LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Irish parents are claiming the government has failed children living with scoliosis and held a protest outside Ireland’s parliamentary capital.

Their demonstration took place as the Sinn Féin party demanded immediate action for children awaiting surgery.

The party’s health spokesperson David Cullinane condemned “the lack of engagement and consultation” with children and their families.

He said children are “waiting in agony for years on end” for essential surgery and said trust between parents and the medical service had broken down.

Parent Amanda Coughlan told RTÉ news her son TJ has been waiting over ten years for treatment. The 19-year-old told the Irish national news service about the impact the delay in surgery has had on his life both physically, because of the pain, and also on his mental health.

Michael Kelly, a Catholic journalist, said the protest outside the Dáil by children living with scoliosis and their families “was truly heart-breaking.”

“These children feel very let down by the Government, and the slow pace of making progress for their life-saving surgery,” he told Crux.

“To see young children who are living in agony for years weeping outside our national parliament pleading with the Government for surgery is truly terrible,” Kelly said.

Sinn Féin’s motion in the Dáil accused the Irish government of failing to deliver on commitments made to children requiring surgery for scoliosis and other conditions.

Sinn Féin is asking for the establishment of a taskforce to review scoliosis and spina bifida services that is “mandated to listen, engage, and act on the advice and concerns of parents, patient advocates, and clinicians.”

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said he had been advised by the Department of Health that Sinn Féin had miscalculated the waiting lists figure at 327.

“Waiting lists have gone down. As at the end of last year 78 patients were on the active waiting list, which was a reduction, and 231 are awaiting spinal procedures,” he said.

However, he Scoliosis Advocacy Network said this claim was “ridiculous.”

“Sinn Fein did not miscalculate wait lists. They referred to CHI Ireland own published data,” the group said on X.

Moreover, the Scoliosis Advocacy Network said it was a “really poor reflection of the ruling parties – Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, and the Green Party – failed to view the protest.

“Of note this eve – not 1 person in government came to meet [and] speak with families who travelled from all over Ireland,” the group said on X. “Shame on all. No want to listen [and] understand.”

The Irish Times reported the Scoliosis Advocacy Network refuse to attend a meeting convened by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly on Monday to discuss his plans for a taskforce to address the problem of long waiting lists for surgeries, accusing the plan as being “toothless.”

In correspondence with the Minister’s office, seen by The Irish Times, the group said, “Your approach has been ineffectual to date, now your approach in the face of this health catastrophe, that you have allowed to happen on your watch, is evolving into an autocratic, paternalistic and undemocratic approach where the clear message is that you know best.”

Donnelly told Newstalk Breakfast on Wednesday that the waiting lists are unacceptable.

“It’s not good enough and the first thing I said last night when I responded to the motion was, I’m not standing up here to defend the current situation,” he said.

“The current situation is not acceptable. It hasn’t been acceptable for a long time. I’ve met many of these children. I’ve met their parents and there is no defending the delays in accessing care,” he told the Irish service.

Donnelly said last year, the waiting list for surgeries fell by 13 percent but was meant to fall by much more.

“One of the reasons it didn’t fall as much is there was a very big increase in the number of children referred on to the lists. Believe it or not, versus 2018, last year there was a 40 percent increase,” he told Newstalk Breakfast.

Kelly told Crux the Irish government has no reason to have such a long delay in important and necessary surgeries for needy children.

We have the most prosperous economy in Europe, and are the third wealthiest country in the world – but it certainly doesn’t seem so for their suffering children whose quality of life is being so dramatically affected,” he said.

“Of course, the real fear for parents is that by the time the Government gets around to fixing this, it may be too late for their children – which is an unbelievable thought.”