Protest convoy descends on HSE offices to demand an end to UHL overcrowding crisis

Protesters turned out in their dozens outside the HSE offices in Raheen. Photo: Brendan Gleeson.

NOBODY asked for quiet but a profound silence descended as family after bereaved family laid flowers at the doors of the HSE offices in Raheen to commemorate their dead.

It was a stark contrast to the almost festive mood as the convoys of cars from Ennis and Nenagh joined Limerick motorists at St John’s Hospital to drive through the streets of the city, music blaring, slogans broadcast from bull horns, and red ribbons fluttering on cars, led out by three bikers from the Celtic Soul Motorcycle Club.

But there was nothing of a party about the purpose of the ‘Drive to Survive’ protest convoy organised by the Mid West Hospital Campaign (MWHC) which brought almost 70 vehicles carrying more than 100 people out to demand that emergency departments (EDs) at St John’s, Nenagh, and Ennis hospitals be reopened.

The protest this Saturday afternoon marked 15 years since the closure of the emergency departments in the three hospitals, directing a population of 450,000 people to the Mid West’s only acute hospital, University Hospital Limerick.

One of the people laying flowers was Marie McMahon from Ennistymon, County Clare, whose husband, Tommy Wynn, died on a trolley in the UHL ED six years ago.

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“Six years on and we are here protesting because nothing has changed. No lessons have been learned,” an emotional Marie told the Limerick Post.

Asked if she thought such protests would make any difference she said that “we’re not going away. I’m not going away. I have nothing to lose.”

Speeches at the focus point of the protest – the HSE offices – didn’t spare the rod.

Ken MCarthy, a member of the original group which opposed the closure of St John’s ED, told the crowd that “we have been lied to. Politicians have been promising us, but people are dying and suffering. We all know people who (went to the ED and) never came home.”

Charlotte Keane of the MWHC added: “Make no mistake – this is the fight of our lives and our children’s lives.”

Ms Keane had a message for Taoiseach Simon Harris, who visited Limerick on Friday evening: “If you do one thing in your term of office, overturn this disgraceful decision.”

“Stephen Donnelly, you sir are part of the problem. Bernard Gloster, we had such faith when we heard a Limerick man was coming to clean up at the hospital – but nothing is happening.”

Tanya de Vito McMahon, also of the MWHC, didn’t hold back either.

“We picked red as the colour for the ribbons because its the colour of danger, the colour of stop, the colour of the trails of blood that have been left in the hospital,” she told the Limerick Post.

She said that to fix the chronic overcrowding, “the money is there but we need the political will. Politicians – get your fingers out of your a*s and do you jobs”.

MWHC committee member Noleen Moran said the protest date was chosen to mark 15 years since the closure of the EDs at the three hospitals.

“Since then we have had people on trolleys every day and 150 people on trolleys on one day this year.”

Pointing to the HSE building behind her, she said that “people who make these decision work in these offices. They are here in Limerick. They see what is happening first hand and yet nothing has been done.”

Referring to deaths of people young and old waiting for hospital admission in the UHL ED, she said that “the only question is who will be next”.