Following a meeting with Dawn Livingstone Chief Executive of Waterways Ireland and her senior official , Fianna Fáil Councillor, John Paul Feeley has expressed his disappointment that the proposal to extend the Shannon Navigation north of Lough Allen towards Dowra will not progress until there is further funding provided by the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Dr. Leo Vardkar TD.
The meeting, arranged on foot of a motion raised at Cavan County Council by Cllr. Feeley was also attended by Ger Finn, Deputy County Manager.
Amongst those in attendance on behalf of Waterways Ireland were Nigel Russell, Director of Technical Services, Dr. Paula Treacy, Senior Environmental Officer. The Northern Regional Manager and the Director of Civil Engineering was also present.
Setting out the history of the project which was initially submitted to Leitrim County Council for planning n 2007 which was subsequently granted but overturned on appeal to An Bord Pleanala. Waterways Ireland confirmed that the work done by Leitrim County Council to improve road access to the site and amendment of the Leitrim County Development Plan had addressed some of the grounds for refusal. They further confirmed that they had commissioned a range of studies into the ecology, biology, archaeology and geology of the site which would address the remaining concerns and provide the basis for a further application for planning if funding were to become available.
‘Firstly, the blocking of the initial application by a small number of objectors prevented a project proceeding that would have made a significant overall contribution to the Lough Allen catchment and to the village of Dowra. However we have to now move on. We had a productive and frank meeting wherein I set out the reasons why I and the local community believe this is a vital project for the future of the area and can be a spur to tourism and economic development and link the Shannon Navigation to the first village on the River and to the hugely significant Cavan Burren and the UNESCO Geopark.
Councillor Feeley noted that the initial justification for the proposal remained in that Lough Allen lacked a destination to entice boats from Acres Lake to make the journey through the three locks to Lough Allen and the safety issues also remained.
‘Officials from Waterways Ireland accept that the justification for the extension remains. They set out that the project would also cost in the region of € 1.5 to € 1.8 million with a significant cost in terms of bringing the proposal back to planning. In addition they outlined significant ongoing maintenance costs. The CEO noted that she had little or no capital funding available to her and that her operational budget had been cut by about 30% in recent years. I accept the realities in which we all operate but emphasised that this was a project that must be kept on the Agenda. It remains on the Waterways Ireland Capital Plan but now requires Ministerial Directive and I call on Minister Vardkar to act.’
Waterways Ireland confirmed that they are anxious to increase numbers on Lough Allen and are hoping to develop canoe routes around the lake and also are seeking options to develop a slipway on the northern part of the lake.
‘The constructive proposal from Waterways Ireland will entice more users on to the lake which will, in turn improve the business case for the extension of the Navigation to Dowra. It will also assist local canoe hire businesses. I have already spoken to Cllr. Mary Bohan in terms of seeking Leitrim County Council assistance in the development of a slipway on the northern part of the lake to boost casual use of Lough Allen by boat-users, something that Waterways Ireland see as also improving the business case for my proposal.’
Concluding, Councillor Feeley emphasised that he would keep the issue very much on the agenda into the future.
He also took the opportunity, together with the Deputy County Manager to raise the proposals to re-open the Ulster Canal and extend the Erne Navigation into Lough Oughter.