Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Caral Ni Chuilin, discussed the budget for Libraries NI during today’s Question Time. The Minister lamented the budget cuts imposed on her Department by Westminster saying “the Tory Administration have decided to impose austerity measures on a community that is still emerging from conflict and still weighed down by a lack of investment, underinvestment and underprovision in their public services.” The 5.7% grant reduction will affect all arm’s-length bodies, including libraries. Ms Ni Chuilin maintained “I have done my utmost to protect libraries as much as possible from those cuts. I cannot give those assurances for the future; I absolutely cannot. Do I recognise the value of libraries in communities? I absolutely do, particularly in rural communities. Once a library or a service goes, it is very difficult to have that service replaced. I am very mindful of that, but going into this new Budget, which has not been finalised yet, and going into these settlements, I ask the Member to join with us and some others who were previously deficit deniers in calling for greater protection of our budgets — if not an increase in our budgets — to ensure that our front-line services are protected.”
The Minister also addressed Gordon Lyons concerns around the cost of consultation for the Irish Language Act. The cost of the consultation was £14,300 with Mr Lyons asking if the Minister considered this to be a “poor use of resources” given that his party would not support such a “divisive” Bill and “because of the cost of implementing the use of Irish in courts and in the Assembly and the cost of having an Irish language commissioner.” Ms Ni Chuilin countered that the issue is one of equality and that provision for an Irish Language Act was in the Good Friday Agreement, the St Andrews Agreement and subsequent agreements adding that 95% of the 13,000 responses were supportive with those responses coming from right across the community.
The Minister also answered Members questions on funding for band instruments, global promotion of Northern Ireland’s art and culture, Scéim Pobal Gaeilge Funding, flooding and preparations required for Casement Park to be part of the Ireland rugby world cup bid.