A number of the canals constructed in the 18th and 19th centuries are derelict. Some have been or are being restored. At present, the navigable canals are the
- Grand Canal,
- Royal Canal,
- Shannon and Erne Waterways,
- Erne System
- Barrow Navigation
- Lower Bann Navigation
- Jamestown Canal,
- Tralee Ship Canal.
Transfer to OPW
The Canals Act 1986 provided for the transfer of the Grand Canal and Royal Canal from CIE to the Commissioners of Public Works. Also transferred are all other waterways of the canal undertaking of CIE. The Commissioners of Public Works were empowered to exercise all powers, privileges, and liabilities of the Board of CIE that arose before that date. The staff were transferred from CIE to the OPW.
It became the general duty of the OPW to undertake the care, management, and maintenance of the canal and canal property as a public community for use by the public for navigation in such parts of the canals as were open to navigation from time to time or fishing. They could provide for the enjoyment and recreation of the public. The Commissioners were empowered to designate parts of the canal property for particular incidental purposes.
The Commissioners are obliged to consult with the Department of Fisheries in relation to any matters which could affect fish life in the canal.
The OPW was given the powers necessary to perform its functions, including
- drawing of water for the purposes of the canal from any source which the CIE Board had been entitled to draw.
- Power to dredge, widen, deepen, alter the course of, or improve canals or the supply of water
- Dredge, widen or deepen any stream, river or channel carrying a water supply
- Construct, alter or underpin or improve any lock, key, harbour, fish pass, pumping station, bridge, buildings, aqueducts, embankments etc.
For the purpose of its functions, the OPW is given the power to acquire easements and rights as required. The Board is empowered to close navigation on any part of the canal not required for navigation and reopen and declare navigational any parts previously closed.
The Commissioners (now Waterways Ireland) was given power to make bye-laws in relation to the use and management of the canal. Bye-laws may do any one or more of the following.
- Regulate the conditions, including safety conditions under which boats may use the canal, close parts of the canal’s navigation
- Open to navigation, any parts now formally not open
- Regulate bathing in the canal
- Regulate fishing (other than to the extent regulated under the Fisheries Act)
- Prevent damage to canals or canal property
- Remove any boats or things which may be a danger to life, navigation or fish stock or which otherwise interfere with the proper use of the canals and canal property
- Charge and fix fees, tolls and charges in relation to use by boats of the canal and moorings
Generally, bye-laws may contain such incidental subsidiary and ancillary matters as are necessary.
Breach of the bye-laws is an offence subject on summary conviction to a fine of €1270 with a continuing fine of €127 per day. Certain offences may be subject to prosecution on indictment. A fine up to €6,300 and a continuing fine of €630 per day may be imposed.
Where the Board carries out work which benefits the property of the Commissioners or which is reasonably necessary for the care, management, control, repair and improvement of the railway, the Commissioners must pay CIE a reasonable sum, half in regard to the costs. Likewise, the corollary applies.
CIE is to afford the OPW, its servants, and agents all facilities on the property as may be reasonably required for the care, management, repair, improvement and maintenance of canal property adjoining the railways.
The Commissioners may temporarily close the canal to navigation and alter water levels to enable the local authority or another person to carry out works on or near the canal property.
Provision was made in relation to bridges or viaducts across roads and railways. The general local authority powers in relation to bridges and viaducts are to provide for input and consent of the OPW in some instances where canals were affected and impacted arrangements in relation to contributions towards the cost of bridges were varied. The OPW and the road authority may enter into agreements regarding canal bridges.
Canal legislation as follows was repealed
- The Grand Canal Act 1771,
- Naas Canal 1786,
- Royal Canal 1790,
- Inland Navigation Grand Canal 1791,
- Royal Canal Dock 1792,
- Canal Bridge 1796,
- Royal Canal Company 1798,
- Inland Navigation Act 1800,
- Canals Ireland Act 1816,
- Royal Canal Act 1818,
- Canal Carriers Act 1845,
- Grand Canal Company Act 1848,
- Grand Canal Act 1894.
Waterways Ireland was established under the British-Irish Agreement 1999, the so-called Good Friday agreement. It is established as a cross-border body under the auspices of the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland government. Its headquarters is in Enniskillen County, Fermanagh. There are regional offices in Dublin, Carrick on Shannon and Scariff in County Clare.
Waterways Ireland is responsible for over 1000 kilometres of navigable inland waterways in the island of Ireland. It is managed for recreational purposes. he waterways under its management are the Royal and Grand Canal, including the Barrow Navigation, the Shannon-Erne Waterway, the Lower Bann Navigation, the Shannon Navigation and the Erne System.
Waterways Ireland is responsible for the restoration of the Ulster Canal between Clones and Upper Lough Erne.
The Commissioners’ functions in relation to heritage and waterway were transferred to the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht in 1996. They were transferred to the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport in 2011.
Waterways Ireland is responsible for the management, maintenance and restoration of the inland navigation water system throughout the island of Ireland principally for recreational purposes. It took on the functions exercised by the Waterways Service of the Department of Art, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Rivers Agency of the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland. It also took over Shannon-Erne Waterways Promotions Limited.
The Maritime Safety Act 2005 increased contravention of bye-laws relating to maritime safety to a fine of €5000. Provision was made for a fixed payment notice fine which might be imposed by Waterways Ireland.
The Maritime Safety Act generally had broader application than earlier legislation that applied to personal watercraft and recreational craft in offshore and inland waterway. See generally the section on maritime safety. It applies to a craft, meaning a personal watercraft or recreational craft when operated by mechanical means or propulsion. Different provisions are applicable to recreational craft and personal watercraft.
Waterways Ireland has powers to make bye-laws for the regulation and control of crafts in the interest of safety. Many of the general powers and legislation applied to Waterways Ireland so as to give it extended powers in relation to safety. An authorised person appointed by Waterways Ireland was given power to exercise functions of an authorised person under the Maritime Safety Act in relation to Waterways Ireland.