Home > Dáil Éireann debate. An Garda Síochána [36578/21] Mental Health Commission.

[Oireachtas] Dáil Éireann debate. An Garda Síochána [36578/21] Mental Health Commission. (08 Jul 2021)

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97. Deputy Mark Ward asked the Minister for Justice her views on the report by the Mental Health Commission (details supplied) that states the highest number of applications to involuntarily detain persons that came from An Garda Síochána; the training that is in place; the interaction her Department has had with the Department of Health on this issue; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36578/21] 

Acting Chairman (Deputy John Lahart) Question No. 97 is in the name of Deputy Mark Ward and Deputy Martin Kenny has been nominated. 

Deputy Martin Kenny: I thank the Acting Chairman. This issue is around the high number of people who were involuntarily detained by An Garda Síochána, people who would have had mental health issues and who have ended up in a mental health institution. This issue has had an impact in many parts of the State. Of course, we understand that many of these people may have had psychotic episodes due to drug addiction also. Gardaí are often in a very difficult position, and are often asked to do intervene by families who have found no other option for these individuals. I fully respect that when gardaí are having to deal with such situations it is because all the other services have failed that person before he or she has come to that position. 

Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Deputy Hildegarde Naughton) I am aware of the annual report of the Mental Health Commission and the use of section 12 of the Mental Health Act by An Garda Síochána. As the Deputy will understand, the proportion of applications for involuntary detention reflects the unfortunate reality that gardaí often encounter persons with severe mental health issues and will be called upon by members of the public, or indeed family members, where a person is experiencing high levels of distress. Very often, members of An Garda Síochána are the first available front-line service to whom people will turn in such situations. 

An application for involuntary detention is never made lightly and takes full account of An Garda Síochána‘s obligation to protect the human rights and welfare of individuals and communities. The only statutory option available to gardaí responding to persons in a mental health crisis and who potentially pose a risk of harm to themselves or others is to invoke section 12 of the Mental Health Act 2001. Section 12 requires gardaí to take the person into custody in order to have them assessed by a registered medical practitioner. 

Members of An Garda Síochána receive training in mental health issues as part of their recruit training and through continuous professional development training delivered throughout their career. As the Deputy may be aware, the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland concluded that societal issues such as the mental health of individuals should not be the responsibility of An Garda Síochána alone, and the commission recommended the establishment of multi-agency teams that would include gardaí to respond to the needs of individuals with mental health issues. A pilot crisis intervention team is being developed in the Limerick Garda division, as the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, mentioned earlier. This pilot is being progressed in close collaboration with the HSE and it is hoped to begin the roll-out of the pilot team early next year. 

Deputy Martin Kenny: I thank the Minister of State for her reply. I fully understand the situation in which many gardaí find themselves. It is a very difficult situation when they are dealing with a person who is having a psychotic episode and there is no option other than to take them somewhere safe, for themselves and for the rest of the community. Of course there are safeguards there. It is not the gardaí who will decide if the person will be put in. The doctor is called and an assessment is made. That is not a decision for a garda but it is the gardaí who must initially try to deal with the situation, which can be a very difficult situation. In that regard, it would be appropriate to ensure that there is the proper level of training, and that there would be interaction with other agencies.


The big problem is that many of these people, in the context of psychiatric issues, mental health problems and drug addiction, have by and large been failed by the services. They have ended up in these situations where gardaí must intervene. Collaboration is needed between the Departments of Justice and Health, and other Departments, to ensure this failure is ended.


Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú: I will add my voice to what Deputy Kenny has said. The problem is that in many of these cases the gardaí become the only agency people contact when they are dealing with somebody who is having a psychotic break. Gardaí generally lift the person and if the case is serious enough, they bring him or her to a local psychiatric unit. The person is left there and released, and then dealt with in a couple of days' time. 

We need a full multiagency audit of the entire system because we are dealing with multiple issues. We are dealing with the fact that we do not have sufficient dual diagnoses to deal with people who have drug addictions. We are not carrying out early interventions which are cheaper and easier. We do not have the acute services required. It all falls back on the gardaí. We also have to consider all of those people who fall between care plans, disability and mental health services and other issues. We need to make sure that whatever services are needed are put in place as soon as possible. 

Deputy Hildegarde Naughton: I thank the Deputies for raising this important issue. As part of the programme for Government commitments we have established a high-level task force on the mental health and addiction challenges of persons interacting with the criminal justice system. This is a key goal within the justice plan 2021. 

As Deputies know, the task force is chaired by Ms Kathleen Lynch, a former Minister of State with responsibility for primary care, mental health and disability. It met on 28 April, 19 May and 25 June. The membership comprises high level officials from my Department, the probation service, An Garda Síochána, the Irish Prison Service, the HSE, the Central Mental Hospital and the Departments of Health, Housing, Local Government and Heritage, and children and youth affairs. Three sub-groups have been established on diversion, the capacity of the Irish Prison Service and the Central Mental Hospital, and community issues. Deputies are correct to say that this requires a multiagency approach. An Garda Síochána also receives training on this issue. 

Deputy Martin Kenny: I understand that a multiagency approach is required. We need to bring all of the services together in order to deal with this. However, when I speak to gardaí on the beat they tell me that if they took mental health issues and drug addiction issues out of the equation, almost one third of their work would be gone. That reflects the level of time and resources tied up in this area. 

As I said, most of this happens because people do not get the early intervention they require. Many people go into psychiatric services for a short period of time and are then released back into the community. They go home and perhaps have a mental health nurse calling once a week. That is not enough. The level of services and the interaction between gardaí and the entire process is something that has to be taken care of. We also know that many people in our prison system are there because of mental health issues that were not dealt with early enough. That is how people end up in the prison system, which is not a good place to try to deal with those types of issues. 

Deputy Hildegarde Naughton: Work is ongoing on early intervention and the multidisciplinary approach. As I said the pilot crisis intervention team is being developed in a Limerick Garda station, along with the high-level task force to which I alluded. Gardaí are provided with training throughout their career in dealing with people who have mental health issues. All trainee gardaí are trained over two days in an internationally recognised applied suicide intervention skills training, ASIST. It is a workshop delivered in collaboration with the HSE. It is a suicide first aid programme which equips trainee gardaí with the necessary skills to discuss suicide with the person at risk and make an intervention to reduce immediate risk of suicide if necessary. Armed gardaí are also supported with the training given to all armed support units during their basic training. I am sure that this is a very detailed course and deals with hostage barricades, suicide and so on.

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