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Anger after poor Dáil attendance during mental health debate

Last week, it emerged that €12 million of the €35 million ring-fenced for mental health in last year’s budget is to be diverted to other resources.

PastedImage-88710 The chamber was considerably more full before the mental health debate when TDs voted on adjourning until tomorrow.

HEALTH MINISTER LEO Varadkar today defended the recent diversion of €12 million from mental health services.

Last week, it was announced €12 million of the €35 million ring-fenced in the mental health care budget 2016 was being diverted to other areas of the health service.

That €35 million had been specifically allocated towards hiring new staff within mental health services.

Varadkar defended the spend stating the mental health budget has increased from €711 million in 2011 to €827 million this year.

In the Dail, he began by stating Minister Kathleen Lynch, who was responsible for the mental health portfolio, is not permitted to speak in the Chamber as she is no longer a member of the House.

In his speech, Varadkar said that many of the difficulties the sector was facing were not related to funding.

“It is far more a question of change management, modernising practice and driving implementation.”

He added that the government had increased mental health funding by €827 million or 16%. He added that the government had secured a number of achievements in the area since coming to power in 2011.

“My own view is that any new mental health policy should be broad and should not deal with mental illness only. It should recognise the importance of health and wellness, positive mental health and resilience, and the wider social influences on this area.

“It should also have regard to the evidence of national and international best practice.”

Backlash

However, there was major backlash online after photos of the Dáil chamber appeared showing just a handful of TDs in attendance.

Varadkar himself was not in the chamber for all of the debate, having left to take part in government formation talks. He is not, however, the relevant line minister for the issue.

Musicians and comedians The Rubberbandits shared a scathing Facebook post with the photo attached.

Here’s a photo of how many politicians turned up to the mental health debate in the Dáil today. There’s ten people a week dying by suicide. Last week, funding was cut, which was due to create 1,500 jobs for mental health professionals.Here’s a list of organisations that you can help, or donate to.
Pieta is our charity of choice, so you can text PIETA to 50300 to donate €2.

The attendance at times in the debate was above that shown in individual pictures as many TDs gave their contributions before leaving the chamber. However, very few stayed the course of the whole debate.

Tweet by @Noel Rock Source: Noel Rock/Twitter

In total, 34 TDs spoke in the chamber during the debate, with contributions from across the political spectrum.

‘Cinderella of the health service’

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Fianna Fáil leader, Micheal Martin said his party takes mental health as seriously as physical health. He called for a National Mental Health Authority to be established that would roll out a national programme to reduce incidence of suicide.

Martin said mental health “remains the Cinderella of the health service” and accused the past government of “cynical spin”  promising funding that it knows it will not deliver.

Fianna Fáil’s Robert Troy went on to describe how he suffers with anxiety.

It is often the least likely people who need help. I suffer with anxiety. I know what it’s like to experience one’s heart racing so fast it feels like it will burst out of one’s chest. I know what it is like to wake in the morning and not want to get out of bed for no other reason than that I do not feel I have the capacity to address the challenges of the day. I know what it is like to have a knot in the pit of one’s stomach. It is like being in a tug-o-war with two people pulling at either side and not knowing how to adapt to the situation.

He said he was fortunate because he can afford to pay for professional help to deal with his problem, unlike many others.

Earlier, I wondered if I would speak about my problem today in the Dáil. I think it is important that people speak out about this issue.

The Social Democrats’ Catherine Murphy raised the issue of youth mental health.

In the years that I have been a public representative, there have been several incidents of clusters of teen suicides in my area which has a disproportionately young age profile. It causes huge long-term irreparable damage to the families involved and to their communities.

Meanwhile Independent TD Thomas Pringle said funding must be secured within the HSE in the Department of Health.

“The political cycle must be taken out of funding allocation and planning,” he said.

We need a structured coping mechanism in schools to provide that kind of engagement.  She wants that kind of initiative made mandatory as opposed to being “encouraged”.

Director of Mental Health Reform Dr Shari McDaid said the diversion of any mental health funding was unacceptable and should not be tolerated.

A protest against the cuts to is to be held outside Leinster House on Thursday.

With reporting from Paul Hosford

Read: Fianna Fáil says it’s now ‘end game’ and wants Dáil debate on water>

Read: Fianna Fáil says suspending water charges for six to nine months is not viable>

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