Belfast Telegraph

Stormont budget crisis: Opening hours of attractions cut ahead of next squeeze on spending

By Noel McAdam

Opening hours to many of Northern Ireland's visitor attractions are being cut - even before the next stage of Stormont's spending squeeze.

Hillsborough Fort has been shut down on weekdays, although it remains open on Saturdays and Sundays, as well as reduced public access to the surrounding grounds.

And winter opening hours for a number of other country parks, nature reserves and monuments have been introduced early.

Roe Valley Country Park, Ness Country Park, near Londonderry, Peatlands Park near Loughall and Castle Archdale Country Park have all been shifted to winter opening schedules two months early. Quoile Countryside Centre, near Downpatrick, has already moved to Sunday-only winter opening – a change which usually takes place from November 1.

Nendrum monastery on Mahee island, near Strangford, has moved to winter opening two months earlier than planned.

Dundrum Castle will maintain summer opening hours until the end of this month – moving to winter hours one month earlier than planned. The shutdowns are the result of cuts at the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), which also had to pay off a number of temporary workers early.

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said the agency had put contingency measures in place to maintain service levels during the peak summer months. But his department added that many NIEA properties had now moved to low season hours "in line with normal practice" at the start of the new school year.

The agency manages seven country parks, 191 state monuments and 50 nature reserves as well as the Quoile centre – and most of them are left unmanned.

A DoE spokesman said: "The main role of the temporary workers was to support the running of premier visitor attractions during the summer season.

"To minimise the impact on the visiting public for the short time of the remaining peak period, the service was maintained through voluntary manning by NIEA staff."

Full details are published on the Discover NI website or are available from NIEA offices.

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