Seanad debates

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

2:30 pm

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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I raise this matter to urge the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to sanction the immediate opening of the new state-of-the-art library located in the converted 19th century St. Maur's Church, Rush, County Dublin, or do whatever is necessary to ensure it will be opened. The library has been refurbished and ready for operation since the end of September 2009. The people of Rush have shown great patience, but they are growing more and more angry at the delay in opening the library. The issue also affects the people of Lusk who do not have a library of their own either. There has been massive development, as well as population growth, in both villages in the last ten years, as a result of which many young families are now resident in the area. The library which I am delighted to say has been shortlisted to receive the World Architecture Award cannot be opened, as I understand it, owing to the embargo on public service recruitment. This is preposterous.

This state-of-the-art library cost €4 million to deck out and I am told it will spearhead the provision of a new electronic book scanning system for checking books in and out. The money was provided from Fingal County Council's own resources, not via a central library grant.

While the people of Rush are proud that their library is being hailed as the most modern library in the country, they want to have it open. We must recognise the importance of such a basic community service as a library, as I have no doubt the Minister of State does at a personal level, but he must act immediately. Given that the years 2003-12 were designated as the Literacy Decade by the United Nations and that in this modern knowledge economy there are 500,000 adults who are functionally illiterate in Ireland, we must do more to promote reading in the community. The campaign led by the local people to secure the opening of the library has been hard fought for 25 years and we must now delivere. The library cannot be allowed to lie idle, as that truly would be a disgrace.

Photo of Michael FinneranMichael Finneran (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Local Services, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
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I am pleased to have an opportunity to respond to the Senator on this very important issue affecting the Rush area. Under the terms of the Government's decision on the implementation of savings in respect of public service numbers, no public service posts, however they arise, may be filled by recruitment, promotion or the payment of an allowance for the performance of duties at a higher grade. This decision has been effective from 31 March 2009 and stands until the end of this year, at which stage the position will be reviewed. My Department has written to all local authorities requesting compliance.

In recognition of the priority attaching to the maintenance of key frontline services, the Department has received delegated sanction from the Department of Finance for implementation of the general moratorium on the filling of public sector posts in the local authority sector on condition that overall staffing levels in the local authority sector are to be reduced significantly by the end of this year in adherence with the Government's policy on staffing and numbers in the public sector. Under the new arrangements which issued to the sector on 20 August 2009, local authorities are expected, where vacancies arise, to consider options for reorganisation and reallocation of work to meet requirements. Any exceptions to this principle which will arise in very limited circumstances require sanction from my Department.

The local authority sector is working on an ongoing basis to balance the need for a reduced staffing level and the provision of services to the levels expected. In this context, local authorities have refocused programmes and staffing to priority areas. They have been active in seeking to support enterprise and protect employment locally and have redeployed staff accordingly. They have continued to provide and maintain a wide range of services, notwithstanding the Government's necessary policy on the reduction of staffing numbers within the public sector. Under section 159 of the Local Government Act 2001, each county and city manager is responsible for the staffing and organisational arrangements necessary for carrying out of functions of the local authority for which he or she is responsible, including the employment of library staff, in compliance with the relevant public sector recruitment and employment law requirements.

My Department has received no staffing request applications for Rush library. We have been advised by Fingal County Council that any posts arising in this library will be filled by redeployment. I understand the ongoing industrial action within the public sector is contributing to the delay in redeploying staff to enable the opening of the library.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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I ask the Minister to engage proactively with Fingal County Council or refer the matter to the main Minister to see what can be done. It is all right to say reorganisation is required but, even though the Minister suggests the matter is in the control of Fingal County Council, the library is still not open. Based on the Minister's comments about this lasting until the end of 2010, this fine building may remain closed until then, which would be an absolute shame.

Photo of Michael FinneranMichael Finneran (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Local Services, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
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As Minister of State with responsibility for libraries I have a personal responsibility for this area, so it is close to my heart. I reiterate that there have been no applications for staff for Rush library. In fact, Fingal County Council has indicated it will be opening Rush library by reorganisation and redeployment of the existing complement of staff. I understand the contributing problem in this regard is industrial action. It would be inappropriate for me, as Minister of State, to intervene at this point. If that is the only contributing factor, it might be better, rather than becoming involved, to stand back - as the Government has done, by and large - and allow the public sector to cast their votes one way or the other on this matter.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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Might the Government be open to a request for additional staff?

Photo of Michael FinneranMichael Finneran (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Local Services, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
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Fingal County Council has indicated it does not require extra staff and that the main issue is the industrial relations problems in the public sector. I hope for all our sakes that these will be resolved shortly.