St. Asicus’ Centre controversy ‘being hijacked for political reasons’ …but Doherty calls for Board to ‘stand aside’

The divisive battle over St. Asicus’ Centre in Keadue has intensified this week – with Charlie Hopkins, the chairman of the board of management, saying that the issue was being “hijacked for political purposes”.

  However, on the opposing side, Fianna Fáil councillor Rachel Doherty has called on the board to “stand aside” and allow a new body to run the centre.

  Mr. Hopkins, however, has resisted those calls. And, in a dramatic about-turn, he insisted that normal service would resume at the centre from next week.

  Initially, after state body Pobal withdrew its annual grant of €104,000 for the facility for elderly people, the board reduced staffing levels from five to three and curtailed the day care centre and meals-on-wheels service.

  However, their plan did not meet with the approval of the Health Service Executive, who provide a grant of €29,000 a year to the centre.

  That has prompted the board’s reversal: it has rowed back on its plan to cut the meals-on-wheels service from five to three days, with additional cold meals also being delivered.

  Mr. Hopkins said: “The HSE were unhappy with the three days, especially with the cold meal being delivered. We decided to continue providing the hot meals five days a week.”

  The board has also rowed back on its plan to reduce the day care service from two days a week to one.

  “The day care service will continue as it is from next week,” Mr. Hopkins said. “Effectively, the service will continue as it is – two days in the day care service and five days with the meal-delivery service. It will be business as usual.”

  Mr. Hopkins said that the staff who had been let go would not be rehired, but that agency healthcare staff would be employed. He said that the service would be financed through the board’s own ‘substantial reserve’ of funding and the HSE’s grant, which he hopes will continue.

  The uncertainty over the future of the centre has generated controversy. A local action group, including Cllr. Doherty, have been involved in separate negotiations with Pobal about having funding restored.

  The delegation has said that the state body would be willing to restore the funding provided that “there can be no duplication of service with the existing community service provision in the area”.

  This has led Fianna Fáil councillor Rachel Doherty, a member of the delegation, to call for the existing board to quit and abandon their service completely, so that a ‘new’ service could be formed.

  However, Mr. Hopkins described that idea as “a joke” and said that the centre was being “hijacked for political purposes”.

  “When we were fundraising and looking for help for the last 15 years, we didn’t see any of these people,” he said. “They are coming out of the woodwork now and we just don’t know where they are coming from.”

  Cllr. Doherty said that her group had sought meeting with the board over the past week in an attempt to resolve the impasse, to no avail. pShe said that the service users were being affected – that “vulnerable people” had been left in the dark since the saga broke out in mid-February.

  “They are anxious and upset and they feel they have been ignored,” she said. “It has been a very distressing time for them.

  “They should never have been treated this way.”

  The clients did not attend the day care centre on Monday as a protest against the services being curtailed, she said.

  “They refuse to accept the downgraded service and they want to see a full service funded, with a manager in place,” Cllr. Doherty added.