Waterways are vital for wildlife habitats and the species that call them home, and for the archaeological and architectural heritage which allows us to glimpse their development. The history and construction of inland waterways are tangible links to the past in the areas of business, technology and trade. Inland waterways are physical markers of Ireland’s economic and social development that deserve our recognition and merit preservation for future generations.
Ireland’s waterways improve the quality of life for those living nearby as well as for visitors, both Irish and foreign. Inland waterways have great economic value, acting as stimuli for commercial and tourism activities, including the private boat sector, boat maintenance, boat hire, fishing, accommodation, and those services associated with land-based activities in both rural and urban areas. They can also contribute to an enhanced environment attractive to businesses seeking relocation.
In a Policy Paper presented in 2005, the Heritage Council stated:
‘The development of road and rail networks over the past two hundred years made the primary transport function of Ireland’s inland waterways redundant. Today, a new role has been found for them as a tourism and amenity resource. It is important, however, that this significant part of our heritage is managed in such a way that the built and natural heritage elements are not lost. We are responsible for using and enjoying our waterway heritage so that future generations will have the same opportunities and options as we had. A sensitive balance between the three pillars of sustainable development - economic, social and environmental - should be ensured.’
Ireland’s inland waterways and their corridors should be managed in an integrated, broad-based way. This will conserve their built and archaeological heritage features, and protect their landscape and biodiversity. As a unique part of our heritage, inland waterways are now fulfilling a new role not envisaged for them originally. The Heritage Council aims to enhance the enjoyment and appreciation of inland waterways as part of our living heritage, both for this generation and for those to come.
- Ensure that the intrinsic heritage of Ireland’s navigable waterways is conserved. This includes the built and natural heritage features of the waterway;
- Propose policy on inland waterways heritage to government;
- Raise awareness of this aspect of heritage and promote best practice in enhancement and development of inland waterways;
- Promote a wider knowledge of Waterway Corridor Studies for the River Shannon and most of the Grand and Royal Canals;
- Assess heritage waterways (disused navigations like the Boyne, Suir and Blackwater) that are not part of the current navigable system
- Raise awareness of the Ulster Canal;
- Highlight water quality and management.
In September 2005, the Heritage Council presented the new policy paper Integrating Policies for Ireland’s Inland Waterways to Dick Roche, TD, Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
Key Recommendations Include:
- The need for a concerted and co-ordinated effort to ensure that the heritage, social and economic values of all of Ireland’s waterways are enhanced.
- Assign overall responsibility for co-ordinating the management of canals to one body. As many government departments and agencies, along with the majority of Local Authorities, have responsibility for canals, there is an urgent need to co-ordinate these efforts.
- The health and economic benefits of our inland waterways should be recognised. These include safe towpath areas for walking, jogging and horse-riding, and the development of angling, boating and other tourism activities along our canals.
- Recognise the importance of canals as stimuli for sustainable rural development.
- Recognise houseboats as dwelling places.
- A restoration programme for traditional boats.
- The development of integrated Waterway Corridor Studies that ensure input from key stakeholders, including local communities, Waterways Ireland, Local Authorities and non-governmental organisations.
The Heritage Council, in co-operation with various State agencies, Local Authorities, local communities and other stakeholders, has developed integrated Waterway Corridor Studies for the entire Shannon Navigation and parts of the Grand and Royal Canals.