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.”
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.”
Donal O’Cofaigh the Cross Community Labour assembly candidate for Fermanagh South Tyrone in the upcoming Stormont election met with Gerry Cullen in Dungannon to formulate a cross-community labour alliance.
The Enniskillen-based councillor and full-time Unite the union official Donal O’Cofaigh was endorsed by the well-known and highly respected socialist politician and ex-councillor Gerry Cullen from Dungannon Town. Gerry Cullen welcomed Donal to Dungannon on Saturday last to agree and endorse his election campaign. Donal will be standing for election to Stormont as the candidate for Cross Community Labour. Gerry Cullen commented that “there is a strong and historic cross community vote in the Dungannon region. Looking back through the history of the Dungannon region there has always been a strong labour vote, it is now more important than ever that a candidate can put forward a political agenda based on cross community values and solid policies that will appeal to an electorate long starved of political representation based on traditional labour values.”
Donal O’Cofaigh stated that now more than ever a cross community labour candidate is needed at Stormont “to offer effective representation on critical issues facing the electorate, the cost of living crisis, the crisis in health and social welfare, the destruction and exploitation of the environment by multinational financiers and the denigration of a once strong and well resourced social and community based infrastructure”.
Both Gerry Cullen and Donal O’Cofaigh agreed that there is a mood among the electorate of Fermanagh and South Tyrone to move away from the old worn out politics of the past. “It is important that we as a community look to the future with a different perspective. We must take on board the need for community based political values that incorporate a wish for social and community based initiatives which will benefit all of the community of Fermanagh and South Tyrone, not just a fortunate or privileged few. The political system at present has failed this constituency. It is time to offer the electorate an effective and forward thinking socialist and labour based alternative.”
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.
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.
Since his election three years ago, Cllr O’Cofaigh has continued his campaign against Fracking and sought to impose every possible barrier to this toxic industry by every means at his disposal and every opportunity.
Council meetings have often been dominated by environmental issues as Cllr O’Cofaigh, working with independents such as Cllr McAleer, has pushed up against the poor and inconsistent positions adopted by establishment parties.
Despite their purported commitment to a greener economy, and mass local opposition, the Stormont Executive continues to facilitate these toxic industries. A new consultants study at the cost of £75,000 has been commissioned to identify options on how Fracking could proceed.
The Terms of Reference didn’t even initially include consideration of public health but after withering criticism from Cllr O’Cofaigh and independent councillors it now does. Whatever is in a terms of reference, there can be absolutely no confidence in this report: there is no safe way to Frack. The fight against this toxic industry both on the council and in the communities must continue until we secure a ban on Fracking.
Caroline Wheeler, a prominent anti-cuts activist and trade unionist, was the only candidate standing on a genuine cross-community, labour and trade union platform in the recent Westminster election in Northern Ireland, in the Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency.
Caroline received the full support of local activists and her candidacy was proposed by our councillor in the area, Donal O’Cofaigh. Caroline’s campaign secured a creditable 754 votes in what was a very sharply polarised and closely contested ‘headcount’ poll between the two communities, Protestant and Catholic.
Parliamentary elections in the constituency of Fermanagh-South Tyrone have been highly contested since the constituency was established in 1950. Because of the first-past-the-post system used, Westminster elections are traditionally a sectarian headcount, with the relatively well-balanced and stable demographic balance meaning every election is closely fought.
In 1981, the constituency famously elected IRA prison hunger striker, Bobby Sands, who died only weeks after winning the seat. The victory demonstrated the Republican movement’s potential to score political success and was highly influential in the subsequent thinking and trajectory of Sinn Fein’s leadership. The seat reverted back to the unionists when Sands’ successor went on the run after he was caught transporting guns. Due to the split nationalist vote, that remained the situation for almost twenty years before the seat fell to current Sinn Féin incumbent, Michelle Gildernew, in 2001, signalling the party’s road to dominance as the largest nationalist party in the aftermath of the Good Friday Agreement. Tom Elliott, the United Unionist candidate, retook the seat in 2015 but lost it again to Gildernew, in 2017, with the collapse of the bourgeois-nationalist Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP) vote.