Disability Minister Anne Rabbitte pledged to resume services at day care and residential care centres by the beginning of September during a visit to Charleville this week when she met the board of St Joesph's Foundation and parents of some of the thousands of service users who are cared for by the charity.
The centre, along with other similar centres around the county, has been closed since March due to the COVID-19 restrictions and this has caused devastation among families dependent on the services, according to Michael Moynihan TD and Seán Sherlock TD in the front page report in last week's edition of The Corkman.
Minister Rabbitte, who was invited to visit the centre by the Cork North West TD Michael Moynihan, told this newspaper that she wanted to be a voice for the people who were without a voice in this situation, the users of the services provided at St. Josephs.
And she acknowledged that the sector which comprises over 900 service providers catering for over 19,000 service users throughout Ireland, with more than 2,000 people of all ages using services at St. Joseph's, would need significant investment to resume services in September.
The Minister also spoke with a delegation of parents whose children are - or had been receiving care from St Joseph's earlier on Tuesday.
"I spoke with one parent whose child has been attending St Joseph's everyday since he was three years of age - he's now 33 and that all finished on March 16, all that routine has stopped - for the past six weeks, they've been getting four hours a week."
Since March 16, when the services had to close due to the COVID-19 restrictions, parents have been enduring a recurring Groundhog Day which has increased frustration and stress considerably.
"I want to see services resumed by September 1," Minister Rabbitte added.
"Parents have told me that their children or loved ones, their heads are up after just one day back.
"Our most vulnerable people need their routines back."
She said that the HSE, which she met on Tuesday after her meetings in Charleville, had a voice, parents had a voice, the Government had a voice, the service providers had a voice but she wanted to be a voice for those who had no voice, the service user.
"I want to be their voice," she said.
The Minister pointed out that while we were entering Phase 4 as of August 10, Phase 4 did not have anything to say about the reopening of care and residential care services as the HSE had issued guidelines about this.
"It's worth pointing out that there wasn't one single COVID case out of 19,000 service users in care and residential care centres - it's a measure of the care given to the users in these services," the Minister said.
In terms of the resumption of services at the care centres, she said there were three main areas in which investment would be required - staffing, capacity and transport.
"If the current funding levels stand still, we estimate that there's only enough to return at 40% capacity - that's two days out of every five."
The minister pointed to the experience at Cooleen, a respite centre for children run by St Joseph's which had been providing a service between Thursday and Sunday previously.
During the COVID pandemic, it was used as an isolation unit.
"There has been no respite for these families since March," she said.
Minister Rabbitte and Deputy Moynihan who was accompanying her both said that the description of the families as 'the forgotten people' in all of this had been apt.
But the Minister said she was aiming for the full resumption of services by the beginning of September and this would be done with all COVID prevention measures in place.
Paying tribute to St Joseph's Foundation, whose board of directors she met on Tuesday morning, Minister Rabbitte said that the centre was hoping to be open by the end of August.