O’Cofaigh calls for other candidates to back a public inquiry into closure of Valley Nursing home in Clogher

Cross-community Labour Alternative candidate for the upcoming Assembly election Donal O’Cofaigh has supported the call of the Cullen family in Dungannon, whose brother was a resident of the Valley nursing home, for a public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the closure of the facility and its consequences. In the aftermath of the closure 14 home residents died after being transferred and more than fifty local workers in the Clogher valley area lost their jobs.

On Tuesday 12 April, Councillor O’Cofaigh wrote to the other candidates standing for election in Fermanagh South Tyrone to ask they add their voices demanding the incoming Health Minister initiate a public inquiry into the closure and its consequences. To date, only Emma De Sousa (Independent) and Denise Mullan (Aontu) have added their support.

Councillor O’Cofaigh explained the need for the public inquiry.

“It is inexplicable how this nursing home was allowed to close with such devastating effect. Rather than intervening or bringing the facility into public ownership and management, or even allowing another private sector entity to take it over, the authorities saw fit to allow the closure of what was an exceptionally important facility. The Valley nursing home was one of the largest facilities in either the Southern or Western Health Trust areas and accommodated residents with complex needs. While many of those who lost their jobs as a result of the closure were based in South Tyrone, many of the residents were from Fermanagh.

“The Cullen family of Dungannon have been fighting for more than two years to get the truth of what happened and why. I am entirely supportive of that demand and I am asking for the other candidates to support that call – to the benefit of all families.

“The closure of the Valley nursing home and its devastating consequences demonstrates yet again how Stormont’s reliance on private-for-profit operators and a failed regulatory oversight regime is impacting those in need of support.

“Those in our nursing homes today were content to make a lifetime of contributions to the national insurance in the belief that they would receive ‘cradle to grave’ health and social care. But that is the opposite of what is being delivered. What is needed is for the state to live up to that promise is to nationalise the nursing homes and put them under democratic control of independent committees including residents and families and their representatives, the trade unions and local communities.

“Care should not never be about the profit of the few but for the benefit of those needing support.”

Stormont must deliver domestic violence refuges and emergency accommodation

Cross-Community Labour Councillor Donal O’Cofaigh today pledged that as a MLA for Fermanagh-South Tyrone in May he would demand Stormont provide proper resourcing of refuges for victims and survivors of domestic violence.

He explained his experience on this issue to date:

“As a councillor I was able to attend a presentation by Women’s Aid on the current problems they were facing. I was both shocked and dismayed to find out that due to Stormont cuts, there were no longer any dedicated domestic violence refuge units anywhere in Fermanagh.
“Subsequently I raised this issue publicly and repeatedly at council meetings and succeeded in getting the council to write to the Communities Minister demanding action. In response, a commitment was made to provide three domestic violence accommodation units in Enniskillen – which was a success.

“That said, even this provision is completely inadequate. It’s widely known that the number of reported incidents of domestic violence has skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic but there is literally nowhere for those living in fear to go. This can be a life or death situation. Three or four emergency units are just not enough.”

Continue reading “Stormont must deliver domestic violence refuges and emergency accommodation”

Rural health services under attack

The Bengoa reform is only the latest attempts to dismantle, rationalise and therefore privatise the NHS in Northern Ireland. The report – which has the agreement of all parties in the Executive – provides a blueprint for services to be withdrawn from rural areas and opens the path for ever greater encroachment by private operators in every aspect of health and social care.

The outworkings of this are to be seen in the growing role of the private agencies who are being paid hundreds of millions every year to deliver staffing – money that could easily fund a fair pay deal for NHS workers sufficient to bring back workers and end the staffing crisis.

But the staffing crisis that results undermines the delivery of services – most especially in rural areas where staffing retention and recruitment are most challenging – and this provides the grounds for Stormont decisions to cut services claiming that staffing levels are unsafe. Of course, those dependent on these fast-disappearing services find themselves forced to pay for alternative treatments – normalising the concept of paid medicine and undermining the ethos of the ‘free at the point of delivery’ NHS.

In recent weeks announcements threatening the acute status at South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen and Daisy Hill hospital in Newry have been made by the respective trusts. Continue reading “Rural health services under attack”

Bus and rail services once again under attack from Stormont austerity

Chris Conway, Translink

Chris Conway, the Chief Executive of Translink, Northern Ireland’s bus and rail provider, today testified on the state of public transport here. His evidence confirmed the criminal neglect of public transport by Stormont over many years.

Mr Conway exposed the fact that per capita funding for bus and rail services in NI is only 27% of the UK average. That is Stormont spends just a little bit more than a quarter of what Westminster, Holyrood and Cardiff spend on bus and rail services – for every man, woman and child.

Uncertain future

This situation is compounded by the fact that Northern Ireland is a rural region and the cost of operating public transport here is far higher due to our sparse population densities.

Mr Conway warned that the very future of Translink itself was uncertain and said that underfunding of public transport left it facing question marks over its financial viability.

1,000 bus and rail services under threat!

In a comment which highlights just how bad things are. The Translink Chief Executive warned that one thousand bus and rail services would be lost if the budget remained 10 percent below where it was. He further said that these would be primarily in rural areas.

This would mean Stormont presiding over the greatest calamity in public transport here since the railways were closed and the tracks lifted up in the late 1950s.

Continue reading “Bus and rail services once again under attack from Stormont austerity”

Is all-Ireland rail consultation designed to play off competing communities?

The need for a rail connection down these parts is something myself and the independents on council have raised consistently – despite the naysayers.
Indeed it’s been an issue I’ve pushed for many years now. Before the last Assembly election – thanks to encouragement from the likes of local rail enthusiast Selwyn Johnston (who has been fighting  this cause for this for decades) I published estimates of how much a rail extension to Enniskillen would cost – calculations supplied to me by Unite shop stewards working in NI Rail.
Indeed as a result of my pushing the issue consistently, Unite in Northern Ireland raised a rail connection to Fermanagh as an example of the sort of public investment project that could be taken forward by a Labour government when they met with former party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

His team were looking for capital infrastructural projects that would be transformative – and they certainly grasped its significance for the south west. Sadly that wasn’t to be!

Transformative Rail

A rail connection would be transformative for tourism and connectivity in the Southwest. If coupled to a broad process of electrification it would reduce the environmental pollution associated with privatised transport and encourage remote working and a renaissance of rural communities here.

Continue reading “Is all-Ireland rail consultation designed to play off competing communities?”

Neonatal mothballed at SWAH

A few days after Christmas, I started getting calls for concerned parents and workers in relation to the neonatal unit at South West Acute Hospital. They reported that the neonatal unit had closed down.

I could hardly believe it but as I received more and more calls I started to fear that it was accurate.

Only four years ago, the Western Health and Social Care Trust had threatened to close the service as a cost-cutting measure. Our local campaign swung into action, we mobilised hundreds of local people twice in three days and threatened to take the campaign to Derry/L’Derry before the money to keep the service was magically found and the threat removed.

Question submitted

Conscious of this history, I submitted a question to the new Chief Executive of the WHSCT Neil Guckian on December 30th. I didn’t receive any response so I contacted local journalists about what I was hearing in both the Impartial Reporter and Fermanagh Herald. I suggested that if they would also ask the question we might get clarity. They both did so and we resolved to keep each other informed.

On January 7th I received a reply confirming my worse fears. The unit was down to two cots and these were only for assessment with babies being sent elsewhere. The unit was effectively mothballed. As expected, Covid was blamed although there was a recognition that this was a long-standing recruitment problem. This was certainly true.

Continue reading “Neonatal mothballed at SWAH”

Latest housing stats expose Stormont parties are in the hip pocket of property developers

The latest statistics by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive confirm the long-term decline in public housing at the behest of policies enacted by consecutive Stormont Executives. The parties have consistently failed to properly invest in public housing despite a huge sell off of stock over recent decades.

Unfortunately, the latest statistics are released on a council based basis and not all councils have the 2021 figures published yet. That said, it is clear that public housing policy is totally inadequate in the face of massively mounting demand.

Continue reading “Latest housing stats expose Stormont parties are in the hip pocket of property developers”

Exposing the pollution of our waterways

For decades politicians have been silent on the well-known fact that raw sewerage has been routinely flowing into the River Erne. Former NI Water workers report sewerage having had to be suctioned out when the volumes got too great. Anglers report an underlayer of congealed waste in stagnant pools located around the town.

Like many other towns in the North, Enniskillen retains a Victorian-era style sewer system designed to deal with excessive volumes of brown water by allowing it to overflow into the river. The problem is that the system hasn’t received proper investment for decades so now every time we get a heavy rain (regularly!) sewer water floods out of the top of the combined sewer outlets. What is worse, it has been confirmed in writing to Cllr O’Cofaigh that grills meant to filter solid matter from overflowing have been removed to reduce costs of staff having to clear them out regularly (all to meet Stormont austerity budgets).

Continue reading “Exposing the pollution of our waterways”