Belfast Telegraph

DUP pair flee angry crowd at meeting over £12.5m health cuts in Derry

By Leona O'Neill

Two DUP politicians had to flee a meeting in Londonderry last night held to discuss the £12.5m proposed cuts to the health service in the north west after the crowd "turned" on them.

More than 200 people attended a Western Trust public consultation meeting at the Verbal Arts Centre, many of them carrying banners reading 'Blood on your hands' and 'Say no to cuts'.

Before the meeting began, some of the crowd "picked out" DUP MLA Gary Middleton and former DUP mayor Hilary McClintock, who were seated at the front of the room, shouting "Shame on you".

The two politicians said they fled out an emergency exit to safety.

"From the beginning of the meeting it was a very intimidating atmosphere," said Mr Middleton. "With public meetings people come and they are so passionate - but this had a different tone to it.

"From the minute the Chief Executive opened she was shouted down. She was called a disgrace and told to resign. People would not agree to the way the meeting was being held.

"Then they turned on myself and Hilary. They surrounded us effectively. They shouted, 'Shame on you' and told us we had blood on our hands and all sorts of accusations.

"We were forced from the meeting and had to be escorted out of the building. I feared for my safety and so did Hilary. It was very aggressive.

"So many people were denied their right tonight to feed into the consultation. There was no doubt that there was intimidation and bullying tactics at play tonight."

DUP leader Arlene Foster MLA said that the incident was "disgraceful" and likened the actions to that of a "fascist society".

"I condemn this bullying behaviour," she said. "This is not how democratic politics should work. This approach resembles a fascist society rather than a democratic society.

"Whilst there will be differing views in public meetings, people should not be surrounded and forced to leave by an emergency exit. Their point should have been heard and respected.

"Gary and Hilary attended the meeting on behalf of their constituents. They wanted to express their view on how to improve health care in the north-west. That opportunity was denied by extreme and dangerous elements. To have any public representative attacked in the manner which was on display tonight is shameful. Such hate cannot be tolerated."

A spokesperson for the Western Trust said the meeting was "difficult" but that the Trust were in "listening mode".

"Obviously it was a difficult meeting," he said. "The Trust are keen to engage. We welcome the input from people and the Trust are very much in listening mode. We thank people for coming along tonight to exercise their views and opinions and we will take them fully on board."

Closing an old people's home in Derry was just one of the proposals put forward by the Western Trust, who have been tasked to make savings of £12.5m as part of the Department of Health's £70m cutbacks.

Among the options put forward were reductions in the cost of locum doctors with a cap of the rates paid to them, reductions in agency staff costs and a reduction of 40 elective inpatient beds across Altnagelvin and South West Hospitals.

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