Councillors back away from protest over Portlaoise hospital downgrade

Councillors cancel hospital protest trip because Ministers not available

Councillors back away from protest over Portlaoise hospital downgrade
By Conor Ganly @laoisnews

Local politicians in Laois have defended their decision not to protest outside the Dáil against the downgrade of Portlaoise's hospital.

Laois county councillors backed out of a planned trip to Dublin because the Minister for Health Simon Harris would not meet them on Wednesday, November 9.

The Cathaoirleach of Laois County Council Tom Mulhall said a decision was reached with the chairs of the Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and technichal group because Laois TD and Minister Charlie Flanagan was not in the country and that the Minister for Health Simon Harris would not meet them.

"We thought it better to leave it for a few weeks," said Cllr Mulhall. "I don't think we were going to meet anyone. So what would that prove?"

The Fine Gael chairman said councillors were not "protestors" but "elected representatives”.

Cllr Mulhall did not agree that it would be too late to talk to the Minister after the plan is finalised. Minister Harris said clearly last week in the Dáil that he would meet the county councillors only after the plan is published.

Asked what the people of Laois would think about councillors who had cancelled the protest Cllr Mulhall said local politicians "are not going to let down the people".

He said the hospital would be kept open through negotiation and discussion with Ministers and not protests.

"One hour of walking up and down Dáil Éireann is not going to swing it one way or another," he said.

His Fine Gael party colleague, Cllr Willie Aird originally proposed the trip to Dublin lat month. He said he was not happy with the cancellation. He said the trip to Dublin was never based on a meeting with the Minister but was designed as a "show of solidarity with the hospital".

The leader of the Fianna Fáil group Cllr John Joe Fennelly reluctantly agreed with the cancellation.

“There was no point going up just to be there and nobody to meet, we wanted to make our feelings felt to the Minister,” said Cllr Fennelly.

He said the councillors would put pressure on Minister Flanagan to organise a meeting.

He said it was a 'no win' for councillors whether they called off the trip or went in the absence of a meeting.

Sinn Féin were not unified on the situation. Deputy Brian Stanley told the Leinster Express that he was ready to meet the councillors and that Cllr Caroline Dwane Stanley had taken a day off work to travel. However, Portarlington's Sinn Féin councillor did not see the value in going at all.

"I never intended to go up with the convoy. That was a bit of grandstanding at the meeting. I knew all along the Minister would not meet us. Nothing would be achieved except a headline,” said Cllr Aidan Mullins.

“We have one of the senior ministers in the government, his influence alone should be sufficient. Fianna Fáil is propping up the government, if they made this a red line issue it could be saved, it’s as simple as that. Are the HSE going to back down when they see a few councillors go up? It sounded good, send the cavalry, it’s populism.”

Portlaoise's Labour county councillor Noel Touhy shared the veiw that the trip would not go ahead if there was no meeting.

“I was more or less informed that it had been deferred,” he said.

As a result he felt that the meeting and trip to Dublin would still goahead. He said things can change and the issues would be discussed at meetings this week.