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Seanad Commencement Matter - Touching Hearts 22nd Feb 2021

Updated: Mar 6, 2021

Minister, I want to thank you for taking this commencement matter this morning. This is a topic which I have had down for consideration for a number of weeks and I am glad to finally get the opportunity to speak about it. Notwithstanding the response which was issued to a PQ last week indicating positive news with regards to a new multidisciplinary early intervention and respite care centre for children with complex additional needs on the grounds of St. Otteran’s in Waterford City, I believe it is important to put some information on the record of this house with regards to the inadequate nature of the existing Sacred Heart centre and associated disability services which operate from Johnstown Industrial Estate.

While the commitment and dedication of staff that work in the existing Sacred Heart Centre cannot be faulted, the facility is simply no longer fit for purpose. It was built over 44 years ago and has numerous disadvantages. The HSE themselves have identified that

· Does not conform to Tusla’s requirements

· A lack of ceiling track hoisting and appropriate storage facilities which are Health & Safety Risks

· Poor ventilation contrary to building regulations

· It’s poorly lit with a lack of natural light

· Narrow corridors not complying with current standards

· It has grossly inadequate parking and set down spaces with no room for expansion.

· Inadequate space or quiet areas to support children with sensory processing disorders

And there is a

· Requirement to hire external venues when offering training to parents and staff.

Some other Disability services such as Physio, OT, Psychology, Nursing and Social Work currently operate out of a building in Johnstown Industrial Estate which was leased by HSE in 2003 for 20 years.

Again this building is highly unsuitable for children with complex needs due to capacity and building issues. The waiting area is too small for children and families with buggies or wheelchairs; clients have to stand in the hall when waiting; the rooms are not of an appropriate size; in winter the building is prone to flooding and can’t be used until repairs take place; there is a lack of storage space for OT and PT equipment and 1 clinical room is dedicated for storage, which reduces clinical capacity; sound proofing is nonexistent, therefore all SLT services are delivered from the University Hospital Waterford campus.

The last census for Waterford showed the number of children with complex disabilities standing at 1,125. Therefore the need for an integrated, multidisciplinary centre to deliver for young children and families cannot be understated.

And that brings me to the PQ response from Minister Donnelly that indicates that this much needed project will be in this year’s Capital Plan, but the same response says that it won’t go to tender until late 2022 with a completion date of 2025 which in my opinion is just not good enough. I am sure you’ll agree Minister that these children and their families and the staff have waited long enough and I believe this project must be fast-tracked, I see no reason why we couldn’t have this project go out to tender and commence next year and I would appeal to you to engage with officials and Minister Donnelly to clarify and expedite the timelines for this project.

And finally, it would be remis of me this morning not to mention the fantastic committee called ‘Touching Hearts’ which have been fundraising for this project since 2017. I know you’ve engaged extensively with them yourself, as has my former colleague Paudie Coffey and I had the personal pleasure of nominating them as one of the beneficiaries of my Mayor’s ball back in 2017. Since then they have raised in excess of €415,000 towards this new build and I know they are committed to raising a sum of €1million towards the estimated costs of €11-15 million. I want to thank Anne Marie Queally, Dermot Dooley and all the committee, staff and parents for their drive, determination and commitment to this project which will be life changing for this and future generations of our most vulnerable young citizens.

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