'It's a romanticised way of life': Demand for houseboat living on the rise

People living on houseboats across Ireland's waterways say there needs to be more services and su...

21.18 4 Dec 2020

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'It's a romanticised way of li...

'It's a romanticised way of life': Demand for houseboat living on the rise


21.18 4 Dec 2020

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People living on houseboats across Ireland's waterways say there needs to be more services and support provided to liveaboards.

Demand for houseboat living on the canals has increased in recent years with up to 500 liveaboards in Ireland.

However, there are only 28 residential permits in total available around the country.


In recent months, Waterways Ireland sent out notices warning boats without a valid permit could be lifted from the canal.

Newstalk reporter Henry McKean met with some of the liveaboard community on the Grand Canal and the Royal Canal.

Liveaboards are people who live on a boat full or part-time, and many of them feel vulnerable over not having a permanent address, Henry said.

Despite this, there are other advantages of living on a boat, including lifestyle and avoiding high rents in the city.

In a report for The Hard Shoulder, he spoke to one woman, who wished to remain anonymous, who said there were many benefits to living this "different way of life".

She said: "You're in a community of like-minded spirits, it's a close-knit community, you're in empathy with nature, with water.

"It's an idealised and romanticised way of life that I would like to live full time.

"I never knew what a real community was like before this in anonymous flats and houses in the city centre over the past 20 years.

"We're hoping they're going to look at the 90-night limit which effectively makes your own open for your home to use at weekends."

She said that due to the limited number of permits available, 95% of people living on houseboats have to log in each night they spend on their boat, with a limit of 90 nights.

She added: "If you spend more than 90 nights a year on your boat, you are effectively in breach."

The woman said that it had been "a consistent point of stress" that their boats could be lifted out of the water at any time.

She said: "I'd love to invest in a bigger boat but I just can't do that, I'd like to feel at home and live fulltime on my boat and currently I can't do that."


Permit system

Reg McCabe, from the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland, explained the permit system.

He said: "There was a threat effectively of evictions living on boats either on a full time or a part-time basis.

"Waterways Ireland, which they were quite entitled to do, decided to start enforcing the regulations around permits and people who either had the wrong type of permit or no permit at all were threatened that their boats would be lifted.

"That resulted in a campaign which happened to coincide with a General Election at the time.

"The permits were introduced quite a long time ago, bearing in mind that you're talking about the canal system, the Grand Canal and the Royal Canal and the Barrow, so there would be hundreds of permits issued but very few would be for residential."

An extended mooring permit introduced years ago which came with the condition that you can only stay on your boat for 90 days a year.

He added that the difficulty is there are hundreds of people living on boats around Dublin with no permits at all.

He said for years the permits were not being adequately enforced, with the cost structure "out of kilter" with the cost of living in Dublin.

In a statement, Waterways Ireland said it has been "undertaking a programme of regularisation along the canals removing sunken, abandoned and derelict boats".

"The programme focused on non-liveaboard boats and it sought to improve compliance by ensuring all boats have a basic permit.

"Experience shows that vessels with no permit are generally in poor condition, abandoned, and frequently sink as they fill with rainwater over the winter time. The owners frequently disown their sunken vessels.

"This programme is almost complete and compliance with our licensing system along the canals is now over 85%.

"In relation to liveaboards John Mc Donagh, Waterways Ireland Acting Chief Executive, said they have been meeting people and won’t evict or lift any liveaboards 'unilaterally' and there will be further engagement and public consultation on their future plans.”

'It's a romanticised way of life': Demand for houseboat living on the rise

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Support needed

Aine Libreri has lived on a houseboat with her dogs on the Royal Canal for the past two years.

She said that living on her boat "became more of a practical solution" after rents rose in the city.

She decided to "go for it" and buy a boat after speaking to another liveaboard in the area.

Aine said: "I do understand that boats can be causing a problem if they're sinking or if they're a hazard but o don't think liveaboards are a hazard and I do think they're treated that way."

She added that her permit dictates that she has to move every five days.

However, since the advent of COVID-19, she and others received a notice that they should stay where they are, which poses a problem as the nearest water tap is a two-hour sail away.

She said: "I appealed to them not to touch the liveaboards, we are paying our fees, we are abiding by the rules as much as possible.

"It's not that we're not willing to pay, but we just need the investment and the support."

'I could barely afford to rent'

Peter Sheeky, who set up the Liveaboard Association, was paying €700 to rent a small room in Dublin 8 which prompted him to buy a boat.

He said: "Looking down the line, I'm not going to be able to buy a house, I can barely afford to rent, let alone buy, a house in Dublin."

Peter said he got a commitment that liveaboards' boats would not be 'lifted' from the canals but said that old, abandoned vessels were being removed.

He added: "There are a couple of issues with services, we pay for living on the canal and there are certain rules and bylaws we follow.

"The great thing about boating is that you can choose different locations.

"I would say to Waterways Ireland let's continue the conversation we started, ask them if they would be kind enough to look after people who are isolated on lakes and waterways and make sure they have electricity because it's very cold out."

Peter said he lives "off-grid" and has a solar panel and gas but added that a pump-out was needed for boats to remove waste.

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