MacLochlainn - Awakening the West
When Pearse Doherty delivered the introduction to the Presidential Address at last year's Ard Fheis, launching the West's Awake campaign, it was clear that something special was afoot.
That day, he spoke of the frustration of so many of us in the West coast of Ireland at years of neglect by Government. He talked about how the West was dying a death by a thousand cuts. But more importantly, he gave hope. Hope that by working together from Kerry to Donegal, we could reverse the neglect.
Since then, Senator Pearse Doherty and Deputy Martin Ferris have compiled two Oireachtas reports on the regeneration of the West of Ireland.
Pearse's report, "Awakening the West: Overcoming Social and Economic Inequality" has already received the support of all parties on the Oireachtas joint committee on Arts, Sports, Tourism, Rural, Community and Gaeltacht affairs. Martin's report on the needs of the fishing and farming communities in the region will soon go before his Oireachtas committee.
The methodology deployed by Pearse and Martin in drawing up these reports was a truly republican one. They could have just taken the usual approach to Oireachtas reports of appointing someone to sit at a desktop in Leinster House and pull together census or central statistics office data.
However, they were determined to give ownership of the reports to the communities they hope to assist. They both engaged in a comprehensive series of face to face meetings with community development groups, trade unions, farming organizations, fishing organizations, chambers of commerce, and state agencies in every county along the West coast.
I was privileged to attend many of those meetings and witness the extent of the engagements and the breadth of information and expertise forthcoming from every group.
That is what makes these reports special. They have proven beyond dispute that the systematic neglect of the West of Ireland is not a perception but rather a reality.
They have demonstrated the decline of traditional industries such as farming, fisheries, and textile manufacturing in the West and the recent over reliance on the construction industry for employment in the region.
They have exposed the "brain drain" of young people out of the West where only 38% of third level graduates from the region find work in their home counties compared to a figure of 80% on the East coast.
They have outlined the removal of services such as Post Offices, Garda stations, schools, and public transport in rural areas.
They have shown how the full implementation of the Hanly Report will lead to the closure of around 13 hospitals in the Western Region. Up to 8 A&E public hospital departments, two inpatient maternity facilities and 12 inpatient psychiatric units are set to close.
Up to two thousand acute public hospital beds in the West are earmarked for closure over the next decade. The PA Report (2008) envisages closing 1,698 public patient beds by 2014, while acute public hospital bed losses under the Hanly Report, excluding inpatient psychiatric and long-stay beds, are estimated at 1,965.
These hospital closures will leave hundreds of thousands of people two hours' drive or more from inpatient care. Withdrawing public services, such as hospital A&E and maternity care, will lead to needless deaths and disability and threaten the social and economic sustainability of communities in the West.
They have shown how public hospitals such as those in Sligo and Castlebar face destabilisation and downgrading, if the national cancer strategy is implemented as planned.
Most importantly, they have set the scene for a fight back of communities along the West coast and have provided a platform for regeneration that is about fair play and equality. In their reports recommendations, they have provided solutions that have the ownership of all of those they met and who made submissions. They have called for one Western voice working together.
The West's Awake campaign is a template for republicanism in the 21st century and this Ard Fheis should commend Pearse Doherty and Martin Ferris for their sterling efforts.