The Need to Improve Our Mental Health Legislation

Thu, Feb 4, 2021

Read in 3 minutes

Neasa spoke in the Dáil on the serious need to update our mental health legislation - with delays currently dating back more than five years. She highlighted the gaps in human rights protections for adults and children receiving inpatient mental health treatment, how we should be commencing parts of the Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2018 and she asked for a definitive timeline for a new fully revised Mental Health Act.


Deputy Neasa Hourigan: The report of the expert group set up to review the Mental Health Act 2001 was published in 2015. It contains 165 recommendations, including provisions intended to strengthen protections for people who are detained without consent at approved centres. In June 2016, the then Minister of State with responsibility for mental health, Deputy McEntee, stated that the draft legislation would be completed by the end of that year. In July 2019, a draft heads of Bill was sent to the Mental Health Commission for its consideration, with a six-month turnaround. In the past few months, responses to parliamentary questions from some of my Dáil colleagues indicated that the Department was preparing a final draft of the heads of the Bill on a part-by-part basis, with a view to finalising the draft Bill by the end of 2020.

By any metric, that is a very unsatisfactory timeline for the development of legislation that is so badly needed. Given that the delays date back more than five years, we cannot lay this at the door of Covid-19. The Minister of State said we will receive the Bill soon. Numerous dates have been given for publication of the draft legislation and none of them has been met. These delays are highly problematic given the lengthy duration to date of the review of the Act and the seriousness of the gaps in human rights protections for adults and children receiving inpatient mental health treatment. In 2018, the Mental Health (Amendment) Bill was successfully put before the House, but the Act has never been commenced.

As the mental health community waits for the fully revised mental health legislation to be produced, and we have waited for more than five years, will the Department and the Minister of State consider commencing at least some limited aspects of the 2018 Act? For example, there is currently no definition in our mental health services of what constitutes a voluntary patient. This has created a grey area whereby a person’s right to reviews and tribunals is not clearly set out in law, leaving vulnerable people even more so in a system that is still underfunded and lacking in supports.

Could we have a timeline for the development of the fully revised Mental Health Act? Can we get a certain date for the completion of the revision of the 2001 Act, even if that date is slightly further away than we would like? Will the Department and the Minister of State consider commencing some limited sections of the 2018 Act in the meantime?

Minister of State for Mental Health, Mary Butler: On the issues relating to the Mental Health Act 2001, this is extremely complex legislation and a great deal of work is being undertaken. I have discussed it with the Attorney General and we will move on it soon. It is not feasible to bring forward certain sections before others. In any event, we are almost at the point of being able to publish the heads of the Bill and I hope it will get the support of the House in due course.