#INLAND WATERWAYS - The "main thrust" of waterways refurbishment is still focused on the re-opening of the Ulster Canal from Lough Erne to Clones, according to the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
Responding in writing to a Dáil question from Kildare South TD Jack Wall regarding plans for the development of Ireland's canal system under Waterways Ireland, Minister Jimmy Deenihan confirmed that the Ulster Canal Project is still top priority - despite the Government's U-turn on its commitment to cover the full capital costs of the scheme, as previously reported on Afloat.ie.
The minister commented: "Since its formation in 1999, Waterways Ireland has continued to upgrade the facilities on the canals through the capital allocations under the National Development Plans. The canals system has benefited extremely well during that time, particularly with the number of additional mooring and landing spaces that have been made available. The provision of further mooring space will be dependent on available finance and priorities over the coming years."
Minister Deenihan said his department's capital allocation for Waterways Ireland is €4.5 million which "will facilitate continued investment in the development and restoration of the inland waterways".
He added that Waterways Ireland is also "undertaking feasibility studies on the Kilbeggan Branch of the Grand Canal and on the Longford Branch of the Royal Canal" which are due to be completed by the end of 2013.
With reference to staffing levels among lock keepers, the minister said: "I am informed by Waterways Ireland that there are 20 lock keepers employed at present on the Grand Canal and Barrow Navigation. A number of staff have retired recently and decisions on their replacement will be taken having regard to the business needs of the organisation.
"I understand that Waterways Ireland is not planning to recruit lock keepers at this time. Any posts filled will be either by internal transfer or external recruitment, depending on the particular circumstances."
The minister also commented on waterways traffic, noting that boat traffic numbers "have remained fairly constant over 2009 and 2010" and that in 2011 "numbers increased by 30% following the re-opening of the Royal Canal".
In addition, he emphasised "the fact that access was available to the Tall Ships event in Waterford".