Councillors at July’s meeting of the Athlone Municipal District unanimously lent their support to the staff of Westmeath and Longford libraries in their fight against plans to amalgamate both services.
The support comes as the staff of both county libraries voted in favour of taking industrial action on the matter by a margin of 80 per cent, the form of which was set to be decided on at a meeting held on Tuesday this week.
The amalgamation scheme, drawn up by a Dublin-based planning group, would immediately leave either Westmeath or Longford without a county librarian. The employees union, IMPACT, says the medium-term future of services in both counties would also be threatened as library budgets come under increasing pressure.
The union says the Dublin planning group did not visit the counties, took little account of local needs, and failed to produce a cost-benefit analysis of its proposals.
IMPACT official Ashley Connolly said industrial action is “the avenue of last resort” but that the union cannot allow the “thriving library system to be to be gutted on foot of a remote number-crunching exercise, which doesn’t reflect local needs or the realities of community life”.
Local Independent Cllr, Michael O’Brien, said it is important for the council to show its support to the staff of both libraries. He remarked that such a large number of services have been closed in rural areas, from post offices to garda stations, and that this latest move “cannot be allowed to happen”.
Sinn Féin’s Paul Hogan said his biggest fear is that the streamlining of services may eventually lead to the closure of smaller rural libraries: “It is a real concern,” he said, “I hope it does not happen, but it could”.
Fine Gael councillor John Dolan said he did not believe Westmeath should lose the right to make decisions for itself.
Director of services Barry Kehoe said he understands the concern regarding what is a “core service”, and confirmed that the issue will be raised at county level at the next opportunity.