Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Ulster Canal

Oral Answers to Questions – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 21st October 2013.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Phil Flanagan Phil Flanagan Sinn Féin 3:00 pm, 21st October 2013

4. asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure for an update on the current funding position on the re-opening of the Ulster canal. (AQO 4840/11-15)

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for his question.  Work by Waterways Ireland on the restoration of the Ulster Canal has been solely focused on the section from Upper Lough Erne to Clones.  The project will be advanced in line with available resources.  The Ulster canal interagency group has been tasked to examine all possible options for financing the project.  DCAL economists are reviewing the business case to update the estimated costs and identify social as well as economic benefits for the first section of the canal.  The Ulster canal interagency group is exploring funding options with the Special EU Programmes Body.

Photo of Phil Flanagan Phil Flanagan Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.  Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as ucht a fhreagra.  I thank the Minister for her answer.  I welcome the Minister's continuing commitment to the Ulster canal, particularly the section from Upper Lough Erne to Clones.  However, one of the difficulties that it faces is an absence of funding.  Will the Minister provide more information on potential funding options for completing the work on that section of the canal?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

The work of the interagency group is focused not just on funding options but on what we can do with current available funding.  It is really important that we look at the Ulster canal with a view to how we can open up waterways to improve tourism and the local economy.  It is important that we get started on the restoration of the Ulster canal in that area because it has experienced a lack of investment for decades. 

We are looking not just towards the Irish Government, within DCAL and towards Europe but at other opportunities, possibly through the Lottery Heritage Fund and many others to see whether we can get this started by looking at options to bring the work forward, rather than waiting until all the money is in.  We can do that only on the basis of secured funding.  Once that happens, I will be happy to make a statement to the House that will be a bit of good news that the Member and other Members for that area have been waiting to hear for a long time.

Photo of Tom Elliott Tom Elliott UUP

I thank the Minister for that update.  Will she tell us how much the overall project was estimated to cost, based on the business case, and what income it projected?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

Overall, it goes into tens of millions of pounds.  I believe that the business case needs to be updated, and that will be part of discussions involving me, Minister Deenihan, and Minister McGinley.  Some of the work that is being done by DCAL economists is bringing a fresh approach to the economic appraisal.  We are sharing that with our Irish Government colleagues and the interagency group.  That is because I believe that, rather than waiting for all the money to be secured at once, we need to look at the potential for phased approaches.  It is good news that we now have full planning permission across all the councils and from our Planning Service here.

We now need to look at what capital moneys are available, what we can do and our plan to secure additional funds for that area.  As I said to Phil Flanagan, it is really important — I am sure that the Member is more aware of this than I am — that we get parts of that canal opened and try to get some construction work done on it.

Photo of Joe Byrne Joe Byrne Social Democratic and Labour Party 3:15 pm, 21st October 2013

Can this issue be raised at the next meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council?  What potential does she expect could accrue to the areas of Fermanagh and Tyrone in future tourism?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

The Member should take comfort in knowing that this is always raised at the North/South Ministerial Council.  Certainly, within the waterways sectoral aspect of DCAL's North/South arrangements, it is constantly brought up.  The key here is to look at what we can do now for rural communities and what moneys are available.  I appreciate that, when the Irish Government said that they would fully fund the project, they were in different economic circumstances.  However, they still remain committed to doing something.

In DCAL, I am looking at a new economic appraisal to see what the real costs are and what parts of the work I could try to start, possibly in conjunction with Ministers Deenihan and McGinley.  There is a lot of expectation around the project, and rightly so, no more so than among the people who live and work in the surrounding area and those who are waiting for work on the restoration of the canal.

Photo of Anna Lo Anna Lo Alliance

Parts of the UK and many other countries have reinvented canals as tourist facilities and attractions.  What lessons does the Minister intend to adopt from other people's experiences?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

Certainly, we regularly receive reports from Waterways Ireland about tourist potential.  The royal canal has brought great potential.  There are festivals across all the canals and waterways the length and breadth of this island.  Unfortunately, those are some of the very few opportunities that people who live in rural communities near waterways have of generating a local economy.  So the tourist potential is absolutely huge.  Not only is it huge for people who live on this island; it is huge for those who want to visit here and travel.  There is big interest, particularly in Europe, in canals and waterways.  It is incumbent on us to do what we can to get the project financed.  We need to make a start on it.  We  do not have all the funds yet, but it is time to make a start on it rather than sit and wait on free money coming.  People who are looking for tourists and have a tourist product to offer and people who are willing and able to work look to us for opportunities to get this moving.  I think that is what it could do.