THE PEOPLE of Fermanagh have spoken, and their message is clear – get Stormont back up and running to prevent crippling cuts and help save local lives.
Over the weekend we saw history in the making in Fermanagh, with Sinn Féin enjoying sweeping success in the local Council election.
The party has credited its phenomenal performance with the strong will of local people to get the Executive restored to help tackle the multiple crises in our health and education services, and to combat the wide range of even more severe budget cuts that are now on the cards.
The election came just days after the extent of the dire deficit in the Stormont finances was laid bare by civil servants who, in the absence of ministers and an Executive, are now being asked to make wide-ranging cuts across all services to plug the £732 million budget gap.
Some civil servants have even warned these cuts could put lives at risk.
For example, the Department of Infrastructure has opened a public consultation on the equality impact of its funding cut proposals, which include a complete halting of all road maintenance, except in emergency cases.
It has also proposed stopping gritting services this winter, and permanently turning off street lights in many areas, as well as a reduction in public transport provision, and the removal of funding for community transport services, such as Fermanagh Community Transport.
The Department of Health has also warned of stringent cuts ahead.
In a letter to health representatives of the main political parties, permanent secretary Peter May said the Department of Health, “like all other Departments” was being put “in an impossible decision” by the budget, which has been set out by the Secretary of State in the absence of an Executive.
”This involves trying to balance our responsibilities to live within the budget we have been given, act in the public interest and safeguard services. Decisions are required that we do not wish to take and that are not in the best interests of the health and social care system,” he said.
The Department – which warned it would now be unable to make a pay offer to local health workers, like the one given to their colleagues in England – said its priority was now to “mitigate where possible both immediate impact on frontline services and long-term irreversible consequences for the health and care system.”
Aside from health and infrastructure, all other departments have also warned of cuts, including in education at all levels, and to the funding of many essential grass-roots and community organisations.
Speaking to the Herald at the count centre in Omagh at the weekend, almost all the newly elected Fermanagh Sinn Féin councillors said the message from the people on the doorsteps had been clear – restore the Assembly and Executive.
“The message we’ve been getting is to get the Executive up and running, so we can get it all sorted out, get the money out to the people, and get the cost of living sorted out,” said Anthony Feely, for example.
“Hopefully, after this, people will realise it has to be done.”
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