The Inland Waterways Association of Ireland (IWAI) is a voluntary organisation and registered charity, founded in 1954 to promote the development, use and maintenance of Ireland’s navigable rivers and canals.
We represent over 3,000 waterways users with 23 branches across the Island of Ireland.
The main focus of our organisation is on restoration, development and wider use of Ireland’s 1,000 Km navigable waterway network.
The organisation, through a corps of dedicated volunteers, has worked on a number of large-scale canal and waterway restoration projects, including the Royal Canal restoration, a project that extended over a period of decades until full restoration was finally achieved in 2012.
IWAI is currently involved in restoration projects on the Boyne navigation and the Newry canal. We are also involved in a joint venture restoration of the ‘Dunrovin’ site at Coosan Point on Lough Ree with RNLI. The restored building will function as a base for RNLI search and rescue facilities on Lough Ree and will also provide a regional base for IWAI members.
We welcome this opportunity to comment on the Government’s 2030 Heritage strategy.
- IWAI welcomes the strategic focus in the draft strategy on built and natural heritage. We would submit that our waterways as historic artefacts combine very strong elements of both the natural and the built. Heritage is viewed always as a work in progress, combining knowledge and awareness with the more practical aspects that relate to conservation, protection and use. As a general principal, the protection of historic buildings is closely related to their functional use. But this often presents a challenge to conservators and managers of historic properties in terms of identifying an appropriate and sympathetic long-term use. However, navigable waterways present no such challenges as their functional use is forever implicit in their engineering and design. On this basis it is essential that the navigable component be celebrated and maintained as an aspect of conservation and continuity.
The lesson of our recent history – for example, the demise of the Royal Canal in the Seventies – is that without continued use as practical navigations and as working links between places and communities, these features will be in danger of extinction.
We welcome the emphasis in the draft strategy on the need for a strong community dimension to heritage planning. In this context, we would emphasise that the community aspect has always been highlighted and prioritised by IWAI and other waterway conservation groups. Navigation restoration projects since the seventies have been undertaken through a co-operative process involving dedicated groups of volunteers drawn from local communities. This was a marked feature of the ultimately successful Royal Canal restoration and is an approach that is maintained today on current projects including the Boyne navigation and the Newry canal.
- IWAI welcomes the commitment to a cross Departmental approach to Heritage which will reflect an all-government commitment and a more nuanced focus on heritage policy and practise as an aspect that is central to government policy rather than as an afterthought, more at the periphery of government affairs.
However, as our waterways are currently managed by Waterways Ireland, a North South body, we would submit that a shortcoming in the draft strategy is the absence of any reference to Northern Ireland, or on any sense of a priority attaching to cross border initiatives.
- The draft strategy recognises the necessity for an Action Plan for heritage that is subject to a 3 year review process and this is an aspect that we greatly welcome.
We would submit that in recognition of the value and impact of Waterways heritage that representatives of the waterways user groups be included in the proposed Steering Committee.
- As the management body for the Waterways network, Waterways Ireland has published a Heritage Plan 2016-2020.
IWAI wishes to take this opportunity to emphasise that while we welcome and support the actions and commitments set out in the plan, we are very concerned at the continuing absence of any commitment to provision of any publicly accessible facility such as a museums or heritage centres that celebrates the historic, heritage and cultural significance of the navigable waterways network. This has become an issue of very considerable concern since the demise of the Waterways Ireland Visitor centre at Grand Canal Dock Dublin.
IWAI would submit that the development of a regional network of Waterways Heritage Centres needs to be prioritised under any investment programme that emerges from the Government’s Heritage strategy 2030.
Contact for further information:
Inland Waterways Association of Ireland
55 Avondale Road