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mental health law overhaul

Long-delayed new mental health law to be brought forward before the summer

It is close to ten years since an expert group tasked with reviewing the Mental Health Act 2001 recommended 165 changes to the law.

THE LONG AWAITED overhaul of Ireland’s mental health legislation is to be brought forward before the summer, Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe. 

The legislation will update the Mental Health Act 2001.

The government has been drafting the Mental Health Amendment Bill legislation since 2016. 

It is close to ten years since an expert group tasked with reviewing the Mental Health Act 2001 recommended 165 changes to the law.

The Heads of the Mental Health Bill, outlining what will be in the legislation, were published in July 2021 and pre-legislative scrutiny was completed in May 2022.

However, when the government published its priority legislation for spring 2024 the Bill was on the priority drafting list rather than the priority publication list.

Responding in the Dáil today, Donohoe said “the government will bring forward for, we hope, the summer legislative session further mental health Bill that will have 35 different sections in it, all focused on the regulation of mental health services”.

“We believe the Bill, which will be brought forward shortly, will provide a different and more effective way of responding to the regulation needs that we acknowledge are there,” he added. 

CAMHS failures

He was responding the Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald, who raised concerns about the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

She recounted stories from some parents who have had to wait for appointments for their children for up to 15 months. 

Sinn Féin is this evening bringing forward proposed legislation that seeks to regulate CAMHS under the Mental Health Act. 

Minister Stephen Donnelly got government approval today to approve a nine-month timed amendment to the proposed bill, due the government’s mental health legislation being in the final stages of drafting, with plans for it to be published and introduced to the Oireachtas in the summer legislative session.

It will introduce the registration, inspection, and regulation of all community mental health services, including CAMHS, on a statutory basis. 

The response to the Sinn Fein Bill states that the government’s Mental Health Bill will “comprehensively overhaul existing mental health legislation, and provide the enhanced regulatory powers to the Mental Health Commission, including for the future regulation of community setting care, including CAMHS”. 

Years of delays

Fiona Coyle, CEO of Mental Health Reform, recently told The Journal that the protracted delay in publishing the Mental Health Amendment Bill is “completely unacceptable”.

Mental Health Reform and other groups working in the sector have long warned that the current legislation is at odds with international human rights standards including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

The proposed legislation would strengthen regulation around people consenting to the type of treatment they receive.

As stated, it will also regulate CAMHS, which is vital, as the majority of mental health services in Ireland currently fall outside the scope of regulation set out under the 2001 Act.

Speaking during Leaders’ Questions today, Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns said that the State’s “neglect” towards the 22% of the population with a disability was “ruining lives” and that there was distrust in the government on disability issue 

The Cork TD asked that the government ratify the optional protocol of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, which she said could be “transformative”. 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar outlined last week his commitment to signing the protocol during the current government’s term.

Varadkar told the Dáil last Wednesday that he had spoken to Minister of State Anne Rabbitte and Attorney General Rossa Fanning about the issue.

He said he was not satisfied with the reasons that it had not yet been done.

Donohoe reiterated the government’s commitment to ratifying the protocol.

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