Mental Health (Capacity to Consent to Treatment) Bill 2021: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Mental Health Act 2001 and for that purpose to provide for the right of minors over the age of 16 to consent to mental health treatment and to provide for related matters.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Mythen. I begin by thanking the former Senator, Máire Devine, on the Trojan work she did on this Bill in the last Seanad. This is a progressive mental health Bill that acknowledges and supports our young people. It will give autonomy to 16- and 17-year olds and allow them to consent to and avail of appropriate mental health treatment. This legislation is about destigmatising mental health treatment, something that is alien to any other medical intervention. Under Irish law, adolescents aged 16 and 17 can currently consent to physical and dental health treatment but do not have the explicit right to consent to mental health treatment. This Bill will bring parity to youth mental health.

It is also very fitting that we introduce this Bill during Pride Month. Conversion therapy is not yet prohibited in this State, despite Senator Warfield having introduced the Prohibition of Conversion Therapies Bill 2018. Lack of political will from successive Governments has seen this Bill stymied. This is 2021 and so-called conversion therapy has no place in a modern Ireland. The Bill will close the loophole in legislation that still permits 16- and 17-year-olds to be subjected to conversion therapy against their will. Currently they do not have the legislative right to refuse this draconian practice. This Bill will change this. So-called conversion therapy should have no place in our society. It is harmful, destructive and has been condemned and discredited worldwide by institutions such as the UN Committee Against Torture, the European Parliament and the Irish Council for Psychotherapy.

We have seen some progressive movements in this country over the years such as the marriage referendum, but we still have some way to go. Recent homophobic attacks on the Pride flags and other premises have highlighted the need for a fully inclusive society that the vast majority of us hope for. I spoke about this subject recently and have been subjected to some right-wing bile; I must be doing something right.

That the conversion therapy needs to be legislated against under the area of health is also wrong. This is a human rights issue, not a health issue and definitely not a mental health issue. This Bill will simply stop the inhumane practice of forced conversion therapy to 16- and 17-year-olds against their will. I commend the Bill to the House.

Commendations must go to the previous youth advisory committee of St. Patrick’s Mental Health Services which campaigned on this issue during the previous Oireachtas term. My colleague and former Senator, Máire Devine, also worked tirelessly to progress this issue during her time in the Seanad and began this important work that we are now carrying on.

This Bill is fundamentally about the rights and protection of young people. Children aged 16 and 17 years should be presumed to have capacity to consent to or refuse admission and treatment. This change would be in line with the principle of Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child - the right to be heard. This right needs to be expressly stated in mental health legislation, which is what this Bill will do.

The expert group that reviewed of the Mental Health Act 2001 in 2015, the national youth mental health task force in 2017 and over 50 other organisations have called for this legislative change. The change was also included in the programme for Government.

I understand there may be some difficulties for 16- and 17-year olds if they are suffering with their mental health and might not have the capacity to consent. It is important to note that this Bill does not take away any existing protections from vulnerable young people. As we know, capacity legislation has protections for vulnerable adults. These protections also apply for 16- and 17-year olds.

Young people should not need to wait any longer for this long-recommended change. It is time we recognised and respected their ability and their capacity, and increased their legislative protections in accessing mental health treatment.

The Mental Health (Capacity to Consent) Bill 2021, above all, and without prejudice, gives a voice to children and gives them an equal opportunity to be heard. I support the Bill.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.