Hundreds of parents, carers, service users, families and friends took to the streets yesterday (Wednesday ) to protest over budgetary cuts to the Brothers of Charity Services.
The group walked from the cathedral to Shantalla Clinic where they handed in a letter outlining their concern to the HSE West’s financial controller. A number of the Hope 4 Disability group also took part in the national demonstration outside Leinster House yesterday.
The Brothers of Charity was told by the HSE in March that its budget was being slashed by €2.5 million. However, it learned on Friday that an extra €2 million in cuts will be expected from the organisation on top of the earlier figure. There are proposals to close a number of community homes in Galway and reduce respite services as part of the restructuring of services. Some 600 adults and 500 children avail of these services in the city and county.
Worried parents say any proposed cuts will have “devastating” effects on already vulnerable service users and their families.
Mary Frain, whose brother Tony (53 ) from Corrandulla is a service user, says any cuts would be “abhorrent”.
Tony, who became brain damaged after contracting meningitis at age three months, lives in community housing run by the John Paul Centre in Oranmore.
“For the first time in his 53 years he is extremely healthy and extremely happy. He is a new man. The system now operating in the John Paul Centre is fantastic for individuals, it gives them independence and respect. Cutting it would be shocking. Tony doesn’t deserve to go back to institutional care, he has blossomed living in community housing. We have to fight for our siblings, they don’t have a voice of their own.”
Fine Gael Galway West Senator Fidelma Healy Eames describes the cuts as “harsh and unfair” and fears respite services in the area will be wiped out.
“These cuts to the Brothers of Charity services cannot be justified and are leaving more than 100 families and their disabled loved ones in the community reeling. This will wipe out whole sectors of the service including respite which is the only lifeline left for families with a disabled person. Further cuts include closing five to six community houses and losing occupational and speech and language therapy and physio posts. These make a real difference to the quality of a disabled person’s lfe. This really is heartless.”
Local Fianna Fáil TD Frank Fahey says he has been in touch with the Brothers of Charity’s management to assure them that every effort is being made to minimise the impact of the HSE cuts.
“I’ve been in touch with the Minister for Health and Children Mary Harney and the Taoiseach to suggest that respite care and other frontline services should not be reduced as a result of the cutbacks.”
Deputy Padraic McCormack, the chairperson of the Fine Gael parliamentary party, Dr James Reilly, the FG spokesperson on health together and local councillors met the Brothers of Charity’s acting chief executive and board members earlier this week.
“The acting chief executive outlined how seriously this cut back in funding would affect the services they provide to over 1,000 recipients throughout Galway city and county. As a result of this meeting, I along with Dr James Reilly, will be raising the matter in the Dáil with the Minister for Health. The Brothers of Charity have already suffered a €2.5 million cutback in their allocation earlier this year. They were able to manage this cutback by their excellent efficiency and savings and I compliment the acting director, Ann Geraghty, and the board for this achievement.
“In the McCarthy Report on state funding a recommendation of 3.5 per cent savings over two years was the target. The Brothers of Charity Services have achieved a four per cent saving in costs over one year so there is no wastage or inefficiency at their level. Are they now to be penalised for their efficiency and savings by a further proposed cutback of €2 million from the HSE?
“If now the HSE find themselves with a €6.9 million overspend they should not be taking it out on the providers of services to the most vulnerable section of our community who have stayed well within their budget. If this further €2 million cutback takes place it will have serious repercussions for the many families throughout Galway. For example, it will result in a 40 per cent cutback in respite care which is an essential part of the service provided for families.
Labour TD Michael D Higgins is calling for a political consensus on a “basic level of provision and social protection below which no individual or family should be allowed to sink”.
“Above the line political parties may offer different options for prioritising expenditure but the idea that basic services for the most vulnerable should be considered for cuts is simply unacceptable. The fact that those with disability and special needs have been forced onto the streets in defence of the meagre provision that has been made for them is outrageous in a country which calls itself a republic.
“The level which social provision is currently at is already inadequate, having born the brunt of previous cuts from which the weakest were not exempt. The political priority should now be the restoration of such provision to a level that at least allows a minimal level of dignity, rather than regarding such provision as area for further cuts.”