DUP Health Minister Edwin Poots has done a complete u-turn on the proposed closure of eighteen NHS residential care homes across Northern Ireland. The closures announced last year were part of the Transforming Your Care health review.
When the closures were announced, there was an outcry of anger from the public. The idea of causing such stress to elderly residents and their families was met with disbelief amongst the vast majority of people, and even more so for the elderly residents who have no family to assist them in this disastrous situation. Edwin Poots managed to unite people here in their disgust at such an announcement. The already unpopular Minister became more unpopular overnight.
Ninety two year-old Jean Faulkner won the hearts and minds of people when she gave an emotional interview to Stephen Nolan. Jean described how the carehome she resides in became like a wake house following the announcement. Jean went on to say, “At 92 you don’t have to be expecting to consider these things at all.”
There is no doubt that the timing of this u-turn is a pre-election stunt by Poots and the Northern Ireland Executive. The climbdown also reflects the pressure the political parties felt from ordinary people. 5,000 people signed a petition in Cookstown alone opposing the closures. Of course, we cannot be sure that the carehomes will not be threatened with closure at a future date. The Stormont politicians will promise anything coming up to an election. However, the lesson from this climb-down is that this Stormont government can be forced to reverse other unpopular, unjust cuts that have already been made, and more that will follow after the elections.
The trade union movement alongside activists in the community should launch a real fightback now to put a halt to the austerity programme this government is intent on implementing. It is entirely possible they could be defeated if a campaign was developed uniting people across the North on a mass scale demanding an end to the cuts. The only way of ensuring success is to also challenge them politically. The local elections should have been used to give a voice to ordinary people and not let the sectarians on both sides dominate again. It is with urgency now a discussion should begin how best a genuine movement can be built to really challenge the economic and political programmes of the established parties.