To make a raid on the assets of the mentally afflicted is, in may opinion, the lowest from of theft. Here we see that, under this section, the section of the community which suffers probably from the greatest possible affliction is about to be made the subject of a demand by the Government for the confiscation of their assets or property. Everybody knows quite well that the mentally afflicted cannot be put in the same category as those suffering from any other from of illness. For that reason, I have always believed and maintained-it is not recently I was converted to it—that the treatment of mental illness should be free.
I have been associated with this in being a member of a mental hospital board for 15 years and I can speak on the subject with a certain amount of authority. It is only very recently that there has been clear evidence of substantial demands being sent out by mental hospital authorities, either to patients on their discharge or to relatives of patients at present there—and it can be clearly established that in more than a few cases, where certain patients were discharged, they were presented within 21 days of their discharge with very substantial accounts for their maintenance in the institution, accounts which had a very disturbing effect upon the patient. There was the disturbing effect of an honourable citizen being presented with an account which he was anxious to meet if circumstances would permit him to do so, but found it impossible to do so, owing to his financial circumstances.
Again, it may be clerly understood that, unlike other forms of illness, mental illness requires very long periods of treatment and a person suffering from that unfortunate illness may have to be put into such an institution for his own safety or for the safety and convenience of his neighbours, relatives and friends. I do not feel that the Minister should argue the question or endeavour to demonstrate o us here the fruits that follow the observance of the Fourth Commandment of God. We all know quite well that children have an obligation to their parents in their illness and their distress, but we often have cases in which circumstances will not allow a family to discharge that obligation.
Then we have cases—I suppose there is a black sheep to be found in every flock—where someone will not have that regard for the Fourth Commandment which he should have. What is to be done in such a case? I have known of cases of which either the father or the mother of a family, for their own safety, were committed to a mental institution and when it come to the stage at which any member of the family desired to be married, there could be no marriage settlement arranged, because the owner of the property was declared a ward of court and numerous and serious legal difficulties arose.
I feel that that the step which was taken to imposes a charge of 6/- per day on mental patients was wrong one. Two wrongs do not make a right. It does not follow that because the Minister is about to increase it from 6/- to 10/-, it was right to have fixed 6/- at first It is amazing—and amusing—to hear some of the Government speakers saying that there is no difference between 6/- a day and 10/- a day, just as the Minister for Health said last night that 7/6 was so insignificant that it did not count and that if a person found 7/6 in his pocket, he would feel that there was nothing at all there. Then we hear Deputy Allen, who must have experience with local authorities and must have been associated with the mental hospital board n his area, and other Deputies with an intimate knowledge of rural Ireland, saying that a charge of 6/- a day on a mental patient being increased to 10/- a day is of no real significance whatever.
I respectfully submit, sir, that this means an extra charge on the patient of £1 8s. per week. It is all very fine for the person who has no assets or property and no relatives or dependents. In the event of such a person being committed to a mental institution, the difficulty probably will not arise. Again, as Deputy O'Higgins has pointed out, people are committed to mental hospitals who do not get time to settle their affairs or make arrangements to safeguard their property while in these institutions. Mental illness often strikes a person rather suddenly. Now we are going to give authority to the county manager to make a raid, so to speak, on the assets of the unfortunate afflicted person. I think, as has already been stated, that if there was a free, honest and frank vote on this section, there are honourable men in the Fianna Fáil Party who would vote against it. It does not mean that because the Fianna Fáil Party bring in crazy legislation everyone associated with the Party is of the same crazy mentality, or does not know that to increase the charge on a mental patient from 6/- a day to 10/- a day is wrong.
I feel that the Minister must be aware of that because the officers of his Department must be familiar with many such circumstances where, in the event of the death of a patient in an institution, a raid can be made on his assets. It will be more unfortunate if any holdings of such mentally afflicated person are to be sold out against the wishes of either the widow or the other members of the family who are entirely dependent on the holdings. I feel, and I think my feeling is right, that the mental hospital would have the first charge on the property. In the event of that, those dependents who are working hard, perhaps tilling and sowing from sunrise to nightfall, and desiring to eke out a living and build up a little home will find that their whole financial structure is to be disturbed on the death of the patient in the institution or on the demand for the full settlement of the mental hospital account.
In many cases the banks, or other financial institutions, such as credit corporations, will not come to their rescue in such circumstances. It is very regrettable that this House should give such authority. I can see that happening in the years ahead because most of us to-day who are familiar with the running of mental institutions know quite well that all that the mental hospital authorities want is the smallest chance to get in all the money they possibly can.
A county manager is not looked upon as being a good county manager unless he rakes in all the money he can. I admit some of them may be human enough, but in order to get a good stripe from the Department, they must rake in all they can. The more they rake in, the more cordial the welcome will be for them on the steps of the Custom House. I feel that when the mental hospital authorities are given such power, there is nothing to stop the Minister for Health from arranging a conference in the Custom House and getting the head of the section, or himself, to deliver a brief address on the terms of this Bill and saying that it is Government policy that such a sum should be collected and endeavouring to see that 10/- a day will be collected. He can say that the money is required for the relief of the Exchequer or to reduce the cost of health services on the community. Even a direction to this effect would not be necessary, as a hint from the Custom House is often more effective than a direction. I feel that if such a collection is to be made, the serious consequences and general inconvenience will be rather disturbing on the assets, and on the relatives and dependents, of mental hospital patients.
I disagree entirely with this. Even in recent weeks, I have seen legal proceedings instituted against the son of a hard-working mother who unfortunately died in the mental hospital. He was under the impression that there would be no charge. He was married and had a family, but yet there was no hesitation in having this decent man served with a summons. After consultation with some neighbours on the morning of the court—and this only happened three weeks ago in Portlaoise —the account was settled with borrowed money. The money was borrowed from a neighbour because the man wanted to save his face and did not want to have headlines in the local paper that he was decreed in the District Court because he could not settle the account of his dead mother. What an appalling situation that a man should be placed in such an embarrassing position by the mental hospital!
I often feel, and I think my thoughts are based on a sound foundation, that the people in the Custom House are living as far away from people in rural Ireland as if they were residing on the comet that appeared in the northwestern sky about five weeks ago. Surely mental hospital authorities should have some regard as to whom legal proceedings are brought against in the case of mental hospital accounts. There was another glaring case in my constituency of a person who was the owner of property and when he died, it was expected that the property would go, in the ordinary way, to his sister who had worked hard and helped her brother down through the years. The property is now the subject of correspondence between at least half-a-dozen solicitors and I think counsel is expressing an opinion on the matter.
By the time the legal people are finished and by the time the mental hospital authorities have got their share, there will be very little left for the hard-working sister who gave the best years of her life to make that holding what it is. Under this section, the position in future will be that the mental hospital will put up the holding of any person who dies within the four walls of the institution if his dependents and relatives have no way in which to settle the very substantial accounts incurred. Despite what the Minister says, I have seen accounts running into three figures.
Before the Minister inserted this section, did he have any recourse to the accounts of the various mental hospitals throughout the country? Did he take into consideration the outstanding accounts of all these mental hospitals to-day? Did he take into consideration the efforts made by mental hospitals to collect accounts from dependents and relatives of deceased patients, relatives and dependents who are not in a position to pay? But, if that is the position to-day, how much worse will the position be as a result of this section? The charge is to be increased. Who knows but that the green light will be given from the Custom House to local authorities to make further collections?
This House is giving very dangerous powers to mental hospitals, powers which will have serious effects and consequences on the dependents of mental patients. A strong case has been made against the inclusion of this section in the Bill. The Minister should delete the section in its entirety. Goodness knows, when a raid has to be made on the public, the least one would expect is that those who are suffering from mental illness would not be subjected to such a raid. For that reason, I join with the other speakers on this side in warning the Minister that there will be very serious consequences if this section passes into law.
Having given that warning, I appeal to the Government and to the Minister to throw this section out. There are other ways of finding funds. There are other powers which can be given to mental hospital boards and authorities without giving them the power to confiscate a holding of seize the assets of a deceased patient. That way lies disaster, because such a step can lead only to endless trouble and family squabbles. This is a mean kind of theft and the Government should withdraw the section.