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Jean McKiernan, Chairperson Irish Hospice Foundation, Hannah Beth King, Gabriel Byrne, Sharon Foley CEO Irish Hospice Foundation, Michael O'Reilly Chairman Design & Dignity Project (IHF) & Colum McCann, author Photo by: BEN ASEN

Irish Hospice head tells New Yorkers Ireland can pioneer end of life care

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Jean McKiernan, Chairperson Irish Hospice Foundation, Hannah Beth King, Gabriel Byrne, Sharon Foley CEO Irish Hospice Foundation, Michael O'Reilly Chairman Design & Dignity Project (IHF) & Colum McCann, author Photo by: BEN ASEN

Ireland is creating a model for end of life care which could be introduced around the world, a senior official in the Irish Hospice Foundation told a crowd in New York on Tuesday evening.

“In Ireland we are creating a model for end of life care that is applicable everywhere,” Michael O'Reilly, chairman of the Design and Dignity project said.

“We believe that no one should face death or bereavement without the care or support they need,” O’Reilly told the crowd.

The national charity is dedicated to all matters related to dying, death and bereavement. The aim of Design and Dignity is to fund projects in public hospitals to transform the way hospital spaces are designed for people at the end of life and their families, and set the standard for other hospitals to follow.

In attendance was Irish actor Gabriel Byrne, who told the crowd how he witnessed one of his close friends pass away in a noisy hospital ward, devoid of dignity and respect.

“There was a television playing a football match in the ward where she was. We tried to screen that off by putting what passed for a curtain around the bed,” Byrne said. “ I thought this was appalling -that this was the way some people spent their final days.”

The actor stated that the IHF’s Design and Dignity project was already changing things for the better.

“In cooperation with hospital staff, they are providing design expertise to create spaces where bad news can be broken, where those who have got the dreaded call to fly home to be with a loved one near death can have the space and the privacy for final words and where families can be with someone who has just passed away, in dignified and respectful surroundings.”

Byrne was among several well known guests including award-winning Dublin-born writer Colum McCann and prominent Irish Americans, Loretta Brennan Glucksman and Tom Moran, President and CEO of Mutual of America.

New York based author McCann spoke of the difficult journey home so many immigrants make to say goodbye to loved ones.

"When you lose a loved one and when you know that person is being looked after well, it's so much easier to return. It is also much easier to come back to your other life."

A new book from the Irish Hospice Foundation, 'The Gathering – Reflections on Ireland' was also launched at Tuesday’s event with all proceeds going to the fund.

The 256-page hardback book includes contributions from  Bono, Colum McCann, Moya Doherty, Brian O'Driscoll, Loretta Brennan Glucksman and IrishCentral Founder Niall O'Dowd

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