‘Lives will be lost’, say locals

MORE THAN 500 people formed a 600-metre chain in Youghal yesterday as they protested HSE plans to replace the town’s ambulance service with a first responder paramedic car.

Local politicians, including Sinn Féin TD Sandra McLellan and Fianna Fáil Mayor Eoin Coyne, joined the participants at the Foxhole Business Park, two miles from the town centre.

The protesters waved placards and chanted “Save our ambulance” as passing traffic hooted horns in support. Long traffic tailbacks formed when the demonstrators marched half a mile to the Rhincrew roundabout and back.

Emily Fitzgerald, a 64-year-old grandmother, said she was protesting because “none of us know when we might need an ambulance”.

Nearby, 19-year-old supermarket worker Katie Murphy said it was “a disgrace that someone might have to wait up to an hour for an ambulance”.

Feargal Nolan, 43, a UCC equipment engineer and father-of-three, said a town in a cachment area of 40,000 and 50km from Cork city “cannot afford to lose an ambulance”. “We pay taxes and levies and they say cutbacks won’t affect frontline services,” he said. “Then they take away our ambulance,” he fumed.

“A rapid response vehicle manned by a medical technician is not the same as an ambulance manned by advanced paramedics,” said Ms McLellan. “At some stage, lives will be lost.”

Two days previously, an inaugural public meeting convened by the Save Youghal Ambulance committee, was read an email sent to Labour TD Sean Sherlock in March.

The message said the proposal was not cost-saving, but part of a phased strategy to abolish on-call ambulance services nationally and without budget cuts. As Youghal operates an on-call service only on mid-week nights, the decision to remove the service totally from September 1 has mystified the town.

Save Youghal Ambulance public relations officer, Jim Flanagan, says the group may take its protest to the Dáil, while hoping the HSE will agree to meet a delegation, including local GPs.

Another demonstration, in Youghal town centre, is planned for August 6.

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