Around 17,800 street lights out across province due to cuts crisis
New figures reveal the number of broken street lights in Northern Ireland has reached nearly 18,000 in the wake of Stormont's budget crisis.
Since Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy cut contracts for repairing lampposts last August, around 26,500 lights have been reported as being out.
Of those, more than 8,700 were repaired just before the Christmas holidays - leaving a new total of 17,800 which are still broken and unrepaired.
The days may be starting to get longer, but many streets are still being plunged into darkness for longer, making them less safe.
But Mr Kennedy said he could not give an average time for broken lights being reported and repaired.
He was responding to written questions from DUP West Tyrone MLA Thomas Buchanan, who asked what the average time was to repair a street light from the moment the fault was reported.
Mr Kennedy responded: "In the current circumstances, where my department does not have sufficient budget to employ the external contractors who normally repair 75% of street lights that fail, it is not possible to give a meaningful average time for street lighting repairs." And the Ulster Unionist minister again rejected any suggestion that the Department for Regional Development (DRD) had ceased carrying out repairs.
Assembly Members say they are receiving an increasing number of complaints about broken lights and the issue is due to be discussed by the Stormont committee that monitors DRD.
But Mr Kennedy insisted: "My department has not stopped repairing faulty street lights.
"All reported defects are being recorded and prioritised for repair as soon as possible by my department's operations and maintenance staff.
"As of December 19, 2014, I am aware of approximately 17,800 street lights that are not operational.
"My department's operations and maintenance staff are striving to deal with as many street lighting defects as possible, giving priority to electrical and structural safety defects, followed by large groups of lights out, smaller groups and then individual street lights."
Mr Kennedy is making a bid for £2m from the current quarterly spending round - the redistribution of cash left unspent by Government departments - which should be revealed to the Assembly in the next few weeks.
His officials have told the DRD committee the £2m "would allow us to bring in external contractors to address street lighting outages".
Department official John Irvine said: "Anything that causes an electrical safety or structural hazard is fixed by contractors.
"We are dealing with group outages first. That is town centres or residential areas. They are dealt with first, and then we deal with individual outages.
"It is not that we will not get to them; we will, but it will take a bit longer.
"It is not the service that we normally provide... but that is the reality of where we are," he added.