Last week, the HSE Midlands confirmed a vaccination centre for the GAA Centre in Newtownforbes following a detailed suitability review of proposed locations around the county.
HSE personnel visited a number of locations across Longford to undertake a suitability assessment, evaluating each on its availability duration, internal space layout, staff welfare facilities, carparking and access/egress to site, accessibility and transport links and cost.
Work will now commence on setting up the centre at the Newtownforbes location, which will come on stream as needed and once there a dedicated workforce and available vaccine.
At last week’s meeting of Longford County Council, members expressed their delight that a centre has finally been confirmed for the county.
Cllr Peggy Nolan told her colleagues she was delighted Longford has identified a centre and said that the HSE now needs to work at great speed to put the centre in place.
“It behoves me and all of you that it be put on record that the way the HSE has handled the rollout of the vaccine in this country is a scandal,” she said.
“We needed a centre and we had to fight for it. The entire county tried to help the HSE and instead of working with us, they put obstacles in our way.”
HSE forum chairperson Cllr Paraic Brady said that it was “great news for Longford that we have white smoke”.
“Newtownforbes is ideal because it’s close to Longford town. There’s plenty of carparking space,” he said.
“I’m happy the day has come. I would like to pay tribute to Paddy Mahon, Barbara Heslin and the council for working with the HSE team. I’d also like to pay tribute to everybody who made their premises available.
“We won’ t leave any stone unturned. We will stay on top of this and get the centre open and hopefully get the vaccine rolled out in Longford as quick as any other county.”
Cllr PJ Reilly said that it was “a very special day for Longford”.
“We’re one of the last counties to get sorted out but at least we’ve got one now. It would be very embarrassing if we weren’t able to get a centre for ourselves,” he said.
“It’s very important that we do get a supply - that we will not be left short when it does open. But well done to everybody who worked on it.”
Cllr Martin Monaghan said that, as a member of the executive at the Gaelic Club in Newtownforbes, he welcomed the HSE announcement.
“I’d like to thank the executive members at the Gaelic club. The parish of Newtownforbes has come together and can now offer the service that our county requires,” he said.
Cllr Seamus Butler, however, was feeling less positive about the announcement than his colleagues.
“I’m afraid I’m not as optimistic,” he said.
“It’s like buying a shop and fitting it out but not having any product to put into it. There is nothing now that is more important than the vaccine programme to this country. The rollout has been made an absolute hames of.
“This is our get out of jail card and we will be judged on this and our government will be judged on this. It will save lives and save businesses.
“The mortality rate has already dropped thanks to the vaccine, so let’s get it out there. Will we have enough to pack out the Newtownforbes centre?”
Cllr Gerry Warnock agreed with Cllr Butler, asking “why does Longford have to fight for what we should automatically be entitled to?”
“The way this vaccine has been rolled out is absolutely laughable. It is the most important thing in the country right now,” he said.
Cllr Nolan thanked her colleagues for supporting her views on the vaccine rollout and thanked the executive members for all they’ve done and assistance they have offered to the HSE in the search for a centre.
“Longford was not on the radar to have a centre. We would have had to travel 40km to Westmeath and back,” she said.
A total of five vaccination centres have been identified for the Midlands area with a capacity of between 10 to 50 vaccination bays.
The Athlone Convention Centre at AIT and the Bloomfield Hotel in Mullingar have been identified as centres in Westmeath.
The Midlands Park Hotel, in Portlaoise will serve county Laois, while the Tullamore Court Hotel will serve county Offaly.