Election Candidates nationwide have being contacting the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland (IWAI) to pledge their support for an IWAI call for provision to be made for new canal bye-laws via a dedicated Canal Bill during the next Dáil, according to the IWAI.
This campaign allows Candidates an opportunity to publically demonstrate their support for the Canals and their Communities and their efforts to encourage the use and growth of the canals with legislation that is centred on the communities, users and tourism.
The pledge to date is receiving good cross party support. The IWAI web team will be updating local and national media next week on candidates supporting the pledge.
"IWAI request election candidates to pledge their support for an IWAI call for provision to be made for new canal bye-laws via a dedicated Canal Bill during the next Dáil when possible rather than including any future legislation in a joint Bill such as the Heritage bill 2016. Furthermore in developing The Canal (Amendment) Bill 2017 that recognition be given to the canal users, canal communities and Local Authorities adjoining the canals by way of prelegislative
consultation and scrutiny. This approach would be in line with Government reform and best practice."
With no advance notice or consultation with the inland waterways stakeholders & canal communities the Heritage Bill 2016 was published on 4 January 2016.
IWAI advised that while it would welcome and support proper regulations the proposed Bill did not put user requirements, local communities or tourism at the centre of the regulations. Rather the now lapsed bill is a heavy handed approach that will result in lower boat traffic on the canals.
Prior to the 2016 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 if passed would not have had any validity as noted this year 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 been learned on how to communicate with the customer and communities along the canals.
The powers proposed within the new Act will affect those on the waterways of Carlow, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Longford, Meath, Offaly and Westmeath. The bill had Stage 2 approval in the Seanad, but is now lapsed due to the dissolution of the Dáil this month.
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.