Seanad debates

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Adjournment Matters

Library Projects

6:40 pm

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for taking this matter relating to the new library project in Ballinasloe. The public library service in Ballinasloe has suffered because the existing library building in the town, which opened in 1971, has not been satisfactory due to poor location and poor design. The physical condition of the building has deteriorated considerably in recent years and there has been no investment in it. In 2006, Ballinasloe Town Council purchased the Convent of Mercy building and the adjoining convent chapel on Society Street, Ballinasloe, with a view to Galway County Council refurbishing and developing the buildings for use as a branch library.

Stage 1 approval for this project was first given by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government back in June 2007. Both the main convent building and the chapel building date from the mid-19th century. The architects have addressed various conservation issues and the result is that a listed building will be brought back into public use through accommodating a modern public library facility. This is an important project which should be brought to fruition. Galway County Council is committed to this project. A building has been purchased and the council has invested much administrative and engineering staff time in taking the project through the various stage 1 and stage 2 phases.

In August 2011, following an application from Galway County Council, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government made ¤115,297 available, which allowed the council to engage consultants and a design team to prepare the project for Part 8 planning under the Planning and Development Regulations 2001. The council engaged consultants and work proceeded on detailed design for the project. A Part 8 planning application was submitted to and approved by the town council. I am anxious that the project should receive from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government an approval to go to tender. The estimated total cost of the project is ¤3.3 million.

The library provides a valuable service to the community. It has European direct status for the next five years and it hosts many art exhibitions for individuals and community groups and a small dedicated staff provide an amazing service, despite the serious limitations of an unsuitable building. The people of Ballinasloe deserve a facility designed to meet the needs of the community in the 21st century. I appeal to the Minister and his Department to support this project by permitting it to go to tender immediately.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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Under the Local Government Act 2001, each local authority is deemed to be a library authority and it is a matter for each local authority to prioritise its actions in terms of delivering library facilities, including premises in its catchment area. Under section 78 of the Act, a library authority may take such measures, engage in such activities or do such things in accordance with law, including the incurring of expenditure, for the provision of library services as it considers necessary or desirable. A library authority may, in particular, arrange for the provision of premises and facilities, including mobile facilities, for the library service, as it considers appropriate.

In 2008, my Department requested library authorities to provide details of priorities for library development within their.area. In its response, Galway County Council ranked a new branch library in Tuam branch as its main priority, followed by projects at Ballinasloe, the replacement of a mobile library and two delivery vans, and fit-out of a new branch to be constructed at Mountbellew . In 2010, my Department provided funding of ¤460,000 to Galway County Council towards the new Tuam branch library and a further ¤250,000 for a new mobile library. In 2011, I announced a new library capital programme to support the continued development of the library service in Ireland within budgetary constraints through the local authorities.

Following detailed consideration of the various library priorities communicated to my Department, I included the offer of grant aid in 2011 to Galway County Council of ¤250,000 or 75% of eligible costs towards the Ballinasloe library project. The funding was provided to allow the council to engage consultants and a design team to prepare this project for Part 8 planning. Of this grant offer, ¤115,297.87 was drawn down by the local authority. Due to the constraints on funding provision, it was not possible to offer grant assistance beyond 2011.

Galway County Council's proposal is to refurbish and develop the former Convent of Mercy building and adjoining chapel in Ballinasloe for use as a branch library. The estimated total cost of the project is ¤3.252 million. The council engaged consultants and work proceeded on a detailed design for the project. A planning application for the project was submitted to Ballinasloe Town Council in mid-2012. It is open to the local authority to proceed with this project using its own resources, which would be a good way for it to demonstrate its commitment to the project. Available funding for 2013 of ¤5 million is expected to be fully committed to ongoing library projects. Since 1999, my Department has provided ¤123.5 million towards the development of infrastructure and stocking of the library service in Ireland, including the projects I mentioned in east Galway. There is no doubt that this has helped local authorities to develop a good library infrastructure in the country and to provide excellent library services to the public from junior infants to college students and from preschool children to senior citizens. I regret that the additional resources the Senator is requesting are not available from central funds to advance the Ballinasloe project.

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for his reply, although I am disappointed. I had hoped that out of the ¤5 million being allocated by the Department this year, funding could be found for Ballinasloe branch library. Will the Minister examine the Ballinasloe case? The county council is committed to the project and there is huge support in the town for it. Ballinasloe Town Council is particularly supportive of this project. Given that as far back as 2007, there was an expectation that this project would proceed, I ask the Minister to re-examine it with a view to giving the go-ahead to allow it go to tender.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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Many things were in anticipation as far back as 2007. We were in a different financial and economic climate at that time and we have had to make considerable adjustments to the capital and current expenditure programmes of the State to meet our troika requirements. Unfortunately, the library programme is not immune to that. I am delighted that Ballinasloe Town Council is interested in progressing the project and I understand it has considerable capital resources in its account. It is open to a local authority to examine the feasibility of proceeding with a project out of its own resources. The ¤5 million that will be spent through the library programme this year is for ongoing projects. No new project will commence or be approved in any part of the country in 2013.

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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I assume the Minister wold be supportive of the town council funding the project.

The Seanad adjourned at 6.10 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 27 February 2013.