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Waterways Ireland publishes new rules for use of canals and and inland navigations

Cross-Border body unveils 10-year plan for ‘transformative change’ in how waterways are operated

The biggest changes in operation of Ireland’s navigable, inland waterways since the mid-1980s, including a €30 million investment in Dublin’s canals and the sale of the former graving docks in Ringsend, are being planned by Waterways Ireland.

The changes get under way on Monday with the publication of new draft byelaws for the Shannon Navigation, the Grand and Royal canals and the Barrow Navigation. In Dublin these will pave the way for an investment Waterways Ireland chief executive John McDonagh said will be “a minimum of €30 million”.

The new byelaws will provide houseboat mooring zones in Dublin’s Grand Canal Dock and some existing bases in or near Dublin. But numbers will be limited and the authority’s powers to take action against unregulated houseboats will be strengthened.

On the Shannon Navigation, the current system of paying €1.20 for passage through a lock – suspended since Covid – would be scrapped. Motor cruisers which are already required to be registered, would have to pay for an annual permit. The authority would also have the power to enforce regulations about life jackets on the water and to inspect boats for safety equipment. The bye laws also envisage speed limits for bicycles and scooters on associated greenways and blueways, certification of vessels for commercial purposes and designation of zones for tents and caravans.

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“It is a wide remint in terms of what the revisions are going to encompass”, Mr McDonagh told The Irish Times. “That is because these byelaws are way outdated. So this is actually a very big initiative.” He said there has been a lot of discussions with waterways users in advance of the formal public consultation which extends to October.

Waterways Ireland, a cross-Border body set up under the Belfast Agreement, operates and maintains navigations including the Lower Bann, and the Erne in Northern Ireland, and the Barrow, Shannon, Royal and Grand canals in the Republic. The authority’s remit also includes the cross-Border waterway, the Shannon-Erne, and the restoration of the Ulster Canal between Lough Erne and Clones Co Monaghan.

As the byelaws are being revised, Waterways Ireland has published a three-year corporate plan as well as a “draft, 10-year long term plan”. Public consultation on the ten-year plan began in May and runs until August 18th.

Mr McDonagh said Waterways Ireland was working with other arms of Government and local authorities to fund greenways and blueways.

In Dublin, it is in talks with Google to build a boardwalk along the inner Grand Canal basin behind buildings on Barrow Street. It would link Grand Canal Dock Dart station via Mac Mahon Bridge to a proposed, linear floating park at Charlotte Quay.

The sea lock gates in Grand Canal are currently being refurbished at a cost of between €3 million to €4 million. There would be links to the Royal and Grand Canal greenways and to the Phoenix Park.

Somewhat controversially, Waterways Ireland wants to sell off the former Graving Docks in Ringsend. Mr McDonagh said the graving docks were protected structures so they would not be lost as heritage artefacts.

“What we are trying to do is to get Government to invest in our assets in Dublin to being them over time to a level that would be comparable with other European cities”, Mr McDonagh said.

In all, Waterways Ireland calculates its infrastructure assets, which includes navigation channels, towpaths, adjoining lands, harbours, jetties, fishing stands, bridges, aqueducts, locks, and lock houses along with other assorted buildings, to be worth €1.5 billion. The authority says it creates social, economic, and environmental wellbeing in line with many Government programmes on health, heritage and sustainability, valued at €600 million annually.

Core funding comes from the Department of Housing, Heritage and Local Government, which contributes 85 per cent, and the Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland which contributed 15 per cent.

The draft plan sees the authority’s future role as being increasingly more inclusive of walking, cycling and water-based activities as well as tourism, heritage and environmental interests.

But first comes the need for regulation. “If you are in a space a long time, when let’s just say there is less regulation that there needs to be, it makes it very difficult to enforce things and have compliance in place because you don’t have the status, you don’t have the ground to stand on to be able to do that,” Mr McDonagh said.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist