Good morning, and thank you for your very warm welcome. I would like in particular to thank Dr Iognáid O'Muircheartaigh of NUI Galway for inviting me here today to open the Child and Family Research Centre. Having visited the Child and Family Research Policy Unit here some years ago, it is particularly exciting and reassuring to see the extraordinary progress that has been achieved since that time.
If any society has a core, a basic building block, then ours are the child and the family. They are both bewilderingly complex and contradictory, at once amazingly resilient and yet frighteningly vulnerable. They are so much part of the air we breathe that sometimes we need to be reminded that the processes which make for healthy children and families and the processes which make for unhealthy children and families need to be deeply understood, to be researched and revealed, that we benefit hugely from that fresh insight and that only with it can we build effective supports for children and for families.
That is the work you have committed to developing here - striving for innovative policy approaches for child and family support, helping to dramatically improve outcomes and proving that things can be made better with the right kind of intervention.
Knowing and believing in the benefits of a centre like this is a long way from creating it and sustaining it. There has been a journey of persuasion and the fusion of a new partnership between the Western Health Board and the Department of Political Science and Sociology of NUI Galway. From 2001 there has been a very rapid evolution thanks to the vindication of the work by its very success and its evident necessity. Now with backing and experience from the Health Service Executive West and the considerable generosity of Atlantic Philanthropies, we gather to celebrate the development of the Centre and its formal opening. Atlantic Philanthropies and, of course its founder and funder, Chuck Feeney, are to be commended for the special care they are taking of disadvantaged children and young people in a number of countries including the island of Ireland.
Those of us who still remember the not so very old Ireland that was closer to a third world than the developed world are well able to appreciate the evident, widespread benefits and opportunities widely offered in today's Ireland but we are more than just a bunch of strangers who happen to inhabit the same space - we are a nation, a community with a shared vision and a shared ambition set out in the words of our constitution whose preamble states that we together are seeking to "promote the common good ….. so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured and true social order attained ….."
The rising tide has not yet lifted all boats so we have a job to do to complete this republic and we are the first generation with the education and the resources to do it. With both comes an awesome responsibility and your work here is helping us to exercise that responsibility. The Proclamation in some ways puts the issue more poetically when it talks about "cherishing the children of the nation equally".
The children and families who remain locked in a cycle of poverty and disadvantage need our best efforts to help them join the flotilla of boats on that rising tide. We know the earlier the intervention offered, the better are the chances of escape to a fulfilled and happier life. Targeted supports at key points in childhood and adolescence help prevent the onset of those behavioural problems that lead to underachievement and marginalisation. We know too that those interventions work best when the whole family is involved for children, family, community and society are caught in the same web - pull one part and the whole thing moves, damage one part and we are all weakened, strengthen one part and we all benefit.
But precisely because we human beings live within that complex web we need the kind of customised integrated services and strategies that call for cross-sectoral and cross-agency links and partnerships which institutional or disciplinary vanities might have inhibited in the past. Thankfully here those boundaries and barriers are being transcended in a spirit of generous and fruitful collaboration. There is healthy diversity of professional interests and perspectives working to a shared agenda with interfaces between academe at home and abroad, statutory and non-statutory agencies nationally and internationally, the professional practitioners and the men, women and children living lives that cry out for hope and help. Instead of each of those interfaces being places where information stopped travelling, circulating only within its own particular sphere, they are now bridges, places where cross-pollination, cross-fertilisation is opening up fresh ideas and insights.
Ultimately the investment you are making here is in the human person whose life's circumstances have the potential to lead to the tragedy of wasted talents, lost dreams and overlooked opportunities. The loss to that unique human being of a fulfilled and happy life is incalculable. The loss to family, to community and society is also incalculable. But when, with your help, we get it right, when we are able to gently nudge the trajectory of a child's life in the right direction, towards the realisation of their best selves, their strongest, most coping selves, then we begin to comprehend the truest meaning, the truest capability of our commitment to cherishing the children of the nation equally.
This Centre is part of the new Ireland we now dare confidently to dream of, the problem-solving Ireland, the caring Ireland where we are watching out for our most vulnerable children from their earliest days and helping to surround them with the family scaffolding every child needs to grow safely through adolescence into adulthood.
I congratulate everyone involved in the establishment of the Child and Family Research Centre, in particular the early champions who pioneered it and its collaborative culture. To the two lead organisations, the HSE West and the NUIG, I thank you not just for your leadership and vision but for your investment in bringing out the best in our very humanity. Continued success to each of you.