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10 QUESTIONS FOR THE IWA

 

 

 

 

First the anger, then the despair, now…already…a growing sense of resignation. Last Friday, the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) stunned staff at the Cuisle Accessible Holiday Resort in Donamon by announcing the facility will close on November 29th.

 A fightback is underway, but a sense of foreboding remains. One thing most observers agree on is…there are questions the IWA ought to answer.

   Here’s TEN from the Roscommon People…for starters

 

1: Did the IWA ask the Divine Word Missionaries for an extension on the lease beyond 2026?

 

2: Regarding the ‘significant investment’ which the IWA says would be needed for the building, can IWA clarify what is the precise level of expenditure required?

 

 

3: Will the IWA publish documentation/business proposal in respect of the estimated costings for upgrading works?

 

4: Why has the IWA not engaged (over recent months) with local politicians in respect of existing funding availability (Roscommon LEADER, County Council, Divine Word Missionaries)?

 

5: Is the board prepared to postpone or abandon the closure in any circumstances?

 

6: Why did the IWA give staff such short notice of the plan to close?

 

7: Why did the IWA choose to make this announcement on a Friday afternoon?

 

8: Why did the IWA initially attribute the decision to close to a financial deficit – and then switch the emphasis to a new model
of care?

 

9: Why has the CEO been slow to respond to concerns raised by staff, service users and public representatives?

 

10: Will the board publish details of how funds raised for Cuisle by the public in Roscommon in recent years have been used?

 

 

 

 

 

Minister provides little hope for Cuisle extension

 

 

 

 

 

 

Local TDs appeal for ‘12 more months’ so that solution can be found

 

 

Despite pleas from local TDs in the Dáil yesterday (Wednesday) for a pause on the decision to close Cuisle, Minister of State for Disabilities Finian McGrath provided little hope that the centre in Donamon would remain open beyond the end of this month.

  Independent TD Denis Naughten had said the local community would not accept “under any circumstances the removal of equipment that was fundraised by the local community and through the Exchequer”.

  “We would plead with you that there is an extension of 12 months to allow us to put a solution in place,” he added, a plea that was echoed by Fianna Fáil TD Eugene Murphy and Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice.

  Minister McGrath, however, reiterated the HSE policy to move away from congregated services to holidays and respite at accessible hotels from next March.

  “The IWA has the ethos of delivering services that respond to the wishes of its members. The new service will be located in accessible hotels in the Galway area and the midlands. The IWA are in the final stages of the procurement process and will soon be able to announce the exact locations,” he said in response to concerns raised over staff and service users during Topical Issues yesterday.

  He added: “I’m aware the issues raised today will have an impact on service users with high dependency and this will require complete clarification.

  “I have instructed the HSE officials that this happens in consultation with the Irish Wheelchair Association. I will come back to the relevant members with the results of this in coming days. I will give a commitment that solutions (raised by local public representatives) will be put on the table”.

  Deputies Naughten, Murphy and Fitzmaurice had raised a number of issues with the Minister including a perceived lack of consultation; the number of ‘bed nights’ available to service users going forward, and what was described as the “disgraceful” treatment of Cuisle staff, who had been left with “minimal” opportunities for redeployment.

  Deputy Naughten said the decision went against previous statements by the Irish Wheelchair Association and would leave service users without a respite service for five months.

  “In 2018 the Irish Wheelchair Association wrote to the councillors of Roscommon County Council. That letter read: ‘Our facilities resemble that of a hotel and include 34 ensuite twin and double bedrooms, the Castle restaurant, Harry’s Bar, leisure suite and gyms’. That does not look to me like Cuisle is an ‘institution’.

  “Back then, BDO set out a business plan for the tourism development of that facility and yet now the IWA are saying that it’s not viable,” he said.

  Deputy Eugene Murphy said the decision should be reversed.

  “We need to get this decision reversed and we need to understand that lots of people use this facility….this is disgraceful carry-on from a body that’s after getting €40 million with your help over the last year”.

  Deputy Fitzmaurice said that with the willingness of the local community and the assistance of the Divine Word Missionaries, a solution could be found.

  “I would ask you Minister to intervene to make sure those jobs are safe.

  “I would ask you to talk to the head of the IWA to make sure there’s a pause put on this and that plans can be put in place for the benefit of everyone, especially the wheelchair users that use the facility,” he said.

 

 

 

 

Cuisle: Anger mounts after shock closure announcement

 

 

 

Anger is mounting this week over the decision to close the Cuisle Holiday Centre in Donamon – with the loss of 48 jobs and to the dismay of service users from all over Ireland.

  A furious backlash is gathering momentum and there are growing demands for the closure decision to be reversed. 

  The Cuisle Accessible Holiday Resort, located at Donamon, Co. Roscommon, is the Irish Wheelchair Association’s national holiday location, and has been in operation for the past 22 years.

  Last Friday, staff at the centre were stunned to be told that the facility will close on November 29th next. The news came as a complete shock to staff, and has devastated employees, the local community, and service users throughout the country.

  In a media statement, the IWA gave mixed signals as to the reason for the shock closure, citing changes in best practise approaches – as well as funding requirements.

  The IWA said: “In recent years, there have been positive changes in accessibility standards in Ireland that now present a greater range of choice and options for people with disabilities seeking a holiday or respite.

  “Consequently, there has been a shift in best practice approaches, moving away from congregated, health service settings to integrated holiday services that provide people with greater options, alongside the supports they need to maintain independence.

  “In line with this, Irish Wheelchair Association has decided to transition its holiday service in the West of Ireland to provide accessible hotel holidays into the future, and to move away from its holiday facility at Cuisle, Co Roscommon”.

  The IWA leases the building at Donamon from the Divine Word Missionaries. In its statement, the IWA said that the lease on the building is due to expire in 2026, adding that “significant investment would be needed to make the building compatible with the future of the service”.

  It has since emerged that the investment requirement relates to electrical works and related renovations, with IWA claiming that in the region of €1.5m/€2m is required. The IWA says it has been engaged in efforts to secure such funding, but without success.

 

Two arrested over €170,000 drug seizure

 

 

 

 

Two people were due to appear in court in Loughrea yesterday afternoon in relation to the seizure of cocaine and cannabis with an estimated street value of €170,000 as well as a large sum of cash at properties in Roscommon town on Tuesday.

  Following investigations, Roscommon Gardaí searched a number of houses in Roscommon town on Tuesday afternoon, and a 20-year-old man and a 31-year-old woman were arrested.

  The man and woman were arrested at two separate houses and brought to Roscommon Garda Station. They were later charged with drugs offences, including sale and supply.

New layout for Roscommon Town Centre on the way!

 

 

 

 

 

A new layout for Roscommon Town Centre will see a return to two-way traffic on the eastern side of The Square (currently one-way), provision of a paved pedestrian civic space, and new parking arrangements and pedestrian crossings.

  When the ‘Roscommon Town Public Realm Enhancement Project’ was first drawn up, it attracted some opposition. Following consultation between interested parties and Roscommon County Council, a number of changes/amendments were made. A second version of the plan was then formulated, taking account of many of the submissions of business people in the area.

  The deadline for submissions on the revised plan was yesterday (Wednesday). It will now go to ‘Part 8’ status at Council level. It remains to be seen what, if any, changes will be made following the latest submissions.

  By and large, there appears to be widespread welcome for the plan, including from business people, Roscommon Town Team and local politicians.

  Its official title is the ‘Roscommon Town Public Realm Enhancement Project’ and its aim is to ensure that “Market Square and Main Street become highly connected people friendly places”. The plan has been developed, says the Council, with a view to increasing the volume and quality of interactions with the town spaces and creating a town-based pedestrian culture.

  The project will include the provision of a new traffic management scheme and layout on Main Street and The Square, to include:

  * Provision of two-way vehicular traffic on the R366 to the eastern side at Market Square.

  * Provision of a paved pedestrian civic space to the north and south of Market Square.

  * Provision of a shared space along L7043 on the western side of Market Square.

  * Provision of two-way traffic to the North of Market Square on the L7042.

  * Provision of new parking arrangements, enhanced pedestrian civic space and pedestrian crossings throughout the scheme.

  * All other associated site and ancillary works at Market Square, Main Street, Castle Street, Ballypheasan townland and Ardnanagh townland.

  The project is intended to “reimagine” existing spaces, make the town centre more people friendly, create a pedestrianised culture and increase footfall in the area. The plan has received considerable support, including from business people who engaged with the Council, making submissions and attending meetings with the local authority. However, concerns have also been voiced over the loss of 59 car parking spaces and the possibility of trade being “driven out” of the town centre.

 

  

 

 

 

 

No deal risk may be fading, but Brexit challenges remain – Minister

 

 

 

 

 

European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee talks Brexit, broadband, rural Ireland…and the election

 

One of the most instantly recognisable politicians in the country strides into the beautiful, spacious foyer of Roscommon’s Civic Offices. It’s Monday evening, and Minister Helen McEntee is in Roscommon for a combination of ‘Fine Gael business’ and meeting and greeting with local enterpreneurs (and agencies).

  Minister McEntee is all smiles. She has a warm greeting for Senator Maura Hopkins (the party’s candidate in Roscommon/Galway). Later, on social media, the Meath native quips that this is her ‘second county’. Minister McEntee is indeed very familiar with Roscommon. Her husband is Castlecoote native Paul Hickey. Later on Monday evening, Minister McEntee guested at a Fine Gael AGM in Gleeson’s in Roscommon.

  We’re used to seeing Helen McEntee striding with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on the ‘red carpet’ in Brussels. The European Affairs Minister has been a key player in the Irish Government team over the course of the marathon and frequently tense Brexit preparations. And it’s a Brexit agenda in Áras an Chontae this evening too. Minister McEntee is here to meet with representatives from Roscommon County Council, Roscommon LEO and local businesses on ‘Brexit preparedness’. Before that, she has an appointment with the Roscommon People.

  Minister McEntee and Senator Hopkins sit down at a large white table, as local photographers click away. The man from the Herald is first in with the B word. B for Brexit, of course. The Minister outlines the purpose of her visit. First and foremost, she will be in listening mode when she meets with LEO (Local Enterprise Roscommon) and local businesses. She is anxious to hear if Roscommon businesses have thus far being availing of services (and funding) put in place by the Government for the purpose of Brexit preparedness. She is hopeful that they have, and if they haven’t, she will advise them of the supports that are there. Minister McEntee is much more relaxed on the Brexit issue now – as compared with a few weeks ago – though certainly not complacent. The risk of a no deal Brexit is now very minimal, she says. There is, however, still “potential for disruption to business”, not least because Boris Johnson wants a different future relationship (with the EU) than that envisaged by his predecessor as PM, Theresa May.

  Minister McEntee says that regardless of what aid is in place, Brexit will still be challenging for Irish businesses. She points out that the Government has been proactive (in its recent Budget, and generally) in seeking to protect these industries. In Budget 2020, €2bn was made available for businesses affected by Brexit, with an emphasis on tourism, agriculture and SMEs. EU funding for farmers (of €50m) is being matched by the same level of funding from government.

  To local issues. I ask the Minister about Roscommon’s lot, reminding her of the paltry number of IDA visits here, and of the lamentable quality of broadband in some rural areas. Of rural depopulation too. Are we being left behind?

  Minister McEntee sees a different picture. Of every ten new jobs being created, eight are ‘in the regions’, outside the major towns and cities. There has been “huge investment” in sport and infrastructure, with €900m in extra funding for roads, schools, hospitals, etc. “We are absolutely focussing on rural Ireland” Minister McEntee says.

  She dismisses the opposition’s calls to scrap the National Broadband Plan – or at least to put it into reverse – saying it’s essential to move ahead and, to borrow a phrase, get it done.

  As for that brief but intense pre-Christmas election speculation a week or two ago, she says it was “never on the cards” – much more important to progress Brexit and ensure that our economy is on an “even keel”. The no deal threat has lessened, she advises, but it’s still there.

  Minister McEntee condemns the recent acts of violence in border regions, while insisting that supports are in place for An Garda Síochána. “Unrest in Northern Ireland in recent months has been a particular concern…minority factions have started to reappear”. It is time, she says, for the Northern Ireland Executive to sit again, and “certainty on Brexit” can help that process.

  Before our time is up, there is an endorsement by Minister McEntee of the local candidate. Senator Maura Hopkins has been “working extremely hard” her colleague says. Minister McEntee believes Senator Hopkins can win back a Dáil seat for Roscommon in the general election. “We are investing in Roscommon, and in rural Ireland, and I think the people will be happy to support Maura in the election”.

  The biscuits and tea are tempting. A quick sip, but the business leaders are circling. In fact they’re waiting, in an adjoining room. We wrap up, and Minister McEntee heads across the hall to her next appointment, her next date with the B word…

 

 

 

 

 

Roscommon Garda receives National Bravery Award

 

 

A Garda from Roscommon Town was recently presented with a National Bravery Award for his role in helping to save a woman’s life in Dublin last year.

  On October the 31st 2018, Garda Donal Tully and another Garda observed a young woman in the sea at White Rock, Killiney, Co. Dublin.

  Garda Tully immediately entered the sea, swam a considerable distance out to the woman and attempted to rescue her. Garda Gavin, who had located a lifebuoy, entered the water at knee-level to assist Garda Tully. Both Gardaí were then able to pull the woman to safety.

  For his actions, Garda Donal Tully was awarded a Bronze Medal and Certificate of Bravery. The presentation took place at Farmleigh House, Dublin.

  Garda Tully, of Castle Manor, Roscommon, is son of Anne and the late Tim Tully.

 

 

Cuisle closure: A Friday afternoon bombshell

 

 

The rumours of an imminent meeting began to circulate on Wednesday of last week…two days before the bombshell meeting. For some Cuisle employees, the wait was shorter. Many of the staff only heard on Thursday that a meeting had been called for Friday. Some say they never got any official word of the meeting at all.

  Staff whom the Roscommon People have spoken to insist they have never believed that closure of the Cuisle Centre was even remotely ‘on the cards’. Yes, they knew there were ongoing financial pressures, they knew too that the building needed some ‘work’. But closure? Never.

  A staff member told me: “We had been told, on and off over the last two years, that management was trying to source funding…for electrical works, and so on. We didn’t for one moment think there was any risk of closure. We work in the disability sector…there’s a meeting at the end of the year, there’s a budget, there’s a funding deficit, every organisation wants more money. Nothing unusual in any of that. You hear it every year…you just keep working”.

  The staff had become used to that narrative…year in, year out. For the most part, the staff have been extremely happy in Cuisle. They have the normal ups and downs that are experienced in any workplace. As for the building, they like their physical work environment, but they know it’s not perfect. Not perfect, and subject to the usual financial budgetary tensions. But closure? Never.

  When staff heard about the meeting, many of them were concerned. But they did not expect the bombshell. The meeting began just after 2 pm on Friday. There were two ‘HR people’ present, along with Mr. Tony Cunningham, Director of Housing and Holidays with the IWA. Within ten minutes, the dye had been cast. Closure on the 29th of November. The need for electrical works, and a shortfall in required funding, was put forward as the reason for the closure.

  The message came as a monumental shock to the staff. They were dumbfounded. Some people were in tears. 48 staff. A lot of emotion, a lot of shock. A source says that, on average, staff members have been there “ten or twelve years”.

  After taking a few minutes to deal with the shock, a few people mustered some questions. The IWA now began to talk of the need for a new care model. Staff expressed concern for service users, people from all over the country who will be dismayed – in some cases distraught – at this news. Many of those people visit once or twice a year; many of them have built close relationships with staff. They know ‘Donamon’ and they love Donamon. 

  All weekend, employees of Cuisle sought to come to terms with the news. Shock turned to anger. So many questions.

  Why was there no warning? Were genuine efforts made to secure funding? Why, if funding is the issue, is the focus just as quickly switched to the ‘shift in best practice,’ i.e. a move towards ‘accessible hotel holidays’? Which is it…funding or a policy switch? If it’s funding, is it €1.2m, €1.5m, €2m? Why isn’t there more transparency? Why isn’t there any transparency? Why was the IWA CEO not engaging in public on the issue?

  “We believe this is closure by stealth” a staff source says. “And it was savage that it was announced on a Friday afternoon. Obviously we don’t agree with the closure, but they couldn’t even do it on a phased basis. It’s an attack on their own service. People are so let down.

  “It’s anguish for us as employees, but what is it for the service users? The reaction from service users nationally has been just unbelievable. People are distressed”.

  Cuisle is, after all, a resort…a service provider for people. Many service users have built up a special rapport with staff over the years. Emotions are running high now. One woman rang a trusted staff member and said: “Will you please keep in touch with me in the future, even if there’s no Cuisle…”

  Another upset caller said: “I’m really scared…please don’t give up the campaign to save it”.

  We are in a very strange situation now. The staff, the service users, the politicians, the Divine Word Missionaries, the community…all want Cuisle to stay open, and furthermore, they all seem to take the IWA ‘position’ with some scepticism. Trust? It’s not there. 

  A staff source says some employees believe this can be reversed. That staff member is less sure. “It would take people having to do a u-turn…and ego is the downfall of humanity…but a bit of real humanity goes a long way”.

  A service user from Dublin rang a member of staff they’re friendly with…to discuss the unexpected bombshell. Questions, answers, tears. She loves Cuisle, and keeps coming back. Now this. She had one final question.

  “Why do people make it so hard for us?”

 

 

 

Courthouse: Flanagan to meet Courts Service today

 

Denis Naughten TD has received confirmation from the Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan, TD that the Courts Service is actively seeking an alternative location in Roscommon Town for the duration of refurbishment works to the courthouse.

  The Roscommon-Galway TD previously met with Minister Flanagan on the issue and proposed a number of alternative locations to him that could accommodate the Courts Service in the town.

  “Minister Flanagan has informed me that he is meeting with the Courts Service (today, Thursday) on this issue and confirmed that he will be updated on possible alternative locations. I am hopeful there will be progress on the retention of the courts in Roscommon town as a result. 

  “The refurbishment of the courthouse is urgently needed, and this is an issue that I had prioritised during my time in government. I also met with Minister Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran recently regarding the refurbishment works and the timescale for completion of this substantial project”.

 

Major investment for Monksland

 

 

 

 

Deputy Denis Naughten and Senator Maura Hopkins have both welcomed the allocation of Government funding of €2.75m and a further €900,000 by Roscommon County Council to develop a new life sciences innovation hub in Monksland in Athlone. Senator Hopkins has claimed that the funding was allocated on foot of her engagement on issues with Minister Michael Ring, while Denis Naughten has pointed out that he was a member of the initial sub-committee which developed the project,

  The funding is to refurbish a disused building in Monksland Business Park into a life sciences and co-working hub to support existing rural enterprises requiring high speed broadband and support for start-up companies.

  The hub will build on the software and life sciences businesses in the Monksland area and will be funded through the Rural Regeneration & Development Fund announced by Minister Michael Ring on Wednesday. 

  The project, which was initially spearheaded by Athlone Chamber and supported by Roscommon LEADER Partnership, is now being promoted in conjunction with Roscommon County Council and Enterprise Ireland.

  Denis Naughten, who was a member of the initial sub-committee which developed the project, said: “Many small and start-up businesses outside of the main towns are struggling to access quality broadband that can make their enterprise a success and this project can help fill that void.

  “Over time this project has expanded to become a potential key driver of new jobs not just in Monksland but in the towns around our region, by attracting innovative start-up companies into our area”.

  Senator Hopkins said that she recently brought Minister Ring to Co. Roscommon and these funds had been secured as a result. She said: “I am pleased to have worked closely with Minister Ring and Roscommon County Council on this application. By supporting start-ups in the life sciences sector, it will consolidate the existing presence in the area and will provide a route to major growth in the pharma sector right across the region”.

  Senator Hopkins concluded: “I want to thank Minister Michael Ring for making this funding available and I will be continuing to work closely with him to ensure that we can secure further investment for other projects to increase job opportunities across Roscommon and Galway”.

 

 

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