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Speech at the Official Opening of the Cuan Mhuire Lumen Initiative

Gardiner Street, Dublin, 15th September 2014

Tá an-áthas orm a bheith anseo inniu i dtimpeallacht Theach Mhuire chun an Tionscnamh Lumen a oscailt go foirmiúil. Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghlacadh leis an tSiúr Consilio Fitzgerald (Nic Gearailt), bunaitheoir inspioráideach Chuan Mhuire, as an gcuireadh fial a thug sí dom chun freastal ar an ócáid seo.

[I am delighted to be here today in the surrounds of Teach Mhuire to officially open the “Lumen Initiative”. I would like to thank Sister Consilio Fitzgerald, the inspirational founding member of Cuan Mhuire, for her kind invitation to attend this event.]

Lumen is, of course, the Latin word for ‘light’, and today we celebrate an initiative that will shine a light of hope into the lives of some of our most vulnerable citizens at the margins.

One of the most basic deprivations a human being can suffer, or fear, is that of being homeless. At its very deepest level it can so often mean being denied the intimacy of familiar surroundings, of predictable friendships, of a sense of belonging that so many of our more fortunate citizens take for granted.

In recent days I have visited Focus Ireland and met with some of those who have become homeless in this country since the beginning of the year, the new homeless families. Their stories were difficult and sad, stories of people who had been let down by a society that had allowed housing need to become a commodity in a speculative market; which had, in recent years, failed to distinguish between the basic means of participating in society, the needs of citizens in a democracy, and the lure of insatiable wants, driven by the commodification of experience and the trivialisation of our day to day discourse on issues that matter.

Last week’s Merchants Quay Ireland Annual Report for 2013 also highlighted the importance of providing homes for those with an addiction who have successfully come through drug treatment programmes. Experience has shown that access to the private rental market is made very difficult, and indeed beyond the means of many of those who have worked so hard to overcome their addictions and who, in the absence of a suitable alternative, are at risk as they are left to return to their former environment on the streets or in hostels, where they do not feel safe, often with heart-breaking consequences.

Homelessness is rarely just about housing, but is inextricably linked to complex and challenging lifestyles or experiences, as all of those involved in this Lumen initiative will know.

There are many reasons why a person can become homeless; and equally there are many and far reaching effects that homelessness can have on the lives of people who find themselves in such a position.

All of those who participate in the Cuan Mhuire treatment programme and who will take part in the Lumen initiative have their own individual stories to tell – of their successes and failures; their achievements and mistakes.

They have all been on their own personal and difficult journey but the really important point is that by participating in this initiative they are making a significant statement about their desire and resolve to change their lives and to become proactive and participative members of their community.

They are people who know, from lived experience, that without a home, an address, citizens are also deprived in many ways of a voice in society; of the right to participate, to seek and obtain employment, to offer their skills and talents to their communities and their wider society. They are denied a sense of place, of home, of neighbourhood, and of shared solidarity and responsibility, which is critical to our living together.

I commend you for your courage, your determination and your commitment to re-engage with society; a society that may sometimes have let you down in the past.

There can be very few families in Ireland, and individuals perhaps, whose lives have not been touched by addiction in some form or other. The abuse of alcohol and other drugs, contributes to a wide range of health, social and behavioural problems across a wide spectrum of Irish society.

Today we are thankfully moving, however slowly, and however great the challenges, towards working with those affected by drugs misuse with the respect and compassion they deserve.

As a society we owe a great debt of gratitude towards providers like Cuan Mhuire who so generously extend a lifeline of support, friendship and care to those living daily with addictions and other difficulties in their lives. They play an important part in building self esteem, self confidence and self belief in those who have struggled to remain connected to family, friends and the society in which they live.

And of course it is not just the lives of the individuals directly concerned that are changed by recovery from addiction. It is estimated that for every individual directly affected by addiction, at least eight other people’s lives are affected. An addiction affects so many around the individual concerned, including partners, children, parents, grandparents, siblings, colleagues and friends – and all of these share in the success achieved through Cuan Mhire’s treatment programme.

There are many, many citizens around this country who remain eternally grateful to Cuan Mhuire; and to its dedicated team of staff – both professional and voluntary – who have reached out to them in their struggle to address addiction in their lives, and enabled them to break free, made such a transformation in their lives as well as allowed them to live creatively and realise their own unique path and endless possibilities.

As an Approved Housing Body, Cuan Mhuire also plays a key role in delivering housing and related supports in the local community and is a valued partner with local authorities and other mainstream service providers.

Today we celebrate a collaborative initiative, a partnership, led by Cuan Mhuire and supported by the Department of the Environment, Dublin City and County Councils and the Homeless Agency; as well as involving a network of other voluntary groups. It is an exemplary coming together of a range of expertise and resources from institutions and individuals with the shared purpose of providing the best possible facilities and support to those in need of assistance and, even more important, encouragement as they summon up the courage to begin a new chapter in their lives.

As President of Ireland I have met with many organisations and volunteers in the homeless sector and have been consistently impressed by the commitment and dedication of all those concerned to help individuals, families and particularly those whose lives have been blighted by addictions, to have a new day, to experience the light of home as they move from dependent living to independent living.

It is that dedication I have been privileged to witness here again today and I am confident that the residents here in this Cuan Mhuire Lumen Initiative will benefit immeasurably from the services here as they complete their journey towards a positive future.

Guím gach rath orthu agus déanaim comhghairdeas leo siúd go léir atá rannpháirteach sa Tionscadal Lumen.

I wish them every success and congratulate all of those involved in the Lumen Initiative.

Beir beannacht oraibh uile i Lumen

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.