A lobby group formed less than two weeks ago brought more than 12,000 people onto the streets of Waterford at the weekend in protest against what they see as the latest official attack on the city.
The group, Save Waterford, staged the demonstration in response to fears of a downgrading of Waterford Regional Hospital.
Organisers, who joined with the Waterford Gives a Shirt campaigning group for Saturday’s event, said they were also angry about other “Government neglect” of Waterford and the wider region.
Examples cited included the plan to merge Waterford City Council with the county council and job losses that have left the area with the highest unemployment rate in the country.
“The people of Waterford and the people of the southeast have sent a clear message: don’t touch our hospital,” organiser Andrea Galgey said.
She and fellow organiser Gillian Sauvage Corcoran came together on Facebook and established Save Waterford.
“The hospital was the final nail in the coffin for the people of Waterford. Enough is enough. There is no county in Ireland that hasn’t been hit by the recession, but if you look at the statistics Waterford has been hit more than others,” Ms Galgey said.
The march trended on Twitter throughout Saturday afternoon and the group’s Facebook page had almost 3,400 “likes”.
The march came amid speculation that the Government will move to implement the report of an expert group, currently with the Department of Health, that is believed to recommend the break-up of the southeast’s hospital network.
Such a plan would see Waterford Regional Hospital and South Tipperary General Hospital linking up with Cork University Hospital and St Luke’s General Hospital in Kilkenny, and Wexford General Hospital partnering with teaching hospitals in Dublin. It is feared in Waterford that the end of the southeastern network would lead to some services being transferred from the region.
Minister for Health James Reilly said last week no decision had yet been made on the issue.
Government TDs Paudie Coffey (Fine Gael) and Ciara Conway (Labour) from Waterford were at the march, along with Independent politicians including TD John Halligan and politicians from neighbouring counties such as Carlow-Kilkenny FG TD John Paul Phelan.
Others who attended included Prof Riona Mulcahy, consultant geriatrician at Waterford Regional Hospital.
“I marched first and foremost as a mother of five young children and as a concerned citizen,” she said.
The hospital’s clinical director, Dr Rob Landers, said the organisers and everyone who took part deserved “great credit for standing up and being counted” in support of the southeast’s hospitals.
Kerry protest: Taoiseach heckled
Taoiseach Enda Kenny told a group of protesters in Killarney, Co Kerry, who shouted at him about his “pension pot” and accused him of neglecting the poor: “I don’t come from a family of millionaires.”
The protesters, who said they were from the United Left Alliance’s Kerry branch, heckled Mr Kenny as he approached the Plaza Hotel.
Asked by a woman who he would meet in heaven, he said: “I hope to meet St Peter at the gate, anyway. I hope he sends me to the right- hand side.”
Mr Kenny was attending the awarding of the Msgr Hugh O’Flaherty international humanitarian award to Sr Agnes Hunt, the first woman to be appointed chaplain of a men’s prison in England.