Speech by Minister Moloney at the launch of the Amnesty International Report, The Missing Link: Coordinated Government action on mental health

I would like to thank Colm O’Gorman and Barry Johnston for their kind invitation to me today to launch the Report ‘The Missing Link: coordinated Government action on mental health’.

As Minister for State with special responsibility for Equality, Disability and Mental Health, I am committed to the implementation of ‘A Vision for Change’. At the outset let me say that I am aware of the concerns at the apparent lack of progress in implementation, and I accept that overall progress has been somewhat slower than anticipated. However, it is important to recognise that ‘A Vision for Change’, which provides a framework for the development of our mental health services, will be implemented over a 7 to 10 year period and as such can be viewed as a work in progress.

Progress has, and is, being made particularly in the development of child and adolescent services, the forensic mental health service, the development of a mental health information system and, of course, in service user involvement. Significant also, is that agreement has been achieved on the funding of the mental health capital programme from the proceeds of sales of mental health assets. In addition, a National Lead on Mental Health has been appointed within the HSE to drive the implementation of ‘A Vision for Change’.

‘A Vision for Change’ also makes significant recommendations spanning six chapters for the non-health sector. I cannot, however, agree with the conclusions in your Report that this interdepartmental approach has not been adequately followed up with action. The Office for Disability and Mental Health has a remit across four Government Departments (Health and Children, Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Education and Science and Justice, Equality and Law Reform), to bring a new impetus to the implementation of ‘A Vision for Change’ and to work in partnership with the HSE and other stakeholders, including other Government Departments, to drive its implementation.

To ensure collaborative working across the Departments my Office is represented on the Senior Officials Group on Social Inclusion, which monitors progress on the Government’s commitments in relation to social policy. I also meet regularly with the four Secretary Generals of the relevant Departments to review progress in the priority areas. In addition bilateral meetings are held between my Department and other Departments on the ‘Vision for Change’ agenda.

Other areas of collaboration and coordination include the Cross-Sectoral Team for the Health and Justice sector. Its overall objective is to bring about improvements in services for people with mental health difficulties who come into contact with the criminal justice system. The Cross Sectoral team will, inter alia, enhance communication and co-operation between the health and justice sectors in relation to services for people with mental health difficulties. It will also progress implementation of the recommendations of ‘A Vision for Change’ and ‘Reach Out’ that relate to the Justice System.

My Office is also participating in the development by the Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government of a Housing Strategy for People with Disabilities which will have a particular emphasis on the housing needs of people with mental health difficulties.

A Cross Sectoral Team comprising the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Health and Children, Social and Family Affairs, FAS and the HSE has been established to develop a cross sectoral approach between Departments and agencies with responsibility for the delivery of the mainstreaming agenda in respect of the employment of people with disabilities including people with mental health difficulties.

I do, however, accept that sometimes it is difficult for people experiencing mental health problems to participate as full members of Irish society. This is not necessarily due to discrimination but to fear, misunderstanding, prejudice and stigma in relation to mental illness. This is an issue that has been of concern to me for some time. I recently asked the Shine organisation to project manage a campaign to address this issue and I am very pleased that Amnesty will be actively participating.

The objective of the campaign will be to eliminate social exclusion and ensure that the mainstreaming agenda delivers for every person with experience of mental ill health. We must create a culture and environment where people in distress feel they can seek help from family, friends and health professionals, and where family and friends can offer support to a loved one who is experiencing mental health problems. I will be making an announcement on this stigma reduction initiative in the next few weeks.

As I mentioned earlier, the implementation of ‘A Vision for Change’ is a work in progress. Much has happened and much has changed economically since the report was launched. However, I would like to take the opportunity to stress that ‘A Vision for Change’ remains a progressive document and it continues to be our roadmap, charting the way forward.

I would like to thank you again for your invitation to address you today.