Northern Ireland Assembly must back day centres
Since November 2015 there has been a highly successful campaign to keep open three day centres at Whiterock, Everton and Ravenhill in Belfast which provide vital support for people with mental health and learning difficulties.
These centres have been threatened with closure by the Belfast Trust as a means to cut costs and outsource services currently provided by health service staff to the community and voluntary sector.
The Belfast Trust had hoped to rubber-stamp the decision at its board meeting in January.
But the board was forced to defer its decision by the tireless work of service users, carers, trade unions and supporters, who gathered thousands of signatures on petitions, handed out thousands of leaflets and organised numerous public protests.
There is rising confidence by service users and carers in the Save Our Day Centres campaign, as recent meetings with senior management have indicated it is likely the decision will not be made until after the Assembly elections - if at all.
The trust board is rattled by the public campaign that exposes how it is willing to put at risk the mental health and physical well-being of more than 200 service users, carers and families.
Service users understand it is critical to turn up the heat on the Belfast Trust board and the Executive.
The trust's board has made it very clear the decision lies with the Health Minister and the Assembly. The Save Our Day Centres campaign understands it is likely that the Health Minister may change after the elections, so it is essential this becomes an election issue.
The Save Our Day Centres campaign demands that all Assembly parties must state openly if they will halt this consultation if it comes to the Assembly after the election. If they do not, it is the intention of the campaign to let the voters know that they are willing to see the closure of these vital day centre services.
The Save Our Day Centre campaign is committed to continue to campaign through public stalls, leafleting and protests and build a mass campaign in the run-up to the elections - and beyond.
Pat Lawlor is an activist in the Save Our Day Centres campaign