‘Party politics seems to come before people’ was the message from the East Galway Mental Health Action Group this week, after a motion calling for a review into the transfer of psychiatric beds from Ballinasloe was defeated in the Seanad.
Fianna Fáil Senators had called for the transfer of beds to be halted and an independent review of the decision to reconfigure local services to be carried out.
The Government has a majority in the upper house and Galway Senators Lorraine Higgins (Lab) and Hildegarde Naughton (FG) voted to support government policy on the issue, while Fidelma Healy Eames (Ind), Ronan Mullen (Ind) and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh (SF) were opposed.
Meanwhile, Senator Michael Mullins (FG) – who implored Minister Kathleen Lynch to review the scoring system that decided the Roscommon facility was more suitable than Ballinasloe – chose to abstain.
Speaking to the Galway Independent, Action Group chair Padraig Mulligan this week reiterated that the campaign is “a marathon not a sprint”. “And in every marathon you meet a wall and we met our wall in the Seanad,” he said, adding the community would reflect on the vote but would not allow Minister Lynch or the HSE dictate to them on an issue they believe has a significant amount of merit.
“We are not saying we’re absolutely right; what we’re looking for is an independent review,” he said, adding that is not “unreasonable” given that it impacts on the most vulnerable in society, and that there is significant opposition to the HSE’s plans.
Some 100 community members blocked five beds being removed from St Brigid’s last Tuesday night and Mr Mulligan warned, “If the HSE goes to move them the community is going to block them, there’s absolutely no doubt about that.”
Commenting on the way local representatives voted, or didn’t vote, last Wednesday, Mr Mulligan said, “Party politics seems to come before people. We are very disappointed in the fact that when it came to standing by our community our politicians were found very wanting.”
He also said that he would rather a situation where politicians vote in line with their views, rather than avoiding doing so. “Lorraine Higgins at least had the courage to vote against it and if a person feels that strongly about it and that’s their position, I expect them to respect mine and I absolutely respect theirs and they will live politically or die politically by those decisions.”
Reflecting on his decision to abstain from voting, Senator Mullins said it was clear that the Government amendment would be passed easily and “there was no point” in losing the party whip, instead making a decision he felt would best allow him to exert influence on issues affecting his community. He added that he had “registered [his] protest” by not supporting the Government amendment on the issue.
He added he was “very disappointed” Minister Lynch did not accede to his request that a review of the HSE decision take place, and for no further beds to be removed from the facility while a review is taking place. “The Minister does not appear for turning,” he said. He added however that a Fine Gael grouping is meeting with Health Minister James Reilly this week, with Ballinasloe one of the issues set to be raised with him.
Senator Lorraine Higgins, who voted with the Government, meanwhile said Fianna Fáil’s motion was opportunistic.
“Because they are in the minority in the Seanad and they were never going to win that motion, that’s reality of it. But I was happy to vote the way I did based on the assurances I got from the Minister that the patient would be protected and would have access to the best mental health service that could be gotten.”
She also acknowledged the anger “among some sections of the community in Ballinasloe” and said Minister Lynch had encountered similar problems replacing psychiatric units in Clonmel and Wexford with ‘better’ community-based services. “Once time and water goes under the bridge hopefully people will recognise that change was necessary,” she said.