High praise for 'wonderful project'
President Michael D. Higgins visits Wexford
President Michael D. Higgins came to Wexford to commend the work of the Cornmarket Project, the community-based addiction treatment and rehabilitation programme which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.
The President and his wife Sabina along with guests from Government agencies and community groups, were welcomed to the Spawell Road centre by project co-ordinator Paul Delaney who has worked with the service from the outset.
Michael Wall, chairman of the parent body Wexford Local Development (former Wexford Area Partnership) recalled the origin of the project which he helped to establish.
Back in the mid-1990's, he and then CEO, the late Bernard O' Brien were listening to reports coming back from families in the community, of increasing evidence of substance abuse and its impact on the lives of young people.
At the time, the only option was the psychiatric hospital in Enniscorthy which was a poor substitute and people were in denial about the problem.
There was a lack of understanding about drug addiction which was seen as an issue that didn't affect ordinary people, he said.
'There was no official strategy at the time, no Government policy . Trying to address it was unpopular', he said.
'With no agency support, a strategy was put together to help young people. It was decided it should be in Cornmarket, in the centre of town, where families trying to break free would be treated with respect.
'We would not locate it up a back street or down a lane, but in our main offices where everyone came in the front door'.
Mr. Wall said the strategy was based on support, training, education and employment, 'to help fragile broken members of our community' reclaim their lives from addiction and associated criminal activity.
'Over time, our project has kept its focus but has not stood still. It is a place where a hand is held out to anyone going under, where there is always a way back in', he said.
President Higgins noted the empathy in Mr. Wall's speech and said attitudes at the time the service was established 'were not progressive, they were punitive'.
'If someone was in difficulty, they would be told to pull themselves together. There are things we could have done differently. We sent people with literacy difficulties to prison and they came out drug-dependent'.
He paid tribute to Mr. Delaney and commended the service on its outreach offices in New Ross, Enniscorthy and Gorey, in contrast to the commercial sector which is leaving the rural towns that supported them for so long, a development he described as 'quite disgusting in a way'.
Speaking about the negative effects of excessive alcohol consumption and gambling on Irish society, the President was critical of how big business interests continue to market alcohol and gambling aimed at a younger generation.
'I very much admire those who are engaged in holistic programmes like this', said the President, offering his thanks to all the support agencies involved. 'It's about encouraging people to see a different version of themselves and enable them to feel secure.'
'Since this service started 20 years ago, over 4,000 people have benefited, because you had empathy and you knew the importance of treating people with dignity', he said, while remembering the 67 clients who have died from substance misuse.
'I'm very happy to have this opportunity to pay tribute to this wonderful project which is grounded in an ethical mission based on inclusion. We owe a very great debt to projects like this.'
'I pay tribute to all the people who have worked here over the past 20 years and encourage others to release resources to support it', he said.
Wexford Local Development CEO Brian Kehoe said the service began in 1999 in a small office and today has four offices, which, unfortunately is a reflection of the extent of the drug problem.
Typically, many of the clients of the project have experienced exclusion caused by social and educational disadvantage and a lack of opportunity
'Your presence here today is a huge endorsement and I know it will serve as a great motivation', he told President Higgins.