Pádraig MacLochlainn, Sinn Féin TD for Donegal North East, has called on Donegal’s elected representatives to come together to defend services for rural Ireland.
The deputy was responding to the news that the Department of Social Protection had removed the services of a community welfare officer from St. Johnston last week; and this week community welfare services were being moved from Fahan, Culdaff and Bree in Inishowen; and Churchill, Kerrykeel, Tamney and Rathmullan. The department said people in those communities will be accommodated at clinics in other towns and villages.
Deputy MacLochlainn said the closures of those local clinics, coming on top of closures of rural garda stations and post offices, represented an anti-rural agenda. He said Donegal’s elected representatives needed to stand together against the ministers and departments responsible for those decisions.
“We’re talking about the death of rural communities if this continues,” Deputy MacLochlainn said, likening the impact of those decisions to death by a thousand cuts.
Fianna Fáil Cllr. Paul Canning told Highland Radio that he agreed with Deputy MacLochlainn.
“All the public representatives need to work together to protect basically what is left of rural Ireland,” Cllr. Canning said. “We’ve cut back on our schools, our rural transport, our gardaí, our health services, our social welfare service.”
Cllr. Canning added, “This cannot be tolerated.”
Deputy MacLochlainn’s party colleagues on the county council have also been critical of the closure of community welfare clinics in their constituencies. Cllr. Mick Quinn, who is based in Churchill, said the withdrawal of the service “is a huge blow to these local communities, and will also cause further strain to services in Letterkenny, Carrigart and Milford.”
“Rather than increase supports for the unprecedented number of unemployed young people in rural Ireland, the Department of Social Protection is making it even more difficult for them to seek advice and get back into employment,” Cllr. Quinn said. He also said the lack of public transport in the area “will make it harder, if not impossible, for many people to avail of the service.”
Sinn Féin Cllr. Jack Murray said the closures planned for Inishowen will be a huge loss to people in those communities, and the poor public transportation in those areas will make it difficult for people to travel to other Inishowen clinics for community welfare needs.
The Buncrana-based councillor said the closures have been billed as cost-saving measures, “But to me it makes very little sense.” He said the clinic in Bree was open for 30 minutes a week, Fanad for two hours and Culdaff for one hour. “I can’t see the cost-savings you’re going to make from a total of three and a half hours,” he said.
Responding last week to the St. Johnston closure, Sinn Féin Cllr. Cora Harvey said the Letterkenny clinic was open four hours a week, but “is already bursting at the seams and are now expected to cater for St. Johnston and surrounding areas.”
Deputy MacLochlainn said he will raise the issue with the minister as soon as the Dáil returns from summer recess.