Sunday 25 June 2017

Crosses mark A&E demise as activists defy GAA match ban

Fans hold crosses to mark their anger as the players line up before the Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship Final
Fans hold crosses to mark their anger as the players line up before the Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship Final
A Roscommon supporter wearing an Enda Kenny face mask joins protesters against the closure of the local A&E unit

Mark Hilliard

TAOISEACH Enda Kenny might have missed the show but hundreds of smuggled crosses dotted the Connacht football final yesterday in a macabre protest at the closure of Roscommon Hospital's A&E.

As driving rain and wind whipped around Dr Hyde Park, Roscommon, the symbols were held aloft as a silent message of defiance, supported by more elaborate signs and the protesting voices of hundreds outside.

The crosses were smuggled in, say the protesters, because the GAA was preventing obvious demonstrators from breaching the turnstiles and infecting a truly sporting occasion with political dissent.

"It was just about making an impact visually; we didn't make any speeches or anything like that," said John McDermott, chairman of the Roscommon Hospital Action Committee (RHAC), which organised this, the latest in a string of demonstrations against the perceived devastation of their local hospital.

"It was about sending an image. The people brought them in themselves in their jumpers so they couldn't take them off them. When the national anthem was played they held them up in the air.

"They (staff at the ground) actually got an instruction from Croke Park saying that no protests were to be allowed."

The GAA said the game was managed locally and that the regulation was longstanding.

"In keeping with general rules in GAA venues, people are discouraged from bringing in signs of a political nature or otherwise," said a spokesman.

Disappointed

But while banning protests at high-profile sporting events is hardly surprising, the Taoiseach's no-show remained firmly beyond the grasp of many at yesterday's game.

"All we know is that the arrangements were in place for him to attend and then there was the announcement (that he wouldn't)," said Mr McDermott, insisting things were always going to be peaceful and non-confrontational. "That is why we were disappointed that Enda didn't come. We had said that we wouldn't stop him from getting to the match or anything like that.

"We appreciate that people are there, including Enda Kenny, to enjoy the game so we had always said that we just wanted to send a message."

But then that's not how the Taoiseach saw it.

A government spokeswoman said there was never any "firmed-up" arrangement for him to attend and that he had a prior family commitment to visit his daughter in the gaeltacht in Galway. He did not comment on the protest.

Nevertheless, just as his beloved Mayo team were basking in the title win, the RHAC was celebrating its own resounding success -- about 1,500 people showed up to voice their disgust, confirming a well-subscribed cause that shows little sign of dissipating.

Today the protesters are meeting legal counsel to discuss options for an official action against the decision.

"The message is very simple: everyone in Roscommon knows what is wrong," said Mr McDermott.

"All the reasons for making these changes (downgrading the emergency services) have all been proved to be untrue."

He said the RHAC would continue to apply the pressure, line the streets, fundraise and even, if they have to, smuggle more crosses into football matches.

Irish Independent

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