Tuesday 12 December 2017

Council spent €400k on royal visit - but has to close libraries

Sligo is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of WB Yeats this year
Sligo is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of WB Yeats this year

Greg Harkin

A cash-strapped council that spent €400,000 on a royal visit doesn't have enough money to keep its libraries open.

Sligo County Council closed its central library in the town this week to allow staff to take annual leave.

It will remain closed until September 1 at a time when the area has been celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of its greatest writer, WB Yeats.

The council has debts topping €70m and is being monitored by the Department of the Environment.

It spent close to €400,000 on the visit to the north-west by Prince Charles and his wife Camilla in May.

Some councillors have criticised the decision to close the library in Stephen Street following similar three-week closures in Ballymote and Tubbercurry in June and July.

"The Sligo library closure comes at a time when 350,000 people are in Sligo for the Fleadh," said independent councillor Declan Bree.

"It is also a month when celebrations around Yeats's birthday are continuing. There are real fears over the future of the library service as well as other services in the county over the next few months."

The local authority's financial woes are mainly the result of heavy investment in property during the economic boom.

The council has €30m debts on its building loans as well as other long-term debts.

Councillors recently met officials from the Department of the Environment to discuss the ongoing financial crisis.

Mr Bree said there was a real fear over the future of the council. "There is a feeling that we are the Greece of Ireland and more austerity will follow," he said.

"The council may well end up being run by the department and in that scenario councillors will lose their role and the democratic voice of the people will be lost."

Central library staff are covering holidays for staff at other branches this week while they go on their holidays.

Council chief executive Ciaran Hayes, who took up his role 18 months ago, told the Irish Independent he had been left with little choice but to close the library.

"We have lost 202 staff in recent years and we are doing our best with the resources we have. We are seeking to relocate staff from other areas where possible," he said.

"We are in discussions with the department and have a five-year plan to achieve a surplus of €7m. However, the department is seeking a surplus over the same period of €12m."

He said further cuts were inevitable as the council bids to clear its debts.

Irish Independent

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