I am here to answer Deputy Buckley's questions on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe. I am conscious that he has asked a few more questions that were not flagged and I am afraid I will not have details of them. I will do my best to answer the questions he previously flagged would be asked.
We are not in a position to comment on the number of deaths as a result of suicide within the Defence Forces as this information is not recorded by the military authorities. All sudden deaths must be reported to the relevant coroner's office. It is then a matter for the coroner to decide whether a post mortem should be conducted and to determine the cause of death. However, I can assure the Deputy that the health and welfare of the men and women of the Defence Forces is a high priority of the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, who has responsibility for defence and his Department. Mental health supports are part of a range of medical and non-medical services provided to ensure that Defence Forces personnel are medically fit to undertake the duties assigned to them.
Medical mental health services available to personnel include access to clinical psychology and psychiatry services. The psychology service assesses, diagnoses, treats and advises on strategies to prevent mental health disorders. Psychiatry services specialise in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. There are currently two clinical psychologists employed by the Defence Forces. Psychiatry services were until recently provided in-house by a military psychiatrist. This position is currently vacant, with interim services being provided through a combination of external public and private services. However, efforts are continuing to recruit a full-time psychiatrist to provide an in-house service. This is proving to be challenging in the context of a nationwide and indeed worldwide shortage of trained psychiatrists. It must be stressed that there is no delay in referring patients requiring immediate psychiatric care or assessment.
In addition to these clinical supports, non-medical mental health services are provided by the Defence Forces personnel support service. The Defence Forces personnel support service provides a welfare, information, psychosocial support and referral service to serving members of the Defence Forces and their families. The service is delivered through a network of military barrack personnel support service officers and civilian occupational social workers. This network of professionals is prepared to provide immediate help to service personnel and their families in a routine environment or at a time of crisis. This assistance can range from the simple provision of information to counselling or, if required, signposting and referral to specialist help and assistance. Furthermore, the assistance may include psychosocial support, including counselling, information and assistance services on a variety of issues such as relationships, general finances, addiction, retirement including pensions and gratuities, housing, taxation and PRSI and much more.
The Department of Defence funds a confidential counselling, referral and support service for serving members of the Defence Forces, civilian employees and Civil Defence volunteers. The service provides confidential counselling on a wide range of personal and work-related issues, including but not limited to health, relationships, addiction, financial, bereavement, stress, conflict, critical incident and trauma. In the case of relationship counselling, the spouse or partner may also attend the counselling sessions. A freephone confidential helpline is available 24-7, 365 days a year. The helpline is staffed by fully-trained and experienced counsellors. The helpline provides for referral to appointment-based telephone or face-to-face counselling. Deputy Pat Buckley said that number is not available. I doubt that is the case and will put this on the Dáil record. If it needs to be promoted more or advertised more, we can look at that, but I am confident, if it is written here, to say on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, that it is true.
Deputy Buckley said that he has confidential information. Maybe he might share that with the Minister of State at an appropriate time. I am sure he would be open to that. The Deputy raised a number of issues that he says have been brought to his attention but I get the impression that they have not been brought to the Minister of State's attention. If the Deputy has information of a very serious nature, there are appropriate channels to deal with it and I recommend that he brings it forward. From what I know, the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, is always open to hear all these stories and would be concerned on behalf of his forces and would act on that.
The Defence Forces are fully alert in relation to suicide awareness and prevention, issues of depression and other mental health issues among its personnel.
This is particularly important given the nature of their role and potential access to firearms and weapons. As outlined previously, the Defence Forces, through its personnel support services, PSS, and working closely with the HSE, engages in extensive suicide awareness and mental health education programmes for all members of the Defence Forces. While the Minister is satisfied that the available services offer comprehensive supports to Defence Forces members, I can assure the Deputy that they are kept under constant review.