EU austerity treaty threat in battle for Abbeyleix hospital

ABBEYLEIX hospital campaigners have raised the stakes in their battle to save the hospital with warnings that its closure could hit the upcoming referendum.

ABBEYLEIX hospital campaigners have raised the stakes in their battle to save the hospital with warnings that its closure could hit the upcoming referendum.

In the wake of last Sunday’s mass protest, one campaign leader, Gary O’Keeffe, warned that closure could affect voting in the referendum on the European Stability treaty. Meanwhile the chairman of the Abbeyleix Hospital Action Group, Brian Maher said he would consider running as an independent candidate in a local or national election.

Mr O’Keeffe did not call on voters to vote no over the hospital, but said people are angry and will not be fooled.

“People do not want to be made a fool of. This is an educated community with pretty sharp people. So will it become more political? People will become more and more angry if they think they are being sold a pup, that they are being made fools o,f they are not going to take it,” he said.

While the HSE finally promised “consultation” starting on May 8, it gave no details of how or with whom it would consult. Mr O’Keeffe warned talks may not be enough for voters.

“I think people are fairly solid on what the right thing is to do, and I am not saying they are going to vote against it (the treaty) but don’t push this community too far because they don’t like it and will react badly to being pushed too far, and will react badly to being made fools of,” he said.

Mr O’Keeffe also hit out at the HSE.

“We feel we are talking to the wall. We feel there isn’t a comprehension of the facts. If this (closure) was based on sound financial logic, if they were able to come and say we simply can’t afford this, we would say fine.

“If they come up with any set of logic, we would say fine but we have searched and searched for that logic but it isn’t there. In fact the opposite is there. The fact is we can prove that it is financially viable. We can prove that if they close it, it will cost more money.

Asked if people might vote no on May 31 he said. “If that means doing what has to be done to stop madness, that is what they will do,” he said.

Meanwhile, Brian Maher said the committee is extremely hopeful that some common sense will come into play, but he said the the “political backdrop is extremely important”. He said the referendum and hospital campaign were separate issues, and warned that there is an upcoming local election.

“It will be sharp in peoples mind at that point. We are coming to a very tight spot. You will see a lot more independents entering the races here and they will have very real chances of making ground. That will start with local government and continue on with the general election,” he said.

Asked if he would run, he said: “I would certainly consider it, but not on a party political basis.”

See pages 6, 8 and 9, and photos on page 44.