Campaigner Sarah honoured for devotion to respite cause

Aine Fitzgerald

Reporter:

Aine Fitzgerald

SARAH Hurley, the woman who led a determined, year-long campaign to restore respite services in Limerick has been named the Limerick Person of the Month for her unwavering dedication to the cause.

SARAH Hurley, the woman who led a determined, year-long campaign to restore respite services in Limerick has been named the Limerick Person of the Month for her unwavering dedication to the cause.

After a year fraught with uncertainty some 60 families received good news last month when, following talks with the Brothers of Charity, the HSE confirmed that respite services for adults with intellectual disabilities were to be restored in Limerick with additional services also being provided.

“I was charmed and so were all the other parents who are now availing of it and having a little bit of life again,” said Sarah this week on accepting her Limerick Person of the Month award.

Sarah, a widow from Roxboro Road, mounted a concerted campaign last summer after it was announced that a house on the Old Cratloe Road used for respite care was to be closed on June 14, due to government cutbacks.

Managed by the Brothers of Charity in Bawnmore, it was accommodating people with disabilities while their family members could enjoy some time off from caring duties. It was closed due to a cut in HSE funding of over €1m.

Sarah’s 44-year-old son, John, has Down Syndrome and she knew only too well how vital such a service was for the well-being of both herself and John.

“You have 24-hour days looking after the person and you need a break from that and he needs a break too because eventually when I die, he will have to be put into care,” said Sarah this week.

“I feel along with I having the break, I know that he is being prepared. It means that he gets to live with his companions for a week and gets to know them. The house parents there are very kind to them and take them out,” she added.

The news of the cuts by the HSE last year, left Sarah “devastated”.

“I couldn’t believe what was happening. I knew I had saved the country millions keeping him at home. The least they could give me was a few weeks break,” she said.

During a visit to Limerick by then Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, in June last year, Sarah pleaded with Mr Cowen to reopen the respite facility in Caherdavin, but to no avail. A restricted service was introduced last August thanks to the Brothers of Charity rainy day fund and fundraising.

Due to the lack of finance this meant that the service users could only get a few days a month and a maximum of three days at a time. There was widespread disappointment that the parents and families of the most vulnerable people in society had to effectively go cap-in-hand to the public seeking money to finance the service.

Sarah remained resolute in her campaign to restore the respite services however, and encouraged other parents and family members to keep up the fight.

Politicians were confronted on the hustings, the media were kept updated on any progress and, most importantly, the end target - the restoration of full respite care was never lost sight of.

The Limerick Leader newspaper set up an on-line petition calling for the respite house to be re-opened and secured over 9,000 hits. Finally, last month, the letter the families had been waiting for arrived in the post - written proof that the HSE had agreed to increase their funding to provide one full week of respite per month as well as extra weeks respite provision over the summer period. The move, Sarah feels, was down to a number of things including the strength of the campaign which was mounted and the commitment of the new Government.

“Owen South and the Limerick Leader gave me great support. When the new government took over it was marvellous,” said Sarah.