Health Minister Mary Harney was pelted with red paint today as work began on a new mental health unit.
The TD was splattered across her neck, hands and clothes as protesters angry at health budget cuts gathered at the planned facility in west Dublin.
Despite the paint attack, Ms Harney continued with the turning-of-the-sod ceremony at the new Ballyfermot Primary Care and Mental Health Centre.
The attack took place in the grounds of the unit as up to 20 protesters mounted a demonstration at the gates.
A Garda spokesman said a woman was arrested on suspicion of assault on Ms Harney in the grounds of Cherry Orchard Hospital at about 10.30am.
The arrested woman was named locally as Louise Minihan, a councillor with Eirigi, representing residents in Ballyfermot and Drimnagh. She was previously a member of Sinn Féin.
Local councillor Brid Smith, who organised the protest on behalf of the Save Cherry Orchard Hospital Campaign, said she was surprised at the incident but could not condemn it.
“Mary Harney was clearly shocked and stunned,” said Ms Smith, of People Before Profit.
“Her hair, neck, clothes and hands were covered in red paint.
“Louise was telling her she was attacking the most vulnerable in healthcare.
“It was a very dramatic moment.”
Ms Smith said she believed hundreds of thousands of people across the country would support Ms Minihan’s sentiments.
“Fair play to her,” she said about her political colleague.
“People are angry with decisions by Government that are totally unjust and targeting the most vulnerable in society.”
The protesters had been demonstrating against cuts at Cherry Orchard Hospital which provides respite care and full-time beds for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.
Ms Smith said it recently lost a 22-bed ward.
“We were not against the new unit, we were protesting against the minister,” she added.
“Every weekend another hospital or unit is attacked, the Government is bailing out the banks.”
The new centre, adjacent to Cherry Orchard Hospital, will include a GP and a range of therapy, mental health and addiction services.
Ms Minihan was released without charge about an hour later. A garda spokesman said a file would be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The Dublin City Councillor said she poured diluted red paint over the minister to symbolise the blood Government had on its hands.
“In one month’s time the government will introduce what can only be described as a blood budget,” said Ms Minihan.
“The cutbacks in healthcare that will be contained in that budget will result in the unnecessary and avoidable deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of people over the coming years.
“Today Mary Harney had the cheek to organise a publicity stunt at Cherry Orchard Hospital, where she was turning the sod for a long overdue mental health unit. This is the same hospital which has been starved of funding for years, where an entire ward for Alzheimer’s and dementia sufferers was closed down during the summer.”
Ms Minihan said the wealth in the country should be used to provide a first class health service that was open to everyone and not to bail out the private banks.
“On budget day itself the people of Ireland need to get on to the streets in protest,” she added.
Ms Harney said she does not accept paint-throwing as an acceptable form of protest.
“I find that very intriguing that somebody who’s an elected politician representing the people would be involved in a protest that I believe, and so many other people believe, is not legitimate,” she said.
“We see protests all the time and in every democracy protest is legitimate and it’s important people advocate in different ways, they can picket, they can make their voice heard. But I think an incident like this, I do not believe, is what the vast majority of the people of Ireland would support.”
Ms Harney said any legal action against Ms Minihan would be a matter for An Garda Siochana.
“The law takes its own course in the sovereign. It’s something I shouldn’t interfere with, nor would I, nor would I want to do so,” she told RTÉ radio.