The responsibility for providing a new library in Lisburn rests with the South Eastern Education and Library Board. The board has acquired a site, with funding from my Department, and is currently exploring the possibility of providing a new library under the private finance initiative. If the new library is provided in that way, my Department will make additional funding available to help with the running costs.
The Minister’s response does not enthuse me very much, as we have been getting similar responses for some 25 years and still the second-largest council area in Northern Ireland is being deprived of library services. If the private finance initiative does not work out, what will the Minister do to ensure adequate library provision in Lisburn?
I agree with Mr Poots when he refers to 25 years — Lisburn waited during the 25 barren years of direct rule, and the shortages and underfunding in much Government activity mean that the Library Service is no exception. Several towns have, like Lisburn, awaited provision for some time. During the spending review, SR2000, I secured an extra £0·5 million for capital library funding. Lisburn library itself will cost approximately £3·5 million. Clearly the extra funding, added to the £1·3 million we are already getting, does not begin to address the need. Work is underway in Portadown, and plans for Strabane have also been announced, but we do not have enough resources. I continue to ask for the sympathy of the Executive Committee, but until the money is allocated to my Department I cannot provide capital funding for libraries.
Does the Minister not agree that it is a scandal of monumental proportions that Lisburn borough — the second-largest borough in Northern Ireland — should have been deprived of adequate library facilities for a quarter of a century? Rather than stating that he is exploring possibilities, the Minister should know that the people of Lisburn are demanding that, through devolved Government, the necessary finances be made available to provide a library, sooner rather than later. Although we recognise the other areas’ difficulties, the fact of Lisburn borough’s inadequate library facilities prevails.
I refer Mr Close to my original answer: there is a private finance initiative going forward to provide a new library for Lisburn. Lisburn Borough Council and the South Eastern Education and Library Board share Mr Close’s and Mr Poots’s recognition of this need, and they are considering providing the library through that mechanism. If that does not work, we will have to look at other ways, but we hope that Lisburn will get a new library through the private funding initiative.
Mr Close must understand that after 25 years we will not be able to address all the funding shortfalls in year one or in session one. The project will take many years. I agree that Lisburn is a key borough, and although I may not agree with his words "a scandal of monumental proportions", I accept that there is a glaring need for provision.