Not enough cash to fix 11,000 faulty street lights in Northern Ireland
More than 11,000 street lights are out across Northern Ireland - and this could have implications for public safety, an Executive minister has warned.
Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy said he was concerned repair cutbacks had the potential to cause accidents.
But at question time in the Assembly yesterday, he told MLAs: "I am not in a position to spend money I do not have."
He revealed 11,261 street lights were not working in the province, and said priority would be given to those with an electrical risk.
Alliance's Kieran McCarthy said Mr Kennedy could try to gain credibility by "quickly rectifying" the situation.
But the Ulster Unionist minister said he was more concerned with getting money for his department than gaining credibility.
Asked about his department's legal responsibilities, Mr Kennedy told how officials would continue with checks but that errors may not be fixed as quickly as normal.
George Robinson (DUP) asked if there could be special provision for pensioners' bungalows, particuarly coming into winter.
But Mr Kennedy replied: "I have outlined how we have been forced to prioritise things. It is not that we will ignore lights, but we will have to prioritise the repairs."
As the Belfast Telegraph has revealed, Department for Regional Development (DRD) staff are only able to handle about 25 % of the repairs. Work orders for the remainder, which are carried out by contractors, have been suspended because of spending cuts.
Mr Kennedy's party colleague Roy Beggs raised the alarm last month after it emerged broken lights close to bungalows in McGarel Gardens, Larne, where the residents are mainly elderly, are not to be repaired.
A letter from a senior DRD official, seen by the Belfast Telegraph, read: "Following confirmation of the June Monitoring by the Executive, it has been necessary for DRD to curtail its expenditure on road maintenance activities.
"As such, Transport NI will be unable to issue new works instructions to our contractors.
"Regrettably, street lighting repairs for all group and individual outages and for any other work that does not pose a hazard to the public has been suspended.
"This particular fault (in Larne) has already been recorded but will not be repaired until maintenance has been reinstated."
Mr Beggs blamed the problem on the DUP and Sinn Fein, who voted through the £78m spending cuts in June.
Mr Kennedy abstained and Alliance party Ministers David Ford (Justice) and Stephen Farry (Employment and Learning) voted against the budget cuts, which were still passed.