Wheelchair users, special needs children and home help services in the north west are now set to be targeted in a fresh programme of savage cuts and privatisation, it has been claimed.
Communities across Derry and the wider region have now been urged to mobilise in support of an expected day of action on March 13th in protest over what union officials warned is an unprecedented threat to thousands of civil servant jobs and public services, including healthcare, Housing Executive homes and even school meals.
The warnings were delivered by a succession of speakers at a public meeting in the Maldron Hotel in the city centre on Wednesday night to discuss the implications of the cuts resulting from the Stormont House Agreement.
Joe McCusker, regional organiser from UNISON, claimed there were very specific threats to services in Derry and the western region in the pipeline.
Referencing the current review of Derry’s respite facility for children, he claimed: “We have all seen it about the Cottages, while the residential homes are still under threat.
“I met with the Western Trust in relation to their current cuts. Some of the things you don’t know, which they told me, was they have a budget for wheelchairs; wheelchair users, and what they are going to try and do is curtail that budget.”
He further claimed that the Western Trust was about to outsource a contract for £13.2m for home care services to the private sector.
“What that represents is: ‘We will outsource our home care, we will give it to a private company, we will pay workers poorly to provide a lower standard, a lower quality of service because it can be done cheaper’. And it will go to companies whose only priority is to maximise their profits and satisfy their investors,” he claimed.
Also speaking at the meeting, Principal of Ardnashee School & College in Derry, Michael Dobbins said the local learning disabled “has been the go-to community” when cuts are being made.
He also claimed that since 2003 there has been “regular attempts” to cut the employment the school nurse at his school.
Mr Dobbins said: “We have got 280 children with additional needs, we have within that possibly 34 with very complex medical needs. It’s even more stark when you consider in the last ten years within out school alone we have lost 28 children, and still they carry out what we considered to be the supervised neglect of our services and continually under the guise of one of the most horrible words now in the English language, ‘review’, come back and pick at this scab when everybody knows, the dogs in the street know, that sick children need a nurse.”
NIPSA’s Sheena McDaid, who works at the Housing Executive, warned that the organisation, secured via the Civil Rights movement was “slowly being picked apart.”
Speaking about the transfer of homes to housing associations, she asked: “If the Housing Executive is wiped out, do we go back to the dark days? Does gerrymandering make a reappearance?”
Unison representative, veteran rights campaigner and SDLP Councillor Ann Donnelly said at the meeting that it was vital the community stopped those in power from swinging the axe on vital services. “I think if we are really that much of a cost to them, then line the 60 plus up and shoot them because you are killing them every other way,” she warned.
The Western Trust was unable to deliver a response by the time of going to press on Thursday evening.