UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis is in Belfast today, paying tribute to residents, relatives and union members involved in the campaign to save the NHS residential homes in Northern Ireland.
This top-level endorsement comes as the campaign enters its third year, with the majority of threatened homes still open. The campaign successfully pressed the minister and the healthcare system to remove 50% of them from closure list last year.
However, 10 homes remain under serious threat. Their doors are closed to new residents, despite growing need for residential care, while the physical infrastructure is being deliberately neglected.
At the Roddens in Ballymoney, the residents’ bath is broken. In Pinewood, Ballymena, only two permanent residents now survive, while the rest are ‘temporary’.
Over the past week, public marches and demonstrations have taken place in Ballymoney, Ballymena, Cookstown and Kilkeel.
UNISON has challenged all politicians attending these protests to set aside their constant bickering and work together to protect the rights of residents.
UNISON is holding a further major protest at Storming on 28 September.
Meeting with 89-year-old Clifford Devlin, Mr Prentis congratulated him for his resolute determination. Mr Clifford has attended and challenged the health care board at public meetings, campaigned at Stormont and given TV interviews on his joy at the reprieve for many homes.
Unfortunately, his own home – Westland in Cookstown – is still under threat.
Mr Prentis said: “The fight for fundamental human rights is at the core of everything we stand for. We will shame any government that attempts to trample over the rights of the most frail and vulnerable in our society.
“I am immensely proud of the fight which members and residents like Clifford have put up in Northern Ireland.
“Because we stand up for what is right and against what is wrong, we are now under sustained attack by the current UK government, which appears to have little or no understanding of human rights.
“I am in no doubt that the vicious and spiteful attack on trade union rights in Britain is a reaction to workers who stand up for rights – not just worker and trade union rights, but, most importantly, the human rights of those we serve. We will resist the attack.’
And he continued: “I am proud to take time out from that campaign [against the Trade Union Bill] to be in Belfast today to pledge the full support of UNISON as a whole to our members, the residents and their relatives.
“I sincerely hope that the government in Northern Ireland will demonstrate a moral courage that is sadly lacking in the Tories. I am confident that fairness and decency will win in the end.”