Chlidren's activity centres should be places filled with laughter, fun, play, climbing and exploration. Colourful oases where kids can run free and interact with other children, places where their imaginations run riot and their energy gets fully spent.
For the owners of these centres and providers of those precious experiences they are fast becoming places filled with stress, resentment and incredulity as everything they worked so hard to create looks to be torn down because of the claims culture that has run as wild as the kids they welcome.
Many have become financial prisons, once exuberant entrepreneurs now crippled by insurance premiums they can no longer afford and no choice but to pay because of the greed of litigious parents chasing a quick payday after 'Little Johnny' or 'Little Mary' sprained an ankle on a soft toy, or shipped an accidental black eye in the ball pit.
The demise of LoLo Town last Sunday was as a direct result of insurance premiums rocketing, in some cases, where no claims had even been made. Annual premiums now lie close to €15,000, a staggering figure for businesses that try to keep their admission prices at a minimum for hard-pressed parents, and bend over backwards to create a warm, welcoming and safe atmosphere for their young guests and families.
LoLo Town, founded by Claudia Forde was a hugely popular activity and educational centre for small kiddies and received over 700 hundred messages of support on its facebook page when it announced that last Sunday would be its final day trading.
No amount of goodwill could save the Beechmount Park outlet in Navan. It follows the same story as Jesters play centre in Navan Town centre, which ceased operating in 2015.
Huckleberry's Den in Mullaghboy Industrial Estate and owned by Linda Murray could be next given their horrendous premium cost. Linda is head of the Alliance for Insurance Reform group which is a national lobby group calling for changes in insurance for all businesses.
Ms Murray is calling on the Government to fast-track solutions to the insurance crisis, including a new investigative forum, before its too late for the leisure industry here. There are many, including the owners of Kells-based Best of Matz play centre who think it may already be too late.
Karen Yore from Best of Matz in Kells facing an uncertain future.
The suggestion that the Government will force insurers and the legal profession to change their ways and lower their sights on children's activities seem fanciful. But where is the personal responsibility? What parent targets a play centre for cash even if any and all medical bills are paid if an injury is received to a child? Who thinks of pushing a claim against a small business already on the tightest margin because ‘Little Tim’ lost a tooth running into another child. These things happen, it's part of childhood. There doesn’t always have to be 'someone to blame'.
We are in worrying territory here. The people who run Ireland's play centres, activities for young people, sporting events are going to become increasingly vulnerable to the claims culture that is killing our kids playtime.
The business of providing fun for our children has become increasingly perilous. It's sad to think that greed and fraud will result in fewer and fewer places we can visit to nurture the laughter, fun and games all our children need to experience.