Sinn Fein party leader Mary Lou McDonald TD addressing the party’s second public rally in Liberty Hall, Dublin 1 on Tuesday. Louise O Reilly is second right
Louise O’Reilly, Sinn Féin’s health spokeswoman, writes:
Give people a chance to speak and they will tell it like it is.
And despite what many in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil think, the people are rarely wrong.
We have said all along that engaging with the public will not just be something we do as a token gesture during an election campaign.
Sinn Féin have embarked on a series of public meetings, which have allowed us to engage with the public about issues and challenges affecting them every day.
On Tuesday I chaired one of those meetings as hundreds packed into Liberty Hall. Unfortunately, hundreds more were turned away as the hall was full.
The audience was involved, asked us a whole series of questions and informed us about the evolving crises facing them.
They also offered up common sense on different areas. The unfortunate thing about common sense is that it has rarely been common among those in government.
People have fears that they will never be able to have a roof over their head, they are being crippled by spiraling rents, they have worries about family members left on trolleys in A&E.
All of these issues are constantly evolving and, in many cases, worsening. That is why it is important to constantly talk to the people.
We will always sit down, listen and let voices be heard so that we can speak up for people and legislate on their behalf in an informed way.
At Tuesday’s meeting, one lady spoke of her elderly mother’s wait on a chair for over 24 hours in A&E before she could get a bed in Beaumont Hospital. She pointed out that doctors and nurses were amazing with her but that they were totally overworked and that there was simply not enough staff and not enough beds.
I explained to her that in order to tackle the trolley crisis you have to address the issues causing it and focus on addressing them.
This means recruiting more nurses and doctors and reopening closed beds. Would you believe that there are 500 beds closed in our hospital system due to a lack of staff?
But we also need to deliver more step-down facilities too to get people out of hospitals and increase home help hours so people can return home: we need increased nursing home beds and we need to use community hospital beds to get people out of hospitals as well as increasing home help hours so people can return to the comfort of their own homes from hospital.
A gentleman then asked me how we create fairness in our health service and do away with the two-tier system where money talks.
I explained that the health service is our most important public service and that the health of the nation is Sinn Féin’s number one priority. Nobody should have to check their bank balance to see if they can afford to be sick. That is a shameful way for people of this state to have to live.
The final question of the night was from a worried young mother, on behalf of her son, who is on the autism spectrum and cannot access the necessary services that he is entitled to.
I am a mother and I am a grandmother. This woman wants what every one of us wants for our children – the ability to live well, prosper and fulfill their potential.
This is being denied by successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael governments.
Children face lengthy waiting lists for assessments and struggle to find appropriate school places.
Adults with autism face huge gaps in the provision of crucial services, particularly for finding work, securing social welfare and being able to live independently.
This is totally unacceptable and it must change. That is why Sinn Féin wants to see the development of an Autism Empowerment Strategy.
Previous governments have let down people with autism and their families.
Sinn Fein want to be in government to fix our health service and deliver real change for ordinary people, for workers, for families.
That is the least you deserve – a government that works for you and empowers you to live well and reach your potential.
Louise O Reilly is TD for Dublin Fingal
Previously: Liberty Belle