Big turnout needed at meeting

‘WE need the people clinging to the rafters,’ was the plea this week to Gilford residents ahead of an upcoming public meeting to discuss the fate of the town’s threatened library.

But as one councillor after another urged a massive turnout at the March 22 meeting in Gilford’s Royal British Legion, one public representative insisted that in supporting the library campaign it was equally important to be honest with residents.

Taking the long view, Councillor Sheila McQuaid suggested it was inevitable that, if not now, then at some point in the not too distant future, Gilford’s existing library would close.

Councillor McQauid backed calls for a good turnout at the meeting, but added, “I think we have got to be honest with the people of Gilford as well.

“We know this is the most expensive library to run and we know that it floods; it’s not fit for purpose.”

Within a few years at best, she said, the library would close, “no matter how much we rattle.”

And ‘rattle’ they did.

Councillor John Hanna, who along with Councillors Liz Ingram and David Herron recently met with Libraries NI chief executive Irene Knox and other senior officials, welcomed their insistence that nothing had yet been agreed; the closure proposal was just that, a proposal.

“And we certainly got our point across,” he said, but he went on to insist it was “totally contrary” to propose closing Gilford library at a time when so much investment was being ploughed into the town; the first thing Libraries NI should be doing if any of its libraries were under-performing, he said, was looking at how to improve them, rather than close them.

“This is a public service in the rural, deprived area of Gilford,” he said, “and it should be for Libraries NI to see how they will improve it; there’s been no marketing at all in Gilford.”

However, the main thing, he said, was for the people of Gilford to come out in support of the library - and he believed they would.

“We need the people clinging to the rafters if we want to keep that library,” he said. “Everything is against us; it’s important that people come out and support us. They can’t say no if the people come out and support it.

“I want them there on that night but I also want them to sign up and start borrowing books, because once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

Mr. Hanna said he was not asking for a “Rolls Royce service” but just a service to meet the demand, and one tailored to the opening hours suited to local people.

Also taking up the library’s cause were Councillors Seamus Doyle, David Herron (who called on all councillors to attend the public meeting too) Liz Ingram, Patrick McAleenan, Junior McCrum and Cassie McDermott, the latter a former staff member at the library, but unfortunately, she said, committed to a prior engagement on the night of the meeting.

Councillor McQuaid, meanwhile, wanted to know if it was not possible to “get something modern up and running” in conjunction with Libraries NI, given that the council was building a community centre in Gilford.

Councillor Junior McCrum asked if the council had in fact approached the Library service about making use of the new community centre, chief executive Liam Hannaway confirming it was an option that had been explained, with Libraries NI deeming it an interesting idea and undertaking to consider its feasibility.

However, Director of Community and Enterprise Catriona Regan said that when the Council first approached Libraries NI about being a part of the community centre, they said no; it was only now, with the prospect of a reduced library provision, that they were giving the proposal some thought.

In any event, she said, it would not be what the council had originally envisaged.