Politicians to appeal‘devastating’ cuts at Crossmaglen Library

January 31, 2012

By Christine Keighery

The recent announcement that Crossmaglen L:ibrary has become one of the hardest hit in the area, with opening hours being slashed by almost 10 hours a week, was met with shock and anger by local political representatives.

Sinn Fein Councillor Terry Hearty described the cuts as “devastating” and another example of the neglect experienced by the South Armagh community, while SDLP Councillor Geraldine Donnelly said the facility is of particular importance in the rural area and has called for the hours to be restored.

The reduction in opening times represents almost a third of the library’s total operating hours, which will undoubtedly impact on staffing levels and is feared may lead to job losses.

Councillor Hearty said the cuts were “the latest in a long line of services to be lost in the area.

“The library is an absolutely vital service to an area already acknowledged as the most deprived ward in Northern Ireland.  To cut back on yet another service in Crossmaglen is actually a sin. It’s just another example of this area being overlooked, underfunded and neglected. This is an area that needs services, investment and facilities put into it – instead the opposite is happening.”

He has urged the public to make their voices heard in support of the library.

“It is vital that we start a campaign to stop cuts to Crossmaglen Library. Sinn Féin activists will be calling to people’s doors to gather a petition of names over the coming weeks and petitions will also be left in shops in the town. I would encourage everyone to become a member of the library or to renew membership if it has expired.”

MP Conor Murphy says he has requested an urgent meeting with the Chief Executive of Libraries NI to address the issue.

Mr Murphy said: “People in Crossmaglen are surprised and somewhat angered by this news, but I am hopeful of making a good case to Libraries NI during my meeting with the Chief Executive next Friday for re- examination of these savage cuts.

“For Libraries NI to base their decision solely on numbers of people through a library door is fundamentally flawed against those libraries which opened fewer hours to begin with.  Crossmaglen Library hours of operation were 27.5 per week to begin with so to compare its footfall against a library open 60 hours per week is wrong.”

He added that Crossmaglen ward has the second highest unemployment figures in the Newry and Mourne area, and that to strip services in an already disadvantaged area is “unconscionable”.

“As well as employment issues, Crossmaglen and its hinterland has historically suffered a lack of investment due to its peripheral location and the current public transport provision is disgracefully scant. This, coupled with a rising birth rate, makes a clear case for retention of services.

Voicing her concern about this cut to the library services, Crossmaglen SDLP Councillor, Geraldine Donnelly, expressed her disappointment at the decision.

“Libraries are a key service in our communities and are particularly important in rural areas such as Crossmaglen. The decision by Libraries NI to reduce the opening hours by a third is a terrible decision and will hit the local community hard,” she said.

Councillor Donnelly revealed that her colleague, Dominic Bradley, has written to the Minister requesting a review of the situation.

“I will be asking Newry and Mourne District Council to write directly to Minister Ní Chuilín asking her to personally intervene to restore the hours and services in Crossmaglen Library,” she added.

A spokesperson from Libraries NI responded: “Libraries NI regret any reductions in opening hours, and the impact this will have on library users.  Though additional funding was announced recently, Libraries NI still needs to reduce opening hours in order to deliver the savings targets results for the Comprehensive Spending Review. In order to be as fair as possible, library usage figures were analysed right across Northern Ireland and then libraries were allocated into bands, resulting in Crossmaglen Library being placed in band six. We will engage with local customers in Crossmaglen to establish the best pattern of opening hours to suit their needs.”