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'Prohibitive Legislation Set to Stifle Canal Development' – IWAI

25th January 2016

The Inland Waterways Association of Ireland (IWAI) fear reduced services and prohibitive enforcement practices including stop and search provisions by Waterways Ireland Authorised Officers as a result of the new Heritage Bill published this week.

With no advance notice or consultation with the inland waterways stakeholders & canal communities the Heritage Bill 2016 was published on 4 January 2016. Part 2 deals with amendments to the Canal Act 1986. Minister for Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys in introducing the bill to the Seanad at Stage 2 this week stated “it is a robust framework for the making of bye-laws to regulate the use of boats on the canals and the management of canals and canal properties. These changes will enhance the ability of Waterways Ireland to manage waterways for the benefit of all”

IWAI advise that while it would welcome and support proper regulations the proposed Bill does not put user requirements, local communities or tourism at the centre of the regulations. Rather it is a heavy handed approach that will result in lower boat traffic on the canals. Boats will opt to move to the other Irish Waterways also managed by Waterways Ireland, where the regulations are more user friendly and where there are no oppressive fines and penalties.

Background to this Bill
In January 2014 Waterways Ireland brought forward proposals for amendments to the Canal Byelaws 1988 under the Canals Act 1986 & Maritime Safety Act 2005. IWAI campaigned vigorously during the minimal consultation period of 21 days. Public discussion in 2014 on the matter included - the Canals and Barrow as a tourism resource; queries raised in the Seanad and the Dail; County Councils input; public meetings; national and local press articles; television and radio interviews; community websites; blogs and facebook pages. These all reflected the reservations of users, communities and public representatives as to the significant impact of the draconian suggestions in the proposed bye-laws. The IWAI campaign resulted in an invite to appear before the
Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht.

Feedback from members of this cross party Committee who met on 25 March 2014 included:

• “I am fearful that proposals will be implemented without further recommendations” - Senator Cait Keane. Fine Gael Labour Panel.
• “I am of the view that Waterways Ireland must return to the beginning and reconsider this matter from a very practical viewpoint. What is proposed is going to lead to the closure of the Canal” - Deputy James Bannon. Fine Gael Longford - Westmeath
• “People should not feel pushed out of an activity they have grown up with, love and wish to pass on to other generations and the community to help local economies with the tourism income it can provide” - Deputy Barry Cowen. Fianna Fail Laois - Offaly
• “The Bye-laws will impact heavily on a small number of people” - Deputy Catherine Murphy. Independent Kildare North
• “The huge increase in some fees is unacceptable and there is serious concern that the proposed fees will damage tourism and drive people from the waterways” Deputy Sandra McLellan. Sinn Fein Cork East
• “The new bye-laws will make exacting demands on users of the Canal” - Deputy Seamus Kirk. Fianna Fail. Louth
• “The five day rule, which I believe is completely unworkable” - Deputy Ann Phelan. Labour Carlow- Kilkenny

The 2014 proposed byelaws which if passed would have had being invalid as noted on the Waterways Ireland website “The Minister was subsequently advised by the Office of the Attorney General that amendments to the primary legislation governing the bye-laws (the Canals Act 1986) would be necessary to ensure that the new bye-laws would not be ultra vires.” The proposed invalid bye-laws were published with no prior consultation and a short public consultation period of just 21 days, resulted in over 2300 submissions on the issue.

The current position

Two years later and it seems no lessons have being learned on how to communicate with the customer and communities along the canals.

The proposed Canals Act (2016) gives Waterways Ireland, from its Enniskillen headquarters, the authority to appoint “officers” to carry out search and seizure activity on boats and personal property on the Grand Canal, Royal Canal and River Barrow.

In the Republic of Ireland, search and seizure acts are limited to a number of specially trained and professional groups such as the Gardaí, Health a Safety Inspectors and Customs Officers. The boats affected by this new act include residential barges, hire bots and barges, restaurant barges, motor cruisers and fishing boats.

The powers proposed within the new Act will affect those on the waterways of Carlow, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Longford, Meath, Offaly and Westmeath.

Stage 3 of the Bill has moved on to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht

IWAI members are now looking to this Committee to table sensible amendments to the Heritage Bill 2016.

Future Outlook

Politically, this is now a very big issue. It is going to feature highly as candidates face into elections this spring. The IWAI have gained the interest of local, regional and national politicians on this matter to date, who on behalf of their constituents, want to develop, not constrict, canal use.

The boating community is not averse to appropriate management, facility provision, and access to waterways. But boats are key attractions, as the lifeblood of the navigations, and need to be welcomed not subjected to reduced services and prohibitive enforcement practices including stop and search provisions by unknown Waterways Ireland Authorised Officers.

Who to contact for
further information Gregory Whelan, IWAI, p: +353-87-7996356 e: [email protected]
Alan Kelly, IWAI, Mobile: +353-86-8326275
John Dolan, IWAI, Mobile: +353-87-9021039

Published in Inland Waterways
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