Dé Máirt, Lúnasa 10, 2010

Thousands March Against Health Cuts in Letterkenny


Thousands of people took to the streets of Letterkenny in Co Donegal on Saturday [August 7] to show their anger at Dublin Government and HSE plans to slash services at Letterkenny General Hospital and to impose other cuts throughout the health service.

Around 3,000 people assembled at the station roundabout in the town at midday for the rally which was organised by the newly formed ‘Save Donegal Health Services’ campaign group. Led by a piper, the large crowd marched up the Port Road towards the Main Street before turning up High Road and proceeding to the hospital itself where a number of speakers addressed the crowd.

Among those who delivered speeches to those assembled were spokespeople from the three main health service trade unions, IMPACT, SIPTU and the INMO [Irish Nurses & Midwives Organisation]. Speakers from the Voice of Older People Donegal [VOPD] and Donegal Action for Cancer Care [DACC] also addressed the crowd.

The planned cuts for Letterkenny include a reduction in day services, closure of the pharmacy, the closure of an operating theatre, the removal of at least 13 beds from Orthopaedics and the Intensive Care Unit as well as the slashing of the numbers of hours being worked by almost 100 members of staff at the hospital. They are also to close the hospital’s mortuary on a Saturday. Similar cutbacks are planned at Sligo General Hospital and other hospitals throughout the region.

Speaking in relation to the event, Mr Mac Giolla Easbuig said, “Those who took part in the protest must be commended for their determination to have their voices heard on this issue. The fact that so many attended, all from different situations, just goes to prove how many people these cuts will affect. The images of the protest just show that it will be people of all ages, from babies in prams to the most senior in our society, hospital and nursing staff, the sick, infirm and people in wheelchairs, who will be hard hit by these disgraceful cuts.”

“The Dublin government should be utterly ashamed of themselves for forcing these people into a position where they have to take to streets just to have their voices heard. Those in Lenister House plan cutting bed numbers in Intensive Care Units and Orthopaedics, closing an operating theatre and cutting back the hours of nearly 100 hospital staff as they say they have to make savings, yet we see these same people in the government flying around in private jets, travelling in chauffeur driven cars and living lavish lifestyles all at the tax payers expense”, said the éirígí spokesperson.

“The bottom line and plain fact of the matter is that these cuts are totally unnecessary. The Dublin government would like us all to believe that there is no money available and that these cuts are needed to balance the books, but that is a total fallacy. They can find plenty of money to bail out corrupt bankers and private developers by using billions of tax payers money. Even despite the recession Ireland is a wealthy country. As we in éirígí have said before, just off our shores we have oil and gas reserves worth in excess of 500 billion euro, all of which rightfully belongs to the Irish people. But those in Lenister House made the ridiculous decision to sign away the rights to this valuable resource to private multinational oil giants such as Shell.”

Mr Mac Giolla Easbuig finished by saying, “These resources should be nationalised, as has been done in other countries and the resulting wealth used to invest in our health service, education and infrastructure. The money is there, the political will is not. The only way people will get the fair and just country they deserve is to take to the streets, as they did last Saturday, and keep doing so until their demands are met.”

Smaller hospitals such as the Sheil Hospital in Ballyshannon and Lifford Community Hospital, both in County Donegal, face closure. Now the HSE are saying that they may also close a major hospital somewhere in the west but they have refused to say which hospital they have their sights on.

Fianna Fáil and the Green Party are also believed to planning even further cutbacks in the region of €600 million [£500 million] in the upcoming budget beyond these current plans to slash services.

Following the rally, the HSE issued a statement in which they claimed they would “protect front-line services” and that all services provided by HSE West would be provided in a “safe manner”.

Sligo éirígí activist Gerry Casey, who was one of many éirígí activists from Counties Sligo and Donegal to take part in the rally, dismissed the HSE’s assertions saying that the planned cutbacks are “completely unnecessary” and will cause “unnecessary suffering and death”. He said the Dublin government are deliberately slashing services and stripping the health service bare to facilitate the privatisation of the public health service.

Speaking following the rally, Casey said: “The savage cutbacks planned by the HSE and their political masters will decimate what remains of the public health service. They are using the excuse of the recession, caused by their corruption and greed in the first place, to strip the public service bare and to press ahead with the privatising of our public health service. It is also being used to drive down workers wages and condition within the health service.

Casey concluded: “If the government are allowed get away with these proposed cuts, the reality is that people who cannot afford private health care will suffer unnecessarily and even die as a result. We should not be surprised that this administration puts private profit before the health and well being of the people they claim to govern on behalf of but we have a duty and responsibility to not let them away with it. If we fail to stop what can only be described as the wanton vandalism and destruction of our health service then future generations will suffer greatly and needlessly.”

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