Speech by Mr Micheál Martin T.D., Minister for Health and Children, on the occasion of the official opening of the 1st Regional Office of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Ireland in Carrickmacross

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here today and would like to thank the Multiple Sclerosis Society, and in particular Mr Kevin Curran for the kind invitation to be here today to officially open the first Multiple Sclerosis Regional Office, serving the North Eastern Region.

Multiple Sclerosis is a disabling neurological condition which affects approximately 2.5 million people around the world and about 6,000 people on this island. One of the most significant facts in relation to the condition is the age at which most people become affected – research suggests that this occurs on average between the ages of 28 and 33. It is, therefore, imperative that research into the causes of and cures for the condition continues to be nurtured and encouraged so that people with Multiple Sclerosis and their carers may go on to achieve their full potential.

Being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis generates many emotions and questions. While it is not possible at this time to provide answers to all of these questions, it is through the commitment shown by researchers in the field that the numerous medical breakthroughs which have occurred in recent years, have been achieved.

While research into such conditions is of great importance, it is essential that adequate support and care is provided for people who need it most. With this in mind, it is a significant factor that an integral part of Irish culture is our nature of caring for those who may be less advantaged in our community. The voluntary sector providing care and support to people with disabilities and indeed the Multiple Sclerosis Society are excellent examples of this culture of concern. As Minister for Health and Children, I have been fortunate to meet with many organisations and groups involved with people with disabilities and I am always overwhelmed by the people working at grass-roots and their level of devotion and commitment to enhancing the lives of their clients.

It is through the dedication of the various healthcare and research professionals, support workers and volunteers that significant impact is being made in improving the lives of people with Multiple Sclerosis. It is essential to nurture and develop the partnership between all of these groups to continue to enhance the quality of services which are available to people with disabilities, including those with Multiple Sclerosis.

The development of the Multiple Sclerosis Society´s first Regional Office is an excellent example of such a partnership approach being adopted. An agreement was reached between the North Eastern Health Board and the Multiple Sclerosis Society to improve the quality and co-ordination of services, support and information to people suffering from MS in the region. This is a wonderful development which will, I have no doubt, be of benefit to a great many people in a region which has a Multiple Sclerosis prevalence rate twice that of the European average.

With regard to the ongoing development of services in the sector, I wish to emphasise the importance of the National Physical and Sensory Disability Database. I wish to thank those who participated in Phase I Implementation of the Database and I encourage full participation in the roll out of the Database nationally, which is currently underway. When complete, the Database will play a vital role in the planning, co-ordination and delivery of health services to people with physical and sensory disabilities and its importance cannot be over-emphasised. I appreciate that a lot of hard work is required from all involved but I also stress that this project will be of great benefit to those receiving, delivering and planning services for people with physical and sensory disabilities.

I would also like to take this opportunity to reiterate this Government´s commitment to ongoing investment in services for people with physical and sensory disabilities. Since coming into office, additional funding of over €175 million has been provided for the maintenance and development of health services for people with physical and sensory disabilities. In 2002, despite problems in the current economic climate, significant additional funding of almost €40 million has been provided to the sector for this purpose, €30.5 million of which is on-going revenue. This level of funding is indicative of the Government´s commitment to the ongoing development of services to enable people with physical and sensory disabilities to live as independently as possible within the community and I wish to assure you all that this will remain one of my priorities.

All that remains is for me to congratulate all who have been involved in this fine and worthwhile development and to wish you every success with this project in the future. It gives me great pleasure to declare the North Eastern Multiple Sclerosis Regional Office at Carrickmacross officially open.

Thank you.