Friday, February 21, 2014

Protest Blockade Wins Temporary Reprieve For Irish Psychiatric Beds

A crowd of 150 stopped police from taking beds away. Photo: Gerry Stronge
A blockade outside the psychiatric unit of St Brigid's Hospital, Ballinasloe in County Galway, seems to have won a temporary reprieve for five beds which the Irish government wanted removed as part of 'care in the community'-branded cuts. This encouraging display of direct action by hundreds of community members and service users mirrors ideas I expressed in my recent piece on 'How We Can Beat The Cuts', part of my series on building a new working class movement.

There was a large demonstration in the town last September, where union leaders joined locals in condemning the closure of the twenty-two acute psychiatric admission beds at the hospital. At the time, Noel Giblin of the Psychiatric Nurses Association told the crowd that:
"The huge turn-out at today’s protest reflects the deep anger in the community at the loss of these beds  and people across Roscommon and Galway are clearly not going to stand by and see the mental health services in the region being dismantled in this way."
Far from the usual hyperbolic rhetoric, his words could not have been more prophetic. As the Galway Advertiser reports:
"On January 17 this year the HSE [Health Service Executive] succeeded in taking away five psychiatric beds, however a further attempt to take five more was thwarted on Tuesday night. The determination of campaigners in Ballinasloe was clearly proven when up to 200 people took just 15 minutes to mobilise and gather at the gates of St Brigid’s at 6pm to stop a private removal company from taking the beds.
"According to [campaigner] Mr Carr 600 people signed up to a text alert system following a public meeting at Gullane’s Hotel on Sunday. When word got out about the attempt by the HSE to take a further five beds mass texts were sent out and campaigners arrived to hold a peaceful protest. “The vans could leave but the beds could not,” said Mr Carr, who explained there are concerns over the falling standard of care in the community."
On Wednesday, a group of the activists took their cause to the Irish Parliament, where they called for a "full independent review" of psychiatric unit closures in Ballinasloe, plus three others in the country. But mental health minister Kathleen Lynch cynically described the cuts as something which "would liberate the service user". The Fine Gael/Labour Party government defeated an anti-closure motion, which had been put forward by the Fianna Fáil-led opposition. But according to the East Galway Mental Health Action Group, who are co-ordinating the resistance, "The fight goes on...We WILL get our independent review.."

At the time of writing, the five beds seem to remain in place, as do those committed to defending them. Despite massive cuts, first under Fianna Fáil/Greens and now under Fine Gael/Labour, there has been little active resistance to austerity in Ireland so far. This is one to follow.
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