Environment and Local Government for urban renewal status, we will focus on the canal as the centre for development in the town. That will pose some difficulties for the Department because it states that further work must be carried out on the canal basin. Having grown up beside it, I understand the need for a base there. [1304] We appreciate the fact it is located in Tullamore but the full use of the canal basin and surrounding buildings is not required by the Department. An interesting proposal has been made in our urban renewal plan to provide alternative facilities for the Department and to free up that large area in the centre of the town, the canal basin and its associated buildings for major tourism investment and development. I hope the Minister looks favourably on that proposal.

Work has been done by the Department along the Grand Canal in County Offaly. The Minister's predecessor visited Edenderry to look at work carried out on the first phase of the development plan. I hope its further phases are put in place as quickly as possible to encourage people to stop off in Edenderry now that tourism trade on the canal has increased substantially. The Minister's predecessor also awarded one of the barge restoration projects to the development association in Shannon Harbour. This was an ideal location on the junction between the Grand Canal and the River Shannon. I hope the support the Department, FÁS and other agencies have given to the restoration project will be continued so that a boat repair project can be set up to provide ongoing employment for boats using both the canal and the River Shannon.

I support the calls for an urgent debate on the Shannon River Council Bill which was introduced by Deputies O'Kennedy and Daly during the last Seanad and which is now back on the Order Paper. The Leader said he would try to ensure it is considered as soon as possible. Co-ordination of the various efforts by the Department, the development association in Shannon, local authorities, the ESB and many other agencies cannot be harnessed properly without a Shannon river council. I would welcome the Minister's support for such a council and the co-operation of the Department and the waterways service in its implementation if this Bill is accepted.

I welcome the ongoing work to extend the Shannon navigation into the River Suck to connect with Ballinasloe, County Galway. It is right and proper that it should benefit from traffic on the River Shannon. I ask the Minister to ensure that work begins on the extension of the jetty and mooring facilities in Shannonbridge, County Offaly, within the funding period of the current operational programme. It was scheduled to take place after the work on the River Suck but, as we head rapidly towards 1999, there are fears in the area that work may not commence by the funding deadline.

Shannonbridge, Shannon Harbour and Banagher are the three towns in County Offaly which benefit most from the River Shannon. Shannonbridge could benefit from more visitors if mooring points were built. There are no shortage of attractions there but it is a disincentive to foreign and local visitors if existing places are full. Many will not be inclined to tie up alongside other boats. I would appreciate it if the Minister could [1305] inform me of the current progress of the work undertaken by the Minister's predecessor.

I hope this Bill is the first of many to extend the Minister's work in this area.

Mr. Gibbons: Many Senators spoke about the inland waterways and canals but few mentioned the Barrow navigation which I will now discuss. A number of years ago I did further studies in UCD in landscape architecture. As part of a major design thesis I studied a stretch of the River Barrow and how tourism could be developed through the medium of the landscape. Much of the background information I got on that project centred around the Brady Shipman Martin report which has gathered considerable dust over the years. It was taken out from time to time and certain things were done but, unfortunately, the level of commitment required to develop the waterway did not exist. It is in that context that I welcome this Bill because for the first time the Minister can grasp this nettle. She should put pressure on the Minister for Finance, particularly with his background in relation to inland waterways, to get all she can.

The Barrow navigation is possibly the most scenic inland waterway in the country, particularly the area around Graiguenamanagh and St. Mollins, and it has enormous tourism potential. The large tourist area in Kilkenny centres around the medieval city. Carlow now markets itself as the Celtic capital of Ireland and has good reason to claim that title. One of the town's main attractions is the River Barrow, the only navigable river in the country apart from the Shannon which links with the Grand Canal and the national canal network. Developments such as the Shannon/Erne system open up the area of canal navigation for huge tourism development. I would like to see such tourism developed in the Carlow-Kilkenny area. Considerable work has been carried out over a number of years in St. Mollins and Graiguenamanagh but much needs to be done in Leighlinbridge, Carlow and Athy. Not many years ago a group of German tourists decided to travel the full length of the Barrow navigation. The trip took three weeks because of the poor state of the river. If those tourists were to come back and take on the same challenge today I think they would find their journey much easier.

Major towns have tended to turn their backs on their rivers. Carlow, with the help of urban renewal schemes, has begun to face back to the river and, fortunately, a private investor has built a marina. This type of investment must be encouraged. More mooring points are needed and our lock gates need to be updated, although my preference is for wheel operated lock gates rather than the modern card operated type. Automatic lock gates may be needed on the crowded stretches of the Grand Canal and other waterways but traditional lock gates are part of the fun of leisure boating. Development of the [1306] Barrow navigation would relieve pressure on busier canals and rivers.

There is nowhere nicer to walk than along the towpath of a canal or river, surrounded by the wildlife of the river and the surrounding land. Unfortunately, in some cases towpaths are not maintained to an acceptable standard. At one point in Carlow, for example, an oil lorry backs up along the towpath to deliver oil to a factory. This is a dangerous practice. Traffic should not be permitted on the towpaths of canals or rivers.

Because Carlow is the main town on the Barrow navigation it provides a wonderful opportunity for boats to stop. The town contains much fine architecture and archaeological sites. Many interesting houses are in close proximity to the river. The ingredients for an excellent tourism package are in the area but they must be pulled together. The river could form the back bone of such development and it must take place as quickly as possible.

Carlow Rowing Club which is the third oldest rowing club in the country boasts, at the moment, two world champions. Some years ago a suggestion that the river should be straightened to alleviate flooding was vigorously opposed by the rowing club. Thankfully, a different solution was found to the problem and the twisting, winding course, so enjoyed by oarsmen and women was retained. Carlow has a history of boating which we wish to maintain and develop.

I welcome the Bill and the Minister's commitment to it. She will be hearing from me from time to time to insure that tourism investment comes our way.

Mr. T. Fitzgerald: Tá fáilte roimh an Aire go dtí an Tigh. Ba mhaith liom cúpla focal gairid a rá mar gheall ar an mBille seo. Tá cuid de mo cheisteanna nach mbaineann leis an mBille seo in aon chor ach gabhaim leithscéal an Aire iad a chur. I welcome the Bill. I realise that some of my questions may not be relevant to the contents of the Bill but I may be forgiven for finding an excuse to raise some local issues.

It is only in recent times that we appreciate the benefits that our canals can provide. Senator Gibbons is correct in saying that many towns through which canals pass do not value them as highly as they should. Inland waterways were, because of financial restrictions, neglected for many years.

I must commend the television programmes of Dick Warner. Dick Warner's personality, as he huffed and puffed along the waterways in his old boat, and his knowledge of history, archaeology and wildlife were inspirational. The benefit of his programmes to Irish tourism could not be counted. I would hope that future programmes by Dick Warner could be aided by the Department.

As recently as last weekend I encountered a problem concerning off-shore islands. A ferry service to the Blasket Islands was established two or three years ago. Two ferries operate the service. I am not sure if the Blaskets should be called [1307] inhabited or uninhabited islands but the history and heritage of the islands cannot be denied. The Blasket Island ferrymen have invested approximately £250,000 in two ferries.

I do not want to refer to matters that are sub judice or to recent court cases. However, prior to recent court cases, approximately £2 million of EU funds had been granted to upgrade the pier at Dunquinn. I understand this may now be pie in the sky and that the money has disappeared. That means the ferrymen will be obliged to continue to land their craft at an awkward spot in Dunquinn. The proposal and plans that were being put in place seem to have vanished. It is difficult to provide a complete picture because I do not want to refer to names or the problems relating to the island. Perhaps this matter could be investigated to see what could be done to provide short-term help. The ferrymen informed me that a small amount of money would make the pier safer.

Another issue to which I wish to refer involves the canal in Tralee. I have no intention of anticipating amendments which may have been tabled for Committee Stage, but I understand the canal is owned by Kerry County Council. Development of the canal is being carried out by a semi-private company over which the Minister has no jurisdiction. If she did, I would like to have seen reference to the canal in the Bill so that the county council could obtain the various grants available in respect of it.

It is amazing that legislation is only now being introduced to give the Minister the necessary powers. I believed these should have been in place when the Office of Public Works held responsibility for this area. The arguments put forward by the Minister in respect of bridges, footpaths, access, etc., are valid. I welcome the Bill because it represents a further step towards enhancing our waterways. To be honest, I have little knowledge of waterways other than the River Shannon and what I learned from Dick Warner's recent television series.

I fully endorse the comments made by the Minister and Members in respect of the Bill, which can only do good. To realise the potential of our waterways, we need only consider the way traffic on the River Shannon has increased in the past 20 years because approximately 50,000 people now use the river each year.

Mr. Dardis: My contribution is of an impromptu nature. Since my colleagues from Counties Offaly and Carlow referred to the Barrow, I thought it best to mention the bit in the middle because it might otherwise fall by default. Therefore, I must make the case for the part of that waterway which runs from above Monasterevan to below Athy and on to the border of County Carlow, and its various tributaries which reach as far as Rathangan and elsewhere. In addition, I will also refer to the Grand and Royal Canals which also flow through County Kildare. [1308] I commend the Bill and I realise the necessity for it. I hope the powers it confers on the Minister will be used to the advantage of our waterways.

My acquaintance with our waterways began over 30 years ago when, in the days before outboard engines, I rowed a boat on the River Shannon from Banagher to Meelick weir. There was a small harbour — a relic left by the mill in Banagher — which, in the past, was used in transporting grain. At that time, it was extremely rare to see a cruiser on the Shannon. The only boats of any significance using the river were two large canal barges used for pleasure purposes. These barges came down from Athlone and when they arrived people in small rowing boats had to beat a hasty retreat to the bank otherwise their craft would be swamped. That was the extent of the traffic using the river at that time and it is tremendous to see the number of pleasure craft now using the Shannon and other inland waterways.

A number of years ago I had the pleasure of boating on the Canal du Nivernais which flows through Auxerre in France. I was informed that several of the French canals were on the point of closure and would have been lost but for the development of the tourist trade. We must be conscious that we do not lose any of our waterways. In the past there may have been a tendency to consider them superfluous and only of use to wildlife or anglers and it was believed that, as navigable watercourses, they were not of any consequence. It is a matter of significant regret that on the old main road into Naas — the Cork road — a bridge was constructed across the canal which would not allow traffic to pass underneath. At the time that was probably regarded as a forward looking development but it had a deleterious effect.

When the Heritage Act was debated in the Houses, much debate took place in respect of the heritage value of canal locks, lock-keepers' cottages, etc. A recent occurrence, of which the Minister must take cognisance, is the encroachment of development onto the borders of canals and a loss of lock-keepers' cottages through inappropriate conversions. Members of Kildare County Council are aware of the necessity to retain the corridor on the banks of the each canal. Senator O'Toole raised the question of land and I am glad the Minister has been given powers in respect of that land. This will ensure that the more undesirable aspects of development do not occur.

I am fascinated by the Minister's statement that she was precluded by statute from carrying out works to the public roads within the meaning of the Roads Act, 1993. That is a real problem in parts of west Kildare, particularly in respect of the crude junctions of canals, towpaths and roadways. As the Minister is aware, it is very difficult to get a county council to repair a roadway but it is a downright impossibility to get it to repair roadways, some of which are in an appalling state, beside canals. We must attend to that problem.

[1309] To return to the Barrow navigation, I attended an important conference in Carlow a short while ago where the interests and users involved with that river assembled. A good discussion on the future of the Barrow took place and there was a tremendous commitment on the part of those present to ensure the protection and enhancement of this waterway. I applaud the work carried out by the Office of Public Works. I saw pictures of the work done at Graiguenamanagh where a pier with fine capstones was rediscovered. Tremendous restoration work has been carried out.

I will now deal with the multiplicity of agencies associated with the river. Fisheries boards, the Office of Public Works and drainage boards, among others, are responsible for the Barrow navigation. The problem that arises as a result of that is a lack of coherence in respect of managing the waterway. One of the buzz phrases used in angling circles at present refers to a “catchment” approach. In the case of the Barrow, we are dealing not only with a navigable waterway but also with the rivercourse because the two are intertwined. A strong case must be made, as in the case of the Shannon, for an overall authority to co-ordinate the various aspects of managing the navigation. It does not seem proper that at the top of the river the drainage boards are responsible for its upkeep, the middle — the Barrow navigation — is cared for by other bodies and the tidal area below St. Mollins is the responsibility of the Commissioners for Irish Lights, etc. Co-ordination is required because there is an element of what I term “administrative ball-hopping”, where no one takes responsibility. At the conference, people were not prepared to take responsibility for some of the areas for which they obviously are responsible. Careful consideration must be given to this issue.

The integrity of towpaths must be maintained. They are prime examples of unrestricted access where people can walk for long distances, especially as regards walking tours, which are an increasingly important for tourism. With the increase in tourism traffic, bank erosion must also be looked at. Banks were not built for cruisers travelling at speed but for horse drawn barges. Edenderry was referred to, where there was a breach in the banks several years ago. One of the fascinating aspects of that was that it took longer to repair than it took to build, which says something about modern technology. We sometimes assume we are more able and organised than people were two centuries ago, which is not always the case.

In the early part of this century, salmon caught in the River Corrib in the morning were shipped at midday and were in the Billingsgate fish market in London the following morning. I suspect there would be serious difficulty achieving a similar timescale in these modern times when we have aeroplanes. Perhaps people were not as stupid or unorganised as we assumed them to be.

[1310] I am sure the operational programme money will be well spent. I hope when we are looking for the next tranche of funds, which will be reduced, that moneys of this nature will not be eliminated. It is important that moneys are channelled into the protection and enhancement of these waterways, to continue the work which has been so well done on the Barrow. It is a pleasure to see and it makes us very proud to visit that waterway.

Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera): I thank Senators for this useful debate which is an opportunity to relay information on this issue. I hope this will continue in every aspect of my Department.

I thank Senator McDonagh for his encouraging words on the SACs, the appeal boards and the liaison committees. I am aware of the anxieties in local communities about the SACs. Because of that, the Minister of State and I looked at this issue since we entered office to see how best we could involve local communities and give them a direct input. That is why there is now an appeals board and why the Minister of State and I decided that the best way forward was to have a local input through liaison committees, which would be elected by local people in their respective communities to represent their SAC on an appeals decision. This is a positive move. When I was in Opposition I was aware that before the signing of the regulations in February 1997 there was not the kind of consultation there should have been. I intend to continue the consultation process initiated by myself and the Minister of State.

Senator McDonagh is aware of my decision on turf cutting on raised bogs. We have allowed turf cutting until the end of 1998 to facilitate further negotiation and resolution of the matter. I have met farming and conservation groups to discuss the issue. The opportunity for further consultation will be given to those who require it and the same will apply to the negotiations on the compensation package. Continued turf cutting on the raised bogs within SACs will only pertain until the end of this year and will give us the flexibility to stand back from the situation so a resolution can be found. All of the groups involved realise this and they have thanked me for giving them an opportunity to bring about that resolution.

I agree with Senator McDonagh about the advisory bodies, with particular reference to the national monuments aspect of my Department and county councils. Councillors have done a tremendous amount of work and are in many respects the unsung heroes for what they have done for our local heritage, particularly our national monuments. I hope a structure can be put in place so that local heritage plans can interlink with national heritage plans for the promotion of our heritage generally. Many Senators referred to the cross—Border study on the Ulster Canal which I will refer to later.

[1311] The importance of access to education and health for the islands was referred to by most of the Senators and I am pleased they are supporting myself, the Minister of State and the Government in this regard. Senator McDonagh said the Office of Public Works had responsibility for flooding. It is not the responsibility of my Department. With respect to Senator Mooney, he confused the role of the Office of Public Works and Dúchas, which comes directly under my Department. It is important to make that distinction. The Office of Public Works, local authorities and the Department of the Environment and Local Government have direct responsibility for flooding.

Senator Mooney and other Senators referred to the Shannon River Authority Bill. When this Bill was originally introduced in this House, the primary responsibility was with the Department of the Environment and the then Minister and not at any stage with my Department or the then Minister. I cannot direct Senators on this matter. I suggest they should contact the Minister for the Environment and Local Government about their proposals for legislation.

Senator Mooney also raised the feasibility study on the Ulster Canal. The Department felt it was necessary to initiate such a study, which I support, and it is important that we wait and see what the recommendations are. We should not pre-empt such studies, which are done for a particular purpose by experts in the field who can highlight different issues, of which we do not have specialist knowledge. It would not be responsible to begin initiating policies before discovering the findings. I agree we should grasp an opportunity when there is one. However, it is not only a question of being cautious, but responsible. We must find what we are prepared to grasp in any such initiative; and, unfortunately, cost must play an important part, not only in this kind of proposal but in every facet of every Department. We cannot ignore the constraints of finance on creative decisions. We must see how best we can incorporate and plan for any phased development of such proposals once we can agree in principle to their initiation.

I agree with Senators who referred to the canals as an important element of tourism, a fact which was only realised in the past few years. Senators also mentioned fishery boards. My Department has an extremely good relationship with the fishery boards and the local communities along the canals. When we think of canals we should remind ourselves of all the communities along that navigation system. I am pleased to say that all the elements within that system work very well with my Department and there is good co-ordination there.

I am very pleased that extra platforms for anglers are being provided and that improvements are being made along the canal banks. One of the reasons this Bill is of great importance is that we [1312] want to be able to maintain, improve and repair our canal system. That cannot be done under the present legal system, as referred to by Senator Dardis. The Roads Act is a prime example of this.

Water quality and fish stocks do not come under the remit of my Department but under the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources; water quality is also within the remit of the Department of the Environment and Local Government.

Senator Mooney raised the issue of intellectual property. This refers to any documentation that would be made available to the general public concerning canals. This is an important aspect in promoting our canals and we need to refer to this in the legislation. It is proposed to bring forward legislation covering the general aspects of copyright and that Bill will be brought before the Dáil in the near future.

Senator O'Toole referred to the upkeep, repair and maintenance of canals. He also asked me to outline all the Departments and agencies involved with our canals. Those that spring readily to mind are the Department of the Environment and Local Government, the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources, SFADCo, the port authorities, my Department, the ESB, etc. I would be interested in proposals from Senators for a council consisting of all these bodies so we can adopt a more co-ordinated approach.

Senator O'Toole also referred to section 5 which covers the functions of the Minister. He may be allowing his paranoia to run rife on this occasion but I can assure him that there is no hidden agenda behind this section. Section 5 states: “It shall be and be deemed always to have been”. This is drafted in that way because the parliamentary draughtsman and ourselves followed the advice of the Attorney General.

I thank Senator Gallagher for his complimentary comments about my Department and for his encouragement. Although my Department has expanded since 1993, I agree with him that we do not have enough staff. I also thank him for saying he is willing to support any “battles” we might have with the Department of Finance when we try to rectify this situation. While there is not enough staff in my Department, other Departments suffer staff shortages as well. Unfortunately, the same rules apply with regard to staffing for every Department and the Senator will be aware of the constraints involved.

Senator Gallagher also mentioned the consultation/compensation process with regard to Clara bog. I covered this matter in my reply to Senator McDonagh. Perhaps I could contact Senator Gallagher in writing to give him the up to date position on his specific proposals on constituency problems.

I am glad Senator Gibbons said this debate gave him a further incentive to return to this House to express his views on the Barrow navigation system. I was interested in his views on locks, particularly the use of the old locks as [1313] opposed to the new ones. As he said, it all depends on the level of traffic. This issue also needs to be addressed because the old locks have a role to play in our industrial heritage. We could adopt a logical approach to this issue which could solve all our problems.

Senators Dardis and Gibbons referred to towpaths. They need to be restored because there is more traffic, of a different nature, on them now than was originally envisaged. The issue of whether horse riding along the towpaths should be allowed has been raised in both Houses.

Mr. Gallagher: Deputy Dukes is concerned about this issue.

Miss de Valera: Yes. We are all trying to strike a balance between other leisure and sporting activities, such as fishing, the rights of the pedestrian, horse rider, etc. I would like to hear the views of Senators on this issue.

Mr. Gallagher: Keep the ban.

Miss de Valera: I share Senator Fitzgerald's views of the work done by Dick Warner. I congratulate Mr. Warner on his wonderful work and for whetting the appetite of many people, particularly the young, with regard to wildlife and canals. It would not be appropriate for me to discuss the Blasket Islands as the matter is still sub judice.

The Senator also referred to the Tralee Ship Canal and correctly pointed out that it is owned by Kerry County Council and Tralee Urban District Council. The restoration works on this canal can be undertaken by the Office of Public Works on my behalf under the operation of the programme for tourism. It is considered appropriate that the management of this canal should rest with the Tralee UDC and that was the reason I gave in the Lower House for not including it on the Schedule and that is why it is not referred to in this Bill.

Senators Dardis and Cox referred to the importance of canals to our tourism industry. Senator Cox also referred to the importance of the islands. This is only to be expected because she hails from County Galway which has very strong connections with the islands. I am pleased to note she supports the work the Government is doing in this respect. Again, Senator Dardis referred to the importance of having an integrated approach to the corridor of canals for their tourism benefits and difficulties caused by the erosion of banks. I have already referred to this.

I thank Members for their tremendous support and encouragement, not only for me but for those who work in the Department.

Question put and agreed to.

Agreed to take Committee Stage now.