A Sinn Féin county councillor has called on the two Fianna Fáil TDs from the constituency to block any moves to close down the Áras Attracta facility in Swinford that currently is home to more than 90 residents. Sinn Féin's Gerry Murray made the call at the July meeting of Mayo County Council's Housing Strategic Policy Committee.
Outlining the issue, Cllr Murray said: "The situation at Aras Attracta, where essentially the HSE want to close down the facility and to basically delegate the entire entity in terms of the residents to Mayo County Council. For the council to house them, I think the council executive would agree we're not equipped to do this. Some of the parents and next of kin of some of the residents there are less than happy, they are happy with the existing system, they don't think that their family will survive with the sort of scenario the HSE is proposing. The unfortunate situation is that the motive from behind the HSE is that they don't want to upgrade Aras Attracta to comply with HIQA standards.
He continued: "I'd call on the HSE to not be dogmatic and insistent that people leave there, the representations that I have received is that people want their family to stay in situ and for the HSE to upgrade the facility to HIQA standards, and they are very fearful of what will happen those residents when they go out into one off local authority housing or private sector housing. The next of kin would feel the recent controversy surrounding Aras Attracta is being used by the HSE as an exit strategy."
He went on to call on Mayo's two Fianna Fáil TDs to get involved in the issue saying, "I'd call on those who have a veto on government policy, namely Dara Calleary TD and Lisa Chambers TD to formally intervene here and retain this essential service.
"The policy which is on the table may work for some of the residents, it certainly will not work for all of the residents, some the next of kin who are very elderly, are extremely stressed out knowing that their family member is going to be facing into an extremely uncertain future.
"It is not the remit of Mayo County Council to take it on, it doesn't matter what care plans are in place. We haven't the expertise to deal with this sort of a situation. Our resources are currently stretched to breaking point, so we have to have Government intervention and we have to have a change in policy at HSE level, that can only be enacted by direct Government intervention or by the main opposition party vetoing the decision by the HSE and preventing the closure of Áras Attracta."
Padrig Heverin, a member of the SPC from the trade unions, added his voice to the issue saying: "The plan for Aras Attracta is to be closed by September 2018, personally I don't think that is achievable. There will be a huge challenge to achieve the closure in the time period, there is going to be a huge problem sourcing the housing. The budgets we have been assured are there, the residents are the primary concern, but bear in mind there are over 100 staff working in that facility, and there are no compulsory redundancies in the public service, and I as a representative of the staff foresee the process taking more than the time frame, and that's from my vast experience of closing a major hospital in the past so I don't see it happening. The housing will also have to meet HIQA standards which are somewhat higher than other areas.
The head of the housing section of Mayo County Council, Paul Benson, told the SPC: "Áras Attracta has what I think is 92 residents or something like that, we recently met with the HSE in relation to accommodation for the people in Áras Attracta and from our point of view the position has always been clear, we can only provide accommodation to people if we know what their needs are, what their family composition is, and we've asked for that from the HSE along with what age they are, are they male or female and what are their specific needs. And if they qualify for social housing support, you can't assume every resident qualifies for social housing support and they meet the criteria. We don't have any data. They have undertaken to do that. The same as Padraig, I can't see any way this will be done by the timeline of 2018, very little has happened to see any way that can be met. We went through our housing programme with the HSE where building units, where our vacant stock is, but nothing will happen until we know who is to move, when are they to move, and what their needs are, and if in fact it will be Mayo they will be in. The second thing is that we won't be accommodating anyone unless there is a personal care plan communicated to us. We are not in the business of managing people with special needs, it's not in our skills, it's not in our structures or have a statutory basis, that's the HSE's roles. There is a huge amount of work to do this."