The Legal Context
In December 1998, the establishment of one of the North/South cross-border bodies, Waterways Ireland, was announced. This placed most of the navigable waterways of the island of Ireland under one administration (Lough Corrib and Lough Neagh were not included).
Since then, Waterways Ireland has been developed progressively, operating through the North/South Council and answering to a nominated Minister in both jurisdictions: the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs in the Republic of Ireland; and the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure Northern Ireland.
Its activities have to be approved in both jurisdictions. In Northern Ireland, waterways that are not currently navigable are managed by the Rivers Agency, DCAL, while natural and built heritage issues are within the remit of the Department of the Environment. In the Republic of Ireland, while natural and built heritage issues are within the remit of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, there is a lack of clarity as to who holds overall responsibility for waterways outside the remit of Waterways Ireland.
Other Responsible Parties
The responsibilities of a myriad of government departments, State agencies and Local Authorities — or whose policies impact on them — include an aspect of the inland waterways. These include: Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources; Department of Agriculture and Food; Marine Institute; Central Fisheries Board and regional fisheries boards; ESB; Bord na Móna; Environmental Protection Agency; and relevant Local Authorities.
The National Heritage Plan 2002 and the National Biodiversity Plan were published in April 2002 by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. Both plans contain many actions relating to inland waterways heritage: its identification, management and protection, and, importantly, its promotion. The National Heritage Plan places great importance on increasing local involvement and access, in line with other policies in the plan. Unfortunately, the funding sought for both of these aspects has not been forthcoming. The plans, however, remain government policy and create a framework within which this document and other waterway strategies function.
Water Framework Directive
In 2002, the Water Framework Directive was transposed into Irish law (SI722/2003), promoting an integrated approach to water quality and management on a catchment basis. A critical piece of environmental legislation, it requires that all waters be maintained at ‘good ecological status’ or higher, through the implementation of River Basin Plans. The Directive also provides for the protection of aquatic habitats, and terrestrial habitats that rely on water. It will benefit many aspects of inland waterways heritage through the protection of habitats, improvement of water quality, and the promotion of a co-coordinated approach to the management of river basins.
Waterway Corridor Studies
Since 2001, the Heritage Council has conducted five corridor studies in partnership with Waterways Ireland and Local Authorities. The Waterway Corridor Studies methodology is a tool by which to manage the waterways in an integrated way. The completed studies present recommendations agreed by stakeholders representing various interests along the waterways.
County Heritage Plans
The Heritage Council, in partnership with Local Authorities, has set up a scheme for placing Heritage Officers in Local Authorities. These officers are now setting up county heritage forums, and drawing up County Heritage Plans that provide for the protection and enhancement of specific waterways.