A peaceful protest took place in Castlebar this week as families of those suffering with physical and intellectual disabilities took to the streets to lobby against possible cuts in respite care services.
The small but galvanised crowd of campaigners staged their protest outside the clinic of Fianna Fáil TD Beverley Flynn in Newtown for 20 minutes, before marching to Mayo General Hospital, where a letter was handed in. Related protests took place outside Leinster House in Dublin and at the Regional Hospital in Galway, with more than 2,000 people hitting the streets to show their concern.
Despite the worries caused to families and parents since news leaked of the possible respite cutbacks over a month ago, Taoiseach Brian Cowen categorically denied there is to be any reduction in services. Speaking in the Dail at the time of the protest, Mr Cowen said that cutbacks imposed on HSE services have never been about frontline services such as respite care. “It will not happen, it was never going to happen, there have been no such decisions and respite services will not be cut,” he said, adding this was not a time to scare people who are vulnerable.
Fine Gael councillor Austin Francis O’Malley, who is also a Mayo representative on the Regional Health Forum, said it is a “disgrace and indefensible” that the “fundamental rights of these people are under threat”. The Westport area councillor who attended the march, said that Brian Cowen’s speech on Wednesday was only made as “the screw is turning on him”.
Castlebar Sinn Féin councillor Thérèse Ruane said that she took part in the protest “in solidarity” against cutbacks on the vulnerable. She added that “those with no voice in our community are easy targets” and that the “paltry amount of money needed for such essential services should not be withdrawn, especially when billions are being spent on bailing out the banks.” Cllr Ruane described it as a “scandal” that children and parents are forced, yet again, to go out and protest for basic rights.
Chairperson of the Mayo branch of People with Disabilities in Ireland, Edel Cadden, who took part in the protest on Wednesday, said she felt assured by the Taoiseach’s promise that there would be no cutbacks to respite, but warned that if the most marginalised in the community were subject to cutbacks, they would take to the streets once more.
John Moloney, Minister responsible for the area of respite care, said proposed HSE cuts were never about cutting respite care as the goal has always been to protect frontline services. However there were huge stresses across the board. In terms of respite care, 130 places are now deemed to be under threat from 42 service providers which currently receive €1.6 billion in funding each year.
Mayo Fine Gael Leader Enda Kenny said the HSE must be forced to re-think cuts on already hard pressed services. “It’s because the HSE was unable to control its costs in other areas where there were other overruns that has caused the thousands to have to march this week for their loved ones who have no voice. I ask for a stop to be put to this madness,” he said.
The HSE has since released a statement which reads: “The HSE is not in the business of cutting frontline services or impacting on agreed service levels. There is however, an obligation to get the best value for public funds including those applied to the voluntary sector. We wish to do this in a collaborative manner and ensure the voluntary sector can avail of savings and opportunities that arise from being part of the wider health services sector.”