Waterways Ireland has welcomed Government approval for restoration of the first stretch of the Ulster Canal.
Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys has said that some €2 million will be spent on a 2.5 km section from the Shannon-Erne waterway to the International Scout Centre near Belturbet in Co Cavan.
Work is expected to start in April on the initial stage of a long-running cross-border project, aimed at revitalising the abandoned 74km waterway for tourism.
Ms Humphreys said the project had the potential to “act as a catalyst for the regeneration of this border area” and would have a “very positive impact in an area that is still recovering from the long term effects of the Troubles”.
“It shows that the Government is committed to investing in projects that will benefit communities on both sides of the border,” she said, and it represented an “excellent example of cross-border support and cooperation”.
The canal, which runs through counties Armagh, Tyrone, Fermanagh and Monaghan, was built by landowners in the 19th century to link Lough Neagh, the Erne basin and the Shannon system.
Its commercial failure due to inadequate navigation and water supply led to the collapse of the Lagan Navigation Company, and it closed finally in 1931.
Restoration of the system from Clones, Co Monaghan to upper Lough Erne was quoted at €35 million when it was pledged as a joint government commitment at a North/South ministerial council in July 2007.
Fianna Fáil Cavan county councillor John Paul Feeley welcomed Ms Humphreys's announcement as a " small start", but one that would boost the Belturbet area.
Planning issues had already been addressed by Cavan County Council, he said, and he called for further funding to ensure the full project could be realised.
The €2 million will be drawn from the funds of Waterways Ireland, a north-south implementation body. It will carry out the dredging of a 2km section of the Erne river and the construction of a new navigation arch at Derrykerrib Bridge to accommodate boat traffic, with a target completion date of April 2016.