Up to 1,500 attend rally over planned closure of holiday centre for disabled

Cuisle centre in Roscommon due to close next Friday over lack of funds to upgrade it

An estimated 1,500 people have attended a rally in Roscommon town to protest at a decision by the Irish Wheelchair Association to close a holiday centre for people with disabilities from next Friday.

Several speakers urged the IWA to halt the closure of Cuisle, a national holiday and respite centre in Donamon, Co Roscommon, for at least 12 months to allow fund raising to take place.

In a recent statement the IWA reiterated its intention to close the facility on November 29th, saying it did not have the €1.15m required to do necessary electrical and fire safety upgrades. It said it had a legal responsibility to ensure the safety of everyone who stayed and worked there.

The association added that it had developed a new respite model using fully accessible hotels in the west of Ireland which would be available from next March.


Service users, and their families said they were bewildered and upset at the sudden loss of the Cuisle centre where 48 people are currently working.

Samantha Thomsen, one of several wheelchair users attending the rally, said she had holidayed there six times and did not believe a hotel model was feasible, especially for people with profound disabilities.

“Fifteen of us have booked there for next May,” she said. “I have stayed in hotels where they panic when they see a wheelchair .

“The staff in Cuisle know us all. They remember us and all our individual needs when we return. You would never get that kind of service in a hotel”.

Ms Thomsen said the IWA had now admitted that they knew of the funding problems since 2017.

“Why did they not tell us and give us an opportunity to fund raise.”

‘Red herring’

Local resident Paula Naughten attended the rally with her nine year old twins George and Isaac who are both in wheelchairs.

“We have three little boys with duchenne muscular dystrophy,” she explained. Ms Naughten said her family had attended many community events at Cuisle which also hosts weddings and christenings.

“There is a sense of bewilderment and disbelief that this national centre is going to close,” she said. “The IWA is saying this is what service users want but as far as I know they never asked service users. This talk about getting away from a congregated setting is just a red herring”.

Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice told the crowd that pressure had to be "ramped up" in the coming days while Deputy Eugene Murphy (FF) said the IWA was conducting a "phoney debate".

He said that while a funding shortfall had initially been the reason given for the decision “all of a sudden last Thursday there was an asbestos problem”.

His party colleague Senator Terry Leyden said that if Cuisle closes, the €40m in exchequer funding which the IWA gets annually should be transferred to a new organisation.

Service user Ita Donohoe pleaded with the IWA not to close Cuisle. “We love the staff, we love the food, we love the area. It is just beautiful,” she said.

Councillor Pascal Fitzmaurice, Cathaoirleach of Roscommon county council questioned the estimated €1.1m cost of electrical work. "That's €25,000 to rewire each bedroom. Do they think we are stupid?," he asked.

In a statement read to the rally by Noel Brennan a staff member at Cuisle, Erica Boucher, one of the service users who is non verbal said: "We feel nobody understands how we feel."

Speaking about the staff in Cuisle she said: “If I get upset they comfort me. If I am sick they look after me”.

Wheelchair users who spend their holidays at Cuisle also protested outside the gates of Leinster House last week against the decision to close the facility.

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports from the northwest of Ireland