Thank you Mr Justice Kelly. Good afternoon Tánaiste, Archbishop, Lord Mayor, Mayor, directors and members of the organising committee. It’s a real privilege to be here today at the official opening of the St Francis Hospice here in Blanchardstown.
I know a huge amount of time and effort has gone into today’s event and I really want to thank you for allowing me to be associated. Today we acknowledge the hard work and commitment of so many different people in delivering a new hospice for Dublin 15.
One of the great successes stories of our modern age is that so many more people are living for so much longer. While many older people enjoy good health for most of their lives, an increasing number are living and dying with chronic diseases and life-limiting illnesses. And because communicable diseases are becoming less common and more curable, more people are getting cancer.
The Government wants to be able to provide people with palliative care services that they need, regardless of their diagnosis, how old they are, or whether they die in a hospice, an acute hospital, a nursing home or at home.
We have made significant progress in recent years in improving access to specialist palliative care services. 95% of people received palliative care within seven days of referral in 2015 and 98% had access to be a specialist bed within seven days.
St Francis has come a long way from its humble beginnings in a portakabin on the grounds of the Capuchin Friary in Raheny in 1989. From the start, it has been founded on a philosophy of treating each person with dignity, respect and compassion, regardless of their cultural or religious background. And it has grown to meet the needs of the northside community, and in line with Government policy.
The need for a second hospice facility on this side of the city was identified as far back as 2001. Space for in-patients at the Raheny site was getting limited, and there was also a need to reduce travel time for families and staff by opening a facility in north-west Dublin.
Although construction work concluded in March 2011, the financial emergency meant that the Hospice had to be opened on a phased basis over a three year period:
• The community palliative care team has been based here since April 2011;
• Out-patient and day care services started six months later;
• And the first six in-patient beds opened in September last year.
All 24 beds have been operational since February. Plans are under consideration to extend day care to four days a week, as you know.
I really want to acknowledge the enormous efforts put in over the years by the Dublin 15 Fundraising Group. The local community has also given outstanding support, contributing €7m to the capital cost and continuing to raise money to service and reduce the debt.
I want to pay special tribute to the Daughters of Charity represented here by Sr Christine Quinn, Fr Eugene Kennedy, and Fr Dan Joe for their extraordinary commitment and leadership. Working closely with St Francis Hospice, you have shown what can be achieved when a group of people put their minds towards a common goal. The level of support given is an endorsement of the value that people place on hospice care in the local community.
I also want to thank the Hospice staff and volunteer workers. It’s great to see so many of you here. Your energy and expertise have allowed the Hospice to provide a whole range of palliative services, tailored to the needs of those who need it most. Each of you has a different background and you come from all walks of life, but you are united in a common desire to make the last phase of life less stressful for everybody involved by offering practical and emotional support.
Hairdressers, therapists, cooks, gardeners, fundraisers and many others donate their time and skills for the benefit of their fellow citizens. In doing so, you allow the Hospice to enhance the quality of life for a great many people.
There’s one person who can’t be with us today. But we should remember him. Brian Lenihan secured the land for this Hospice, and was a driving force in making it happen. For sure, he is here in spirit. I am proud that as Minister for Health I was able to continue his work and help to secure funding from the HSE for the staff and services now provided here.
Looking around today, and hearing the many stories of the people who have benefited from the services and supports, I am reminded of the prayer of St Francis and his inspiring words. This is a place which challenges the despair, the darkness and the sadness of ill-health, and replaces them with hope, light and joy.
Those three simple but powerful words could be used as the motto of St Francis Hospice: this is a place that brings ‘hope, light, joy’. We cannot defeat all disease, we cannot banish all grief, we cannot defeat death. But it doesn’t mean that we have to give up or give in.
To all the staff who work here and who make it their life’s mission to treat people with dignity and respect, who care for the community with love and kindness, I say ‘Thank You’. You ensure that St Francis Hospice offers us a safe haven where people can be consoled, cared for, and loved. Today reminds us of those values, and encourages us all to think of others instead of ourselves.
And so, it is my great privilege to formally declare St Francis Hospice, Blanchardstown officially open.