Two young men who grew up in State care and had their “lives changed forever” by a project for at-risk youths have pleaded for the Government to urgently do something about the insurance crisis.
Craig Byrne, now 26 and a qualified kayaking instructor, was just a boy when he lost his mother to addiction and ended up in residential care.
His life started to head down an all too familiar path, until he was introduced to the Adventure Project on North Strand Road, a not-for-profit organisation which runs outdoor activities for recovering addicts and people from marginalised communities.
The project is now facing closure as it cannot get insurance cover due to an ongoing personal injury claim.
A youth worker fell and broke her leg last July while walking through a car park towards a group activity on the River Liffey which she wasn’t participating in.
Byrne believes the impact on the north inner city will be “devastating” if the Adventure Project cannot continue to operate.
“I was walking up the road the other day when two girls who take part in the project during the summer ran over to me to ask when we’ll be opening back up… when I told them that we might not be able to, they were almost close to tears,” he told the Irish Independent.
“It’s a place for kids all around the north inner city and wider area where they can come, feel safe, have an environment with no judgement and their potential is seen.
“It’s absolutely heartbreaking, we fought for years for people to pay heed to what we’re trying to do and how beneficial it is, and it is kind of scary that it can all be taken away because of one claim and insurance.
“It’s completely unfair that it can be taken away from young people and that our careers may also be gone just like that.”
Byrne, who is originally from Finglas, has been working with the project for more than four years.
He says when it was first established, people in the area were hostile towards it, but it has now become a pillar of the community, and he’s fearful about what may happen to young people who have been depending on it.
“My mother was addicted to heroin most of my life, and in the end she drank herself to death. Some of the people I’m working with have similar experiences.
“The people that we’re working with have been stepped over and fallen through the cracks, and being able to see these people and show them they’re amazing and show them that someone sees their potential… it’s incredible.”
The project provides adventure programmes and helps its members get certified in activities such as kayaking, canoeing, rock climbing, first-aid and river safety and rescue.
Martin McDonagh (20), originally from Mohill in Leitrim, was also in State care when he got involved with the project.
He said it helped him to develop confidence and “make friends for life.”
“As someone with low self-esteem it helped me to get out there and meet new people and prepare for the real world,” he said.
“In residential care you’re in a bubble, so when I got to go to the project, where there were no structure rules and fun, it was amazing.
“I really hope something gets sorted as people in care need stability and something fun and something to be happy about. This is going to negatively affect hundreds of people if it closes.”
McDonagh, who is due to start studying to become a healthcare worker in September, said the project helped him conquer some of his fears.
“I am absolutely terrified of heights and going down a wall backwards didn’t exactly appeal to me, but after loads of encouragement and building up the trust, I managed to abseil down a giant wall.”
Maria Lourdes, who is a volunteer with the project, said the community has been a better place to live since the Adventure Project was introduced.
“It helps to take kids out of an environment which can be hostile, where drugs are rife and there is pressure to be a certain way,” she said.
“Even by just taking a group to Dalkey for a walk or a tubing session down the Liffey, you’re giving them hope that there are other options out there. If you take something like this away, the community will feel it.”