About 2,000 people took to the streets last Saturday to protest against plans to close the Cuisle Respite Centre in Donamon.
Deemed ‘no longer fit for purpose’ by the Irish Wheelchair Association, (IWA), the closure will result in the loss of in excess of 40 jobs.
In a strong show of solidarity, local TDs, Senators, councillors and community leaders joined staff and service-users as they marched in unison in a rally led by the Castlerea Brass & Reed Band. Local man Danny Burke, (a former councillor), remarked how service-users had “tears in their eyes at this news. I can say here today that we are not going to let this happen. Cuisle is not just for the wheelchair users, it’s a community-based centre as well, and is used by many local groups for various functions. It’s a great amenity for County Roscommon and we cannot let it close”.
Heartened by the turnout, Roscommon County Council Cathaoirleach Cllr. Paschal Fitzmaurice said the IWA, “don’t seem to be listening to the people in Roscommon”.
He continued: “They are not listening to the service-users and they are not listening to the taxpayers of this country who are giving them €40 million per year to run their affairs. The bottom line is that they want to close Cuisle. I am calling on them to have an extraordinary general meeting and seek the views of the people on the ground”.
Appealing to the IWA to source funding, Cllr. Fitzmaurice assured supporters that “every councillor in Roscommon is behind this cause”.
Service-user Ita Fitzmaurice appealed: “Please, please, please keep Cuisle open. We go down there once a year for a holiday and we love the place. We love the staff, and it’s the only break we get. It’s a home from home for us, and I’m pleading with whoever is in charge not to close it”.
Michael Nolan of Roscommon IWA said: “Nothing is too much trouble for the staff in Cuisle, and today’s rally shows that it cannot be closed, nor should it ever be replaced”.
Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice said: “Over the coming days the pressure has to be ramped up and the people need to be involved in that. I believe there’s a way forward here and it can be resolved. The people in Roscommon and East Galway will ensure that the wheelchair users will have a future in Donamon”.
Deputy Eugene Murphy said: “The Irish Wheelchair Association are making up excuses as to why the centre should close. Instead of closing the facility down, let us campaign for even better facilities”. Addressing the board of the IWA, he asked them to “put this decision on hold for at least 12 months”.
Calling Cuisle a home-away-from-home, Deputy Denis Naughten said: “We can go the way of the IWA and board up Cuisle; and no-one wants that. Or we can put an alternative in place. They have said no to that. For all of the people who’ve been connected with Cuisle over the years and the service-users in particular, they deserve a chance here. I’m asking the IWA to pause this decision for six months so we can put that alternative in place and keep the doors of Cuisle open”.
Commenting on the proud historical links associated with the facility, Senator Terry Leyden said: “They developed a top class centre in Cuisle, and we are not going to let that go. Never, never, never”.
Reassuring the campaigners, Senator Leyden declared: “We will continue with this fight, and we will be successful”.
Local community advocate, Catherine Hoare was heartened to see the great turnout, saying: “There’s plenty of passion here today, and it’s great to see so many people supporting the cause. We’re here because it’s the right thing to do. Cuisle is unique because it’s the only holiday and respite centre in the country. But what makes Cuisle really unique is the staff and the community around it”.
Reading out a statement on behalf of service-user Erica Boucher, Noel Brennan of Cuisle conveyed: “I have been coming to Cuisle for 15 years, and was only there for a week recently. I’m devastated that it’s closing down. In my 27 years of going to respite centres, I haven’t been looked after anywhere else better than by the staff at Cuisle. They are like my family. We feel that nobody understands how we feel and no-one is listening to us. All we want now is for the Government to reverse this decision”.
Adding his voice, Senator Rónán Mullen said: “I am full-square behind this cause; and I will fight alongside the people to have this decision reversed”.