Street lights at OAPs' homes in Northern Ireland won't be fixed because of cuts
Senior citizens in Northern Ireland could be left in the dark this winter as the result of Stormont budget cuts, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Street lights close to pensioners' bungalows that are damaged or go out are unlikely to be repaired or replaced.
The Ulster Unionist Party has warned that the savings by one department could mean increased costs for the already-stretched health service.
East Antrim MLA Roy Beggs said: "Faulty lights in the vicinity of pensioners' bungalows are not to be repaired until maintenance programmes are reinstated.
"This is likely to result in an increased number of falls with expensive, painful stays in hospital for some of the most vulnerable in our community.
"It is cheaper to fix bulbs rather than have to fix fractures. I would urge the Executive to carefully plan how they spend their money so that they are not being penny wise and pound foolish."
The alarm was raised after it emerged that broken lights close to bungalows in McGarel Gardens in Larne, where the residents are mainly elderly, will not be repaired.
It also appears the policy will apply across Northern Ireland. A letter from a senior Department of Regional Development (DRD) official said: "Following confirmation of the June Monitoring by the Executive, it has been necessary for DRD to curtail its expenditure on routine road maintenance activities.
"As such, with immediate effect, Transport NI will be unable to issue new works instructions to our contractors.
"Regrettably, as a result of this decision, street lighting repairs for all group and individual outages, and for any other work that does not pose an electrical hazard to the public, has been suspended.
"This particular fault has already been recorded but will not be repaired until maintenance has been reinstated."
Mr Beggs, whose party colleague Danny Kennedy is the DRD minister, blamed the DUP and Sinn Fein, who voted through the £78m spending cuts in June.
Mr Kennedy, who abstained from voting, urged DUP Finance Minister Simon Hamilton to ensure that funding was provided for street lighting maintenance within the next quarterly monitoring round in October.
"Street lighting is particularly important to pensioners as it increases their level of security and reduces the risk of anti-social behaviour," he said.
"In addition, with adequate street lighting, pensioners are less likely to trip and fall.
"I believe that it is a false economy for the Northern Ireland Executive to impose short-term cuts."
However, a DRD statement said that it was "not the case" that no repairs would be carried out. It added: "The department will continue to prioritise reported faults."
But the department also admitted: "Until further notice, our in-house contractor will endeavour to deal with as many street lighting defects as possible.
"However, they will not be able to provide the service the public would expect in normal circumstances."