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‘Flawed’ consultation process on canals, waterways plan

A group objecting to proposed by-law changes relating to canals and waterways have criticised the consultation process and accused it of “being flawed” and “lacking transparency”.

The consultation process on the proposed by-laws for the Shannon Navigation System is now in its second phase with today the closing date for submissions.

One of the main objections of the Shannon Lakes and Rivers Group is a new registration fee of €200. Canal fees will also be raised from €126 to €200.

“There’s no justification for it, we’re not looking for something for nothing, but we’re not paying an ‘afloat tax’ just to be on the water,” said Jim Finnegan, spokesperson for the group.

He believes the introduction of a registration fee by Waterways Ireland will reduce the number of recreational boats on the Shannon which would be detrimental to local businesses.

“Shannon business is worth €600m to the economy locally, and 23% of that is VAT which is a great deal for the Exchequer,” said Mr Finnegan.

The group is objecting to the fee going from €0 to €200 and that registration will only be allowed if boat owners have insurance.

And it applies to people who only use the boat a couple of times a year as well as frequent boat users.

Mr Finnegan said the new fee along with insurance, that could cost up to €250, and a survey with a cost of €50 over a number of years would incur an annual expense of around €500.

If the proposed changes are approved a fine of €150 would be imposed if the registration fee is not paid.

The group is putting forward a counter proposal which they say would be a payment in return for services.

In their counter proposal, boat users will be agreeable to a €100 Annual Lock Passage Pass, up from €1.20 per lock passage.

They also say they’re concerned that a blanket fee of €200 would criminalise a large number of local Shannon users who generally keep their boats on trailers at home and use the Shannon sporadically.

They believe these users should have free lock passages – similar to other exempt categories such as fishermen – as most of these boats never use WI facilities.

Waterways Ireland said it is complying with the guidelines on the conducting of a public consultation that was issued by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in 2019.

It said they had a 133-day consultation period in Phase One, eight public consultation meetings and 933 submissions.

In Phase Two there have been an additional two public consultation meetings.

Inspector of Navigation with Waterways Ireland Paddy Harkin said he believes they have been very transparent.

“We were not required to go back out for Phase Two but we decided we would and we incorporated the changes proposed by people.

“That six weeks in Phase Two gives people a second look at what we’re proposing based on the feedback from phase one.

“We believe that we are being very transparent. We are giving people a period from mid-June right through to the end of February, which is the guts of eight months of public consultation.

“The actual requirement, the legal requirement for us is 90 days. So, we’ve gone well and above the 90 days of public consultation that is legally required,” Mr Harkin said.

Mr Harkin added it is likely the €200 registration fee will be introduced on completion of the consultation process.

Waterways Ireland estimates there are up to 5,000 boats on the Shannon nowadays which would produce €1m.

According to Mr Harkin, this money would be reinvested in additional facilities on the Shannon in the same way that the canals money through houseboats or permits will be ring-fenced for reinvestment in facilities and infrastructure.

The Shannon Navigation Act was introduced in 1990. The proposed by-laws revisions are the first to take place since 1988 for the canals, and the first since 1994 for the Shannon.

“Thirty-four years later, we have put in tens of millions of euros of investment onto the Shannon Waterway. What we’re doing here is we are aligning the canals, where there is an annual fee, with the Shannon.

“The annual fee on the canals dates back to 1988 and is €126 , so we’re bringing that up to €200 for the canal Boats and we’re going to match that on the Shannon.

“Then boats in the Republic of Ireland from Belturbet in Co Cavan down to Saint Mullins in Co Carlow or to Limerick City can all travel on the one permit over all the inland waterways.

“It is an annual registration and the legal authority is there to introduce it. We feel that based on the services that are being provided that are world class, if you compare them to England or Scotland or France where you’d be paying €1000 a year, the proposal is you’d pay €200 a year in Ireland,” Mr Harkin said.

On another issue, following submissions in the First Phase, Waterways Ireland said it has taken on board the views of stakeholders and acknowledge that there remains a demand for winter moorings and reinstated it in Phase Two proposals.

It said winter moorings in designated harbours that meet that demand will be permitted. That fee has been set at €300, an increase on the €63.50 which has been in place for over 30 years.

Liam Finnegan said the fee is not the issue, but while winter mooring has been reinstated, he said the plan is for WI to cut off shore power and water during the winter season from 1 November to 3 March.

In its counter proposal, the group is suggesting the increased fee should include the retention of water and electricity for the duration of this period, as in summer, saying an increase in fees should be reflected in an increase in services.

The revised by laws are available in libraries and on the Waterways Ireland website.

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