Cookstown people bringing protest to Stormont over jobs and benefits office closures

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A contingency of Cookstown people are due to protest the proposed closure of the town’s JobCentre and Social Security Office at Stormont.

A bus is leaving from the town to deliver a petition on Tuesday, November 15, when MLA Linda Dillon is tabling an adjournment debate on the issue.

Department for Communities (DfC), which oversees Northern Ireland’s social security offices and job centres has revealed plans to close both its offices in Cookstown.

The move has been blasted been local politicians, who say it will disadvantage the rural community.

But a spokesperson for the department has said previously that “Cookstown JobCentre would require significant capital investment to provide the accommodation and infrastructure needed to deliver future services, including Universal Credit to service users” and that is why its closure is being considered.

They say those using the services in Cookstown could be directed to offices in Dungannon and Magherafelt if the offices are closed. DfC’s proposals have been opened to public consultation, which will close the same week as the debate.

NIPSA representative Ryan McKinney, who plans to answer that consultation with a number of questions about the move, is supporting staff represented by the union.

He said: “There’s an adjournment debate scheduled to be heard on the 15th and that has been tabled by Linda Dillon.

“They can only relate to a local constituency area issue, but because its on the closure of Cookstown we have decided to co-ordinate the Ballynahinch and Newcastle campaigns with Cookstown on the day to make our presence felt.

“Mid Ulster Council are co-ordinating a letter of concern and we are hoping to have that handed in to the minister in person on the day.

“We will be bringing people from the community voluntary sector, staff and supporters from all three offices to Stormont and will then be holding a protest on the steps of Stormont. The public consultation documents are very poor - there’s a lot of gaps in them - and we will be challenging that.”

Mid Ulster Council, which has also publicly opposed the move, took out an ad in the Mail this week calling on DfC Minister Paul Givan to “keep services local”.

Supported by a number of local charities, sports teams, community groups and Cookstown’s Royal British Legion, it says: “We are strongly opposed to the closure of the job and benefits offices in Cookstown.”