'Everybody needs a break': Limerick respite centre finally set to open

St Gabriel's Children's Centre in Mungret in Limerick was built after €3m was raised for its construction – but the facility has remained idle as there had previously been no funding to staff it
'Everybody needs a break': Limerick respite centre finally set to open

Sinead , Shane and Cathal O'Brien at home in Bunratty, Co Clare. Picture: Brian Arthur

A much-needed respite centre, which specialises in assisting children with disabilities and complex needs, will be able to open its doors after funding was secured.

St Gabriel’s Children’s Centre Respite Service in Mungret, Limerick, was built after almost €3m was raised for its construction. However, the six-bed facility was left idle as there was no funding available to staff it.

Now, however, Disability Minister Anne Rabbitte has announced that €5m in funding has been allocated to open nine respite centres countrywide, with St Gabriel's the first of these to open.

This has come as particularly welcome news to one family, the O’Briens from Bunratty, Co Clare, whose 11-year-old son Cathal will be able to avail of the centre’s services.

His mother Sinéad explained what the facility offers to Cathal, who has a range of medical issues, including a rare chromosome disorder, autism and epilepsy.

“Up until now, there's been no respite facility available in the Mid-West for him that is suitable for his medical needs,” Ms O’Brien explained.

On the very simplest of levels, this centre offers what many take for granted: an occasional full nights sleep for Cathal’s parents.

Due to his epilepsy, and the fact he could stop breathing after a seizure, his parents have to stay awake at night to watch him around the clock, all the while working during the day.

“We've often had no sleep and had to work all day, which, long term is not feasible. Everybody needs a break at the end of the day. Everybody needs a light at the end of the tunnel, and this ours,” Ms O’Brien said.

 Cathal O'Brien,11, has a range of medical issues, including a rare chromosome disorder, autism and epilepsy. Picture: Brian Arthur

Cathal O'Brien,11, has a range of medical issues, including a rare chromosome disorder, autism and epilepsy. Picture: Brian Arthur

The issue came to an abrupt head over Christmas when Cathal, and his two parents, fell ill with Covid.

“We had nobody to call. If this facility had been available they may have been able to offer us some support. They may have been able to provide emergency back-up if we had ended up in the hospital," Ms O’Brien added.

Unfortunately, the O'Briens cannot ask family members to care for him, as they would lack the medical equipment.

Máire O’Leary, chief executive of St Gabriel’s, said the provision of an overnight respite service for children with disabilities is a matter of social justice. She added this is the only facility of its kind in the country.

“We have a responsibility to ensure we support a meaningful level of service to exhausted parents and families. These children have very complex needs, require specialist services and around-the-clock care which is provided by their families. Many of the children are non-verbal, use wheelchairs and are Peg-fed, and may require oxygen and suction during the day,” Ms O’Leary said.

“This has been a truly inspirational project. It is a testament to the generosity of people from all walks of life who wanted to support it and make the dream a reality,” she added.

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