Julie’s Children’s Funeral Fund makes it onto Stormont wish list

Julie Flaherty
Julie Flaherty

A Children’s Funeral Fund, championed by Portadown politician Julie Flaherty, has made it onto the new Stormont deal list.

After years of campaigning, Ulster Unionist Cllr Julie Flaherty says she is extremely pleased that they are closer to achieving help for recently bereaved parents.

It has been a very personal campaign for Cllr Flaherty, who lost her own son Jake in 2013.

Jake, who had suffered serious health issues from birth, had been diagnosed with Downs Syndrome.

“I make no apologies for talking about Jake all the time. He is very sadly missed.

“He was a speedy wirey wee thing. Soon after he was born it became apparent that he had more problems. He had complex heart issues. He had a heart defect which was worse that we ever thought. He needed heart surgery. He was tube fed and needed oxygen. He was one of the last babies to have heart surgery performed in Belfast in 2011. After that the heart surgery unit came under scrutiny in Belfast regarding its sustainability

“Jake died in May 2013. We were shattered and even six years on, we still are. He made our family - not just myself and Wayne but everybody. He was just the glue that stuck everybody together.”

Though both Julie and her husband were comfortable financially, her experience was that other young families were struggling with funeral costs at a very vulnerable time of their lives. nd Julie wanted to do something to help.She hadn’t any experience of political life. “But you get thrown into these situations.”

“A lot of people in Portadown would have known about Jake and parents would have come to me about transport or getting a school place, or getting extra help into the house.

“I came across this particular issue, via an MP in Wales who also had lost a son. She had been campaigning for a special fund to help finance the funerals of children. Her ambition was to take the burden off grieving families at that particular traumatic time in their lives,” said Julie.

Since then she has been campaigning for a special Children’s Funeral Fund for NI and has had unanimous cross community support in Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council. The issue was rolled out across all 11 councils which also backed the proposal. However, much to Julie’s ire, previous Secretary of States poured cold water on the idea.

The new deal which marked the return of the NI Assembly states: “The loss of a child causes unimaginable pain for families. The Executive will establish a child funeral fund, to ease the burden on families suffering acutely.