The provision of health care service from a south Armagh community facility that “glorifies terrorism” must stop, the health minister has said.
There have been a number of controversies surrounding the Ti Chulainn centre in Mullaghbawn - including an event where young children, dressed as terrorists, were photographed handling replica weapons similar to those used by the IRA.
As revealed in the News Letter yesterday, the centre is one of a number of community-based locations being used to provide non-urgent medical treatment.
The issue came to light after an elderly Protestant woman, who had a relative murdered by one of the Provos commemorated on a wall at the centre, was shocked to see the substantial structure as she arrived for treatment.
A spokeswoman for the Southern Health Trust said that community care is provided at 70 different facilities across the trust area “to make our services more accessible” to local people.
Health minister Simon Hamilton has said no one should “feel traumatised” while availing of health care, and will be raising the matter with the local health trust.
“Any centre involved in the provision of health services at any level, must be somewhere that is a neutral environment and one that people from all backgrounds will feel comfortable accessing.
“It is clear that the Ti Chulainn centre does not meet those requirements and I will be contacting the Southern Trust to raise this issue with them.”
Mr Hamilton added: “Community health care delivered in local facilities is an important part of the health service, but those availing of the service should not feel traumatised through having to visit a venue such as this centre.”
His DUP colleague, Newry & Armagh MLA William Irwin, said: “The history of this centre is one of continued glorification of terrorism by the Provisional IRA.
“Given the repeated controversies, including events with children dressed in paramilitary uniforms and holding replica weapons, there is no way the centre could ever be assessed as being any kind of neutral venue.
“I would hope that the Southern Trust reviews its use of the centre for the delivery of any local services and I would urge them to do this quickly.”
There was an outcry in 2010 when it was revealed that a European funding body had granted more than £250,000 to the centre for activities that included tours promoting the “proud tradition of resisting British rule in Ireland”.
Two Ulster Unionist representatives have been in contact with the Southern Health Trust to express concern over the perceived “chill factor” among unionists towards the centre.
MLA Danny Kennedy and Councillor David Taylor spoke of a “deep unease” among the minority community in the area.
In a joint statement they said: “Genuine concerns have been raised by members of the minority unionist community in South Armagh regarding the referral of patients to the Ti Chulainn Centre in Mullaghabawn.
“A district nurse appears to have been placed within this facility by the health trust and this has obviously led to deep unease within the minority unionist community of South Armagh who perceive the centre with great suspicion.”
The statement added: “A ‘chill factor’ certainly exists within the unionist community on the basis that a republican monument has been erected within the grounds of Ti Chulainn.
“The facility has also been beset with other controversies including an event held a number of years ago where evidence was produced of young children dressed in paramilitary uniform glorifying the activities of Republican terrorism.
“We have requested an urgent appraisal from the health trust chief executive as to the nature of the arrangement with the Ti Chulainn centre and it is our sincere hope a review will be undertaken of the decision to use the facility on the basis of the very genuine concerns outlined.”
TUV leader Jim Allister said he was “appalled” that a health service should be operating from a site beside an IRA memorial, and that he will be attempting to pose an emergency Assembly question on Monday.
“The whole history of the Ti Chulainn centre makes it a thoroughly unsuitable location for the treatment of members of the public and provision needs to be moved to a neutral venue immediately,” he said.
“It is incumbent on the Health Minister to demand that this ridiculous situation is rectified as a matter of urgency and it is something I will be pressing him on in the Assembly.
“The IRA left countless families across Northern Ireland requiring the expertise of health care professionals. Patents should not have to look at a memorial celebrating the bloody deeds of the Provos when availing of taxpayer funded health care,” Mr Allister added.
Willie Frazer of the FAIR group said it was “disgusting” that health care facilities, which are supposed to operate a “neutral environment” policy, should be so unwelcoming for Protestants.
The Southern Trust said: “If the lady or her representative wants to come and talk to us directly about it then we can discuss the options. We are unaware of these issues and we would ask the people concerned to come and talk to us.”
No one from the Ti Chulainn has responded to a request for comment.