13 January 2006

DUP U-turn sparks crisis at the Mater


BBC photo

The future of the Mater Hospital could be put in jeopardy after the North Belfast Partnership Board was forced to withdraw backing for a major development after DUP members withdrew support.
The multi-million development plan had cross-party support and work was due to commence in the next few months on a badly needed extension for the hospital.
However, because the extension would see part of the old Crumlin Road jail wall knocked down with some encroachment on the jail site, DUP councillors Nelson McCausland and Ian Crozier say they now want to wait until plans for the jail and Girdwood barracks sites have been finalised, a move that could delay building work by two years.
Nelson McCausland said that although his party supports the Mater Hospital development plan, his decision to withdraw support was a “personal thing”.
“They [the Mater] want to move ahead without waiting for overall agreement. They want to rush ahead, but a number of people have reservations in that while they support the general concept of expanding the Mater, they have reservations about rushing ahead without seeing the full implications.
“What they want to do is knock down part of the prison wall. It is only a personal thing but I know a number of other people share the view that we need to develop the jail as a tourist attraction.”
Joint chair of the North Belfast Partnership Board, Ian Crozier, said that he also wanted to wait until plans for the jail site had been finalised before the development plan was implemented, and that his position had support from within the Partnership.
“Basically what folk who were there [at a Board meeting] decided was that, yes, we support the principle of having the investment made in the hospital, but because the jail and Girdwood site are so big and of such potential significance, we couldn’t support the thing moving forward in advance of the actual process for developing the bigger site.
“I think the issue is that there are a lot of competing interests.
“Obviously there is the Mater, St Malachy’s and potentially a public records office – there is lots of stuff in the melting pot.”
He added: “The decision was taken in the context of the North Belfast Partnership Board and folk from the nationalist community certainly supported the decision to wait.”
But North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly says that it is imperative the Mater Hospital development plan is allowed to proceed immediately.
“In 2007 a review will take place that will see all hospital trusts amalgamated and if the work is not carried out in the near future it could have an impact on what services are offered in the Mater.
“There should not be any party politicking over such a vital service as a hospital, and there is no reason why the Mater development cannot be decoupled from the overall Girdwood consultation process because all the funding has been secured and the building plans finalised.
“The development should proceed right away and if there are internal problems in the DUP over their policy on the development, these should not be allowed to impact on the wider community. The Mater Hospital has been providing excellent service to the community over the last 35 years and is at the forefront of implementing new strategies that are driving waiting lists down and I do not want to see any delay in the development.”

Journalist:: Evan Short

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