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Eamonn Farrell/
Mental Health

'I'm surprised that the leader of our country had the neck to walk in Darkness Into Light'

Senator Joan Freeman originally praised the Taoiseach for his involvement, but took a different view today in the Seanad.

SENATOR AND PIETA House founder Joan Freeman has strongly criticised Taoiseach Enda Kenny for taking part in last weekend’s Darkness Into Light event in Toronto, saying she was surprised he had “the neck” to do it.

In the Seanad today, Freeman referenced a report in yesterday’s Irish Times which said that Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin had written to Kenny criticising a cut to mental health services.

The senator, who was elected to the Seanad by Kenny last year, said that it was a “little ironic” that he took part in the suicide awareness event amidst these reports of cuts to mental health services.

However, Freeman had actually tweeted praise for the Taoiseach for his role in the Toronto event on Saturday.

She told the chamber: “The Taoiseach took part in Darkness into Light in Canada on Saturday morning.  It was shown around the whole world that he was participating in this walk.

As the leader of our country, does he not see it as a little ironic, or quite funny in some way, that he did this after sanctioning the cuts in the mental health budget?

At this point, she was interrupted by Fine Gael’s Jerry Buttimer who repeatedly insisted that the mental health budget increased, rather than decreased in the last budget.

When she was afforded the opportunity to speak again, Freeman said: “The €35 million I am talking about was reduced to €15 million this year.  That is grossly unfair.

As usual, mental health is the Cinderella of all the social issues.  It is always the one the money is removed from and placed as a stopgap in some other area that the Taoiseach wishes to fill.  I am just surprised that the leader of our country had the neck to walk in Darkness into Light.

Sinn Féin Senator Pádraig MacLochlainn spoke up in support of Freeman, saying that she is “better qualified than anyone else in the House to say what the gaps are in terms of mental health”.

“All that she is asking that she would be present at a meeting with the Taoiseach to discuss those gaps,” he said.

Buttimer, meanwhile, said that he “disagreed profoundly” with Freeman. He defended the Minister of State, Helen McEntee, who he said has “put her life and soul into the mental health area”. He added:

Furthermore, last Saturday morning, Senator Freeman congratulated the Taoiseach for participating in the Darkness into Light walk and then came in today and criticised him.  The Senator cannot have it every way.

He added that a cross-party approach to mental health was needed, but that wasn’t quite the case at the moment.

At Budget time, Health Minister Simon Harris said he would allocate €35 million more to the mental health budget next year.

However, responding to a question by Fianna Fáil’s James Browne, Minister of State for Mental Health Helen McEntee had said just €15 million would be available for 2017.

A FactCheck showed that the government had, in fact, not cut mental health funding in Budget 2017.

Read: Outrage as Government accused of U-turn on mental health budget commitment

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