An Taoiseach Micheál Martin unveils the foundation stone for next phase of the Ulster Canal project in Clones on Tuesday. He is joined by Ministers Heather Humphreys (left) and Darragh O’Brien (right) among other Government and Waterways Ireland representatives.

New dawn for Clones

The Taoiseach says he hopes investment in cross border projects will continue as he unveiled the foundation stone for the next phase of the Ulster Canal project.

“This is a cross border project in the truest sense,” said Micheál Martin.

“This has been talked about for many decades and has been a long-standing commitment for many Governments.”

The special event in Clones was held as diggers worked outside the historic Canal Stores building. In attendance were local representatives, along with members of the Clones Development Society, who started the process of reopening the canal in the late 1980s when they bought the then derelict stores building.

Speaking at the event, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the project represents “a hugely significant heritage, tourism and recreational amenity”.

“It’s an investment in our communities and a tangible example of what can be achieved through partnership and all-island collaboration.”

The Taoiseach said, while work is only beginning on phase two, planning is well underway on phase three, which will link Clones with Castle Saunderson.

“The Government is determined to drive forward the next phase.”

Work began last week on the second phase, a 42-berth marina at Clones and the restoration of a 1km section of the canal.

Minister Heather Humphreys, who lives not far from Clones, has been seen as instrumental in getting the project to this stage. She praised the Taoiseach for the creation of the Shared Island Fund, which aims to promote and invest in cross border projects.

“I remember when you announced it at Cabinet, I said to you that day ‘I have just the project for you’. It’s really great that you had that vision,” she said.

The potential of the canal for attracting investment and opening tourism opportunities to Clones, Cavan and surrounding areas went far from being unnoticed at the event.

Minister for Housing, Heritage and Local Government Darragh O’Brien, Junior Minister for Heritage Malcom Noonan and CEO of Waterways Ireland John McDonagh all spoke of the opportunities it will bring.

Northern Ireland Minister for Infrastructure John O’Dowd was also in attendance and noted the importance the project plays in creating cross border ties.

“This will help to break down the barriers put up since the original foundation stone was erected. I hope all physical and significant barriers are breaking down.”

The cross border element of the canal was also noted by Minister Humphreys who had this message for politicians and bodies north of the border.

“The work doesn’t stop in Clones. Yes, a greenway is being developed to link Clones to Middletown [Co Armagh].

“My vision is to see the Ulster Canal go the whole way from Lough Neagh. That is the last piece of the jigsaw of the inland waterway network.”

Completion in 2023

Fianna Fáil's Brendan Smith also welcomed the progress on the Ulster Canal project.

“These substantial works, which will begin shortly, will be completed in 2023," said the Cavan Monaghan TD.

"The recent announcement by An Taoiseach of a further €40 million for Phase 3 of the Restoration of the Ulster Canal is critical in advancing this entire project," he continued.

Describing it as a major cross border project, Deputy Smith said its realisation will considerably enhance the region's tourism product and provide a new amenity for local residents and visitors.

"It will generate economic activity and assist in job creation. This waterway will also be an integral part of our All Ireland navigable inland waterways network, which is a powerful natural resource and such a key part of our national tourism infrastructure and attraction," said Deputy Smith.

"In this area we have all seen the benefits of developing the Erne/Shannon Waterway, which was an extremely forward looking project and undertaken at a very difficult time on our island in the early 1990s. Linking up these waterways will be a further welcome tourism attraction bringing benefits to many parts of our island," he concluded.