The Northern Ireland Environment Agency is to provide ‘contingency’ staff at Carrick Castle to cover a shortfall over the summer season.
The borough’s premier tourist attraction currently operates under a partnership between Carrickfergus Borough Council and the Environment Agency.
Responding to concerns raised by Mid and East Antrim councillor Lindsay Millar, the Agency said its priority was to maintain staff levels at the medieval landmark after a number of agency workers were released earlier than planned.
Expressing her concern over the staffing cuts at the castle, Councillor Millar said: “I have been made aware over recent days that Northern Ireland Environment Agency workers are being cut as part of a cost-saving exercise by the Department of the Environment.
“As a direct result of the June Monitoring Round, at least 80 workers have now lost their jobs.
“Although the final number has not yet been confirmed, it is possible that up to 145 people may be affected.
“The agency staff were each on contracts of varying length, and whilst some of these jobs were temporary, a number of the people affected have been working with the NIEA for years.
“Their earlier than expected departure will undoubtedly have a knock-on impact on tourist attractions throughout Northern Ireland,” the Ulster Unionist representative added.
“I contacted Carrickfergus Castle and it was confirmed that members of staff will be affected by these cuts.
“This poses the risk that the castle will be stripped back to operate with only bare minimum workforce.
“Carrickfergus Castle is a fantastic asset for our town, and I want everything possible to be done to promote it and to ensure that visitors have a positive, memorable experience.
“It is unacceptable that in the middle of the tourist season, members of staff are losing their jobs in some of our top attractions because Stormont has mishandled its budget.
“I now call on senior management in the Department of the Environment and the NIEA to ensure that not only Carrickfergus Castle, but all historic buildings and country parks in the East Antrim area are not left paying the price for a political deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein during the June Monitoring Round.”
Responding to the concerns, a DOE spokesperson indicated that the Agency would “optimise all available resources” to minimise the impact on customer services.
“The release of the temporary agency staff earlier than planned has required the NIEA to implement contingency staffing measures to maintain service levels to keep Carrickfergus Castle open during the summer season,” the spokesperson added.
“This should allow the people of Northern Ireland and tourists to continue have a memorable experience.”