Over a quarter of Ireland's 1000km network is man-made, over 200 years old and it still works as it was designed to. This is quite remarkable and is a credit not only to the original engineers, but the continuing maintenance work carried out by our staff.
From undertaking bank repairs or weed cutting, to managing the canal-side vegetation and keeping our verges and towpaths accessible, our day-to-day maintenance work is essential to the smooth running of the waterways.
In addition Waterways Ireland is also responsible for the fishery on the Grand Canal, Royal Canal and Shannon-Erne Waterway. Inland Fisheries Ireland has been commissioned to manage this expert work on our behalf. One of their key tasks is to advise on invasive species control as well as fish stocking and water quality testing.
Pump outs, toilets, showers, Elsan disposals, water points and even launderettes in some areas – they're all essential services for our boating customers and in addition to keeping them clean we also have to repair them when they go wrong and undertake regular maintenance to keep them in working order. In some areas Waterways Ireland has service level agreements in place with the local authority to undertake the cleaning work at our service blocks, but Waterways Ireland is still responsible for keeping them running.
A large part of the non-routine work undertaken by Waterways Ireland staff is fixing faults that have arisen either through use or misuse of the waterways or waterway facilities. These include fixing fences and towpaths, servicing customer facilities, undertaking bank repairs, as well as all the maintenance on our own fleet of boats, barges and specialist equipment. These works require the cooperation of the Operations teams, specialists in our Technical Service Division and our engineers to ensure the service to the customer remains as smooth and unobtrusive as possible.
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Waterways Ireland has also been systemically tackling the level of faults through preventative procedures. A Bridge Management System has been put in place for the 578 fixed, swing and lifting bridges monitored by Waterways Ireland to ensure they meet current Health & Safety standards and put in place ongoing maintenance programmes to keep them operational.
The 157 locks and 59 weirs on the different waterways are also subject to ongoing surveillance to ensure their integrity and functionality is maintained.
Waterways Ireland has run a hugely successful major works programme since 2000 investing over €85m in the waterway infrastructure in locations such as Christie Park floating moorings in Coleraine, Killaloe floating moorings and service block, a new Harbour in Garrykennedy, and navigation up the River Suck to Ballinasloe with a new marina and service block also installed. The completion of the restoration of the main line of the Royal Canal cost a further €35m and was completed in 2010.
Waterways Ireland has also been successfully working in partnership with other agencies and organisations, leveraging finance from other sources to improve facilities and services to Waterways Ireland customers. The redevelopment of Richmond Harbour at the junction of the Royal Canal and the Shannon Navigation, is a key example of a partnership with Longford County Council & Fáilte Ireland and resulted in the village of Clondra received a new play park, parking, toilets & showers, and a community building on the cambshire of Richmond Harbour. Another example of this type of outcome through partnership is the marina development in Lough Key Forest Park near Boyle, Co Roscommon which involved Waterways Ireland, Moylurg Rockingham Limited and Fáilte Ireland.
Waterways Ireland plans and undertakes a large maintenance programme over the winter period to reduce the impact on customers during the high season. The remedial work involves a range of activities varying widely from navigation to navigation.
When planned works do involve the closure of a navigation or part thereof, these closures are notified through the Marine Notice system to enable users to plan their journeys.
Many of the works undertaken by Waterways Ireland over the winter period do require environmental assessment by our in-house team and further consultation with National Parks and Wildlife Service . These assessments ensure Waterways Ireland's compliance with the many European and international designations which apply to the wonderful environment through which so many of our waterways flow.