Care home residents in protest over possible closure of NHS-run facilities
Care home residents have picketed Stormont over the possible closure of 10 NHS-run facilities.
During the rally, organised by health care union Unison, they demanded the Government rethink its controversial policy and called for solidarity from MLAs.
Addressing the crowd, Patricia McKeown, Unison regional secretary, said: "One of the biggest threats that you can face in your life is finding out that you may not have your home to live in and for two years now, that is the extraordinary pressure which the residents of 19 homes across Northern Ireland have faced."
A 12-week public consultation on facilities across counties Antrim, Londonderry and Down closed on Friday.
The future of homes such as Chestnut Grove in north Belfast, the Roddens in Ballymoney, Co Antrim, and Slieve Roe in Kilkeel, Co Down, hangs in the balance.
Protester Willie Annott , from Kilkeel, said: "I do not want to consider a future without Slieve Roe."
Mr Annott's wife, Judith, said families relied heavily on the support from facilities like Slieve Roe.
"My husband needs 24-hour care which the family finds difficult to provide all of the time. If we have a break, Slieve Roe is where Willie will go. He likes it there and he's really content.
"The help that he gets is second to none - we have had him in other places but he doesn't get his medication on time.
"They have said they plan to replace it with sheltered dwellings but they haven't even broken the turf yet. We had tried to book respite ahead, but we can't book past Christmas. It appears to us a decision has already been made, even though it is just a consultation."
The Health and Social Care Board wants Northern Ireland's five health trusts to look at alternatives to residential care provision.
However, Unison has accused the health authorities of adopting a"cynical" no new admissions policy to make closures easier.
Ms McKeown added: "There is a massive queue out there of people who need to get in but the doors have been closed for several years. It is a cynical policy - wait them out. Close the doors and after a few years sure there won't be any permanent residents left and it will be so much easier to close.
"My message to the minister for health, the regional healthcare board and five trusts is, you are going to have to get past these residents, their families and us before you close them."
There was cross-party support for the protest with MLAs such as Ulster Unionist Sandra Overend, Ukip leader David McNarry, SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone and Sinn Fein's Oliver McMullan mingling with the enthused crowd on the steps of Parliament Buildings.
Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader Jim Allister, who also attended the picket, supported the view that statutory-run care homes were being deliberately run down.
He said: "When one listens to the elderly residents of these homes one cannot fail to be struck by the appreciation they feel for the care they have received. The sword has hung over this essential part of our health service for far too long.
"It's time the minister removed it by lifting the ban on new admissions."