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Speech by An Taoiseach Mr. Enda Kenny TD, Official Opening of the Dining Hall at Barretstown, Friday 9th December 2016, Barretstown Castle, Co. Kildare


“One side of the potato-pits was white with frost –

How wonderful that was, how wonderful!

And when we put our ears to the paling-post

The music that came out was magical.”

...A verse from Patrick Kavanagh’s much loved “A Christmas Childhood”... a beautifully, evocative poem which captures the wonder, imagination and innocence of childhood – of how children see the extraordinary in the ordinary and the magic in the mundane.
Chairman of Barretstown’s Children’s Charity, Maurice Pratt,
Chief Executive, Dee Ahearn,
Ladies and gentlemen...
As we approach the festive season... we frequently recall our own Christmas childhood... or as Kavanagh describes “the garden that was childhoods”.
We remember the magic of Christmas, the wonder... the bliss... and for the majority... the carefree world that ultimately helped shape our future. The writer George Eliot wrote “We could never have loved the earth so well if we had no childhood in it.”
Whatever era... whatever generation... childhood should always be a very special time... a very special place... But there are many obstacles that can mar it or steal it away... among which is serious illness!
As an admirer of the work of Barretstown, it is a great pleasure to be with you today to officially open the new dining hall in the closing weeks of this special centenary year. Today we mark a new chapter in Barretstown’s distinguished history. Today is all about giving children experiences to enjoy and memories to cherish.
Your founder, Paul Newman once said – “imagine if children living with serious illness had the chance to simply be children.” Barretstown is about just that... It is his vision made reality. It is about giving children the opportunity to experience the best childhood they can have and so richly deserve... its about breaking down barriers to the joy... fun and sheer magic of childhood.
Today you are building on that powerful vision.
None of us want to be in hospital..... whatever our age, illness and especially serious illness brings suffering, anxiety and its fair share of challenges. But our hearts especially go out to children in such circumstances.
Barretstown is a leading light... by working diligently to remove the barriers that serious illness puts in a child’s path... allowing them to enjoy fun activities... with the benefits of onsite medical and nursing care. Barretstown is a relaxed and positive environment in which children with serious illness can enjoy a wonderful break away from hospital. And providing all of this free of charge.

We all know the importance of positivity... and how it can improve our health and well being.

I was particularly impressed to hear that Barretstown’s Therapeutic Recreation model is recognised by paediatricians and psychologists all over the world as an important and necessary component of a child’s treatment.

While the hospital has been treating the illness, you have been treating the child.... and I commend you for the way you have done so!

This new hall is at the heart of what you do here. Named after ‘Elizabeth’s Tree House’ in acknowledgement of the late Elizabeth Burke’s very generous legacy. I would also like to thank the following people for helping to make today a reality:
· John Fitzpatrick of Fitzpatrick Hotels for his generous support through the ‘Eithne and Paddy Fitzpatrick Memorial Fund’;
· Barry Funston and the Rory Foundation who made funds available through the Irish Open;
· your long standing supporter – Robert Richardson and all at Pioneer Investments;
· and, of course, Maurice, Dee and the entire team of staff of Barretstown and its many volunteers who have been so dedicated to the work they do here, year after year.
The hall is beautifully designed and finished to a high standard. And I would like to compliment McCauley Daye O’Connell Architects who designed it and M & P Construction Ltd. who built it.

My Cabinet colleagues and I intend to progress a wide range of complex issues concerning the care, protection and education of children as part of a more inclusive society which supports all our children equally.
In 2011, on becoming Taoiseach, I chose to establish two new government Departments – Public Expenditure and Reform, as well as the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

Public Expenditure and Reform set out to deliver better managed public spending through modernised public services while the Department of Children and Youth Affairs was established to ensure children and young people are prioritised and their welfare from childhood to adulthood protected.

Both Departments go hand-in-hand to increase the amount we can invest in children so that every child gets an equality of opportunity.

Another significant development is the Budget 2017 commitment to provide a medical card to all children in respect of whom a Domiciliary Care Allowance payment is made.

A proposal will soon be brought to Government which will allow the necessary legislation to be prepared to give effect to this measure. It is estimated that this will benefit up to 9,000 children with a severe disability.

Some of you may already be aware that the Director General of the HSE, made a decision to award medical card eligibility to all children under 18 years of age with a diagnosis of cancer from 1 July 2015, with the card to be held for a period of five years.

But back to today’s celebrations... Barretstown Castle can trace its roots back many centuries to a very different social landscape in Ireland. It is a pleasure to see at first hand a visionary organisation such as yours put a building leased by the Government to such good use for the benefit of tens of thousands of our children.

As I said at the outset... Christmas can evoke many of our fondest memories... so I am particularly delighted that Barretstown will be hosting a Winter Wonderland in a couple of days time. The fact that it is already sold out shows the high esteem in which so many families view your outstanding work.

I can’t think of a more magical experience for any child. To all the children attending the activities here, to the staff of Barretstown, its volunteers and sponsors... may I wish you a very happy Christmas and many, many years of fulfilment and success.
Thank you.