Cuts 'hitting street light repairs'
Almost 15,000 street lights are out across Northern Ireland, the minister for regional development has revealed.
Danny Kennedy told MLAs that budget cuts had forced his department to suspend the use of external contractors to carry out the repairs.
He also said the DRD (Department for Regional Development) has had to take legal advice to ensure it fulfils statutory road safety obligations.
Mr Kennedy said: "This is not the level of service that my department would like to provide but I have had to take some difficult decisions following the outcome of the June and October monitoring and I simply cannot spend money that I do not have."
There are a total of 280,000 street lights across Northern Ireland.
Since August, DRD maintenance workers have fixed more than 5,000 faults.
Mr Kennedy said work has had to be prioritised to deal first with large groups of lights and then individual lights that have gone out.
Mr Kennedy added: "It is clear that defects may not be repaired as quickly as normal and all repairs will be prioritised on the basis of safety.
"My department will continue to actively investigate and defend public liability claims with every case turning on its own facts.
"Ultimately, it will be up to the courts to decide if the reduced standards comply with my department's statutory duty."
Last month the Executive agreed by majority to accept a draft budget that will see a £160 million real-terms cut (1.6%) from the annual £10 billion resource budget.
If it had not been agreed, Stormont would have lost out on a £100 million loan from the Treasury.
Mr Kennedy abstained from the vote which was supported by the two largest parties - the DUP and Sinn Fein.
Alex Maskey told the Assembly he had some sympathy with the roads minister's predicament.
The Sinn Fein MLA said: "I do understand entirely the difficult decisions that have to be made by the minister."