Commencement Matters

Mental Health Services Provision

I welcome the Minister of State, whom I have not met previously.

I refer to the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum. The 2015 Mental Health Commission inspection report referred to various areas of compliance and excellent standards, with many good practices on display. It appears that the hospital and, in particular, its staff are working to a high level and providing an excellent service within the confines of the resources given to them. The hospital was described in the report as:

The approved centre was an inpatient service of the National Forensic Service. It was located in Dundrum Dublin and had 94 beds ... The main building was over 150 years old and was not suitable for the care and treatment of mental health patients. Plans for the new forensic hospital were progressing.

The plans will be now be realised on the site at Portrane. Will the Minister of State confirm that the opening date will be 2020?

I would like to discuss the facilities in place for violent, mentally ill people while we await the new hospital. The Irish Times reported on 21 June that Professor Harry Kennedy, the clinical director, had told the High Court that all 94 beds in the Central Mental Hospital were full and that there was a waiting list of 24. He said that while mental hospitals in Ireland had been closed down, the necessary services were not being provided to look after people who had been detained in them. This sentiment was echoed by my old colleague and the former general secretary of the Psychiatric Nurses Association, PNA, Mr. Des Kavanagh, in his report earlier this year.

He stated, "the correlation between the closure of hospitals and the increase in the prison population of people with serious mental illness is inescapable." He continued by discussing regular cases of violence and, indeed, homicide involving those who are mentally ill. He urged the Government to review all such killings and assaults over the past ten years and come up with recommendations for a prevention strategy.

The Mental Health Commission's inspection report in 2015 found that:

There were eight units in the approved centre [at the Central Mental Hospital] and this allowed the male patients to progress from acute care with high security through medium to low security and rehabilitation. However, all ten female patients were accommodated in one unit, whatever their level of acuity, security requirements and rehabilitation needs.

Does the Minister for Health think that the opening of the extra beds in the period prior to the new hospital being opened would improve these conditions? The report also states:

Due to the waiting list of seven patients in other approved centres [never mind prisons] awaiting transfer ... plans were progressing to renovate and re-open a closed unit (Unit 5) to provide 10 beds for these patients. The completion date for this was the end of 2015.

The beds in question are ready, duvets have been placed on them and yet they lie empty. Mental health institutions have been closed down and nothing substantial has replaced them. As a result, the rare but real cases of people with mental illness who have violent inclinations have slipped through the gaps and caused real harm in our society and to themselves.

I have a few questions for the Minister. Has the Central Mental Hospital reopened the ten beds? If not, why? How does he intend to rectify the current crisis in the period prior to the facility in Portrane being opened?

I have spoken to various staff and learned that negotiations have been held up due the fact that decisions handed down by the Workplace Relations Commission in 2012 have not been implemented. I ask that the Minister intervene in order to get the negotiations going. I urge him to bring people to the table and to get these beds open.

I thank Senator Devine for raising this matter, which I am taking on behalf of the Minister for Health who, unfortunately, cannot be with us.

The Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum has a current bed complement of 93. All of these beds are operational. It is a priority under the HSE's service plan for 2017 to increase bed capacity at the hospital. An additional ten beds to accommodate patients awaiting admission under section 21(2) of the Mental Health Act 2001 are due to be commissioned shortly, which will increase capacity to 103 beds. The additional beds remain unopened pending agreement between the executive and the relevant unions on issues that have been through a process at the Workplace Relations Commission. I understand that these are likely to be referred to the Labour Relations Commission for adjudication. At this point, it is not possible to give a precise date for the additional beds to open. The executive is continuing efforts to open them in the autumn. I urge all involved with this process to work together to open these beds as quickly as possible.

It has been accepted generally for some time that there are serious bed capacity pressures at the Central Mental Hospital. It is on this basis that the HSE prioritised the opening of more beds. The management of those requiring admission is being prioritised on the basis of assessed clinical need. The provision of new facilities, or other non-capital initiatives, to enhance forensic mental health provision nationally is core to modernising mental health services in line with A Vision for Change. To date, significant ring-fenced funding has been provided to improve all aspects of mental health care, including prioritising the replacement of the Central Mental Hospital. This has resulted in a total funding of just over €850,000 to the HSE for mental health for this year.

Following the signing of a contract on 1 June, construction of a new 170-bed national forensic mental health complex at Portrane recently began. This facility will replace the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum. It will also include dedicated components for mental health and intellectual disability, a forensic child and adolescent mental health service, CAMHS, and a new 30-bed intensive care rehabilitation unit. The new national facility will provide psychiatric care in a modern and high-quality setting that rivals the best available elsewhere.

A core approach is developing the concept of recovery, wherever possible, in delivering mental health services - whether in community or residential settings - into the future. The operation of the additional beds at the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum will assist towards this objective. It will relieve the acknowledged pressures on the existing forensic mental health and judicial systems. It also paves the way to opening the new facilities in early 2020. The Senator may rest assured that I will keep this matter under close review with the HSE or that I will refer the issues to the Minister, Deputy Harris, in order that all of the parties involved in the current process reach agreement as quickly as possible in the interests of those that require this key service.

Is Senator Devine happy with the response?

Yes. Can I make a comment?

Yes, briefly.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Unfortunately, no date has been given in terms of the negotiations at the Workplace Relations Commission. The stalemate has lasted a year and a half at this stage.

Does the Minister of State understand that there are people who cannot be managed in approved centres and people in prison who are waiting to avail of the new facility? A tragedy occurred in my area, which is located in the constituency of Dublin South-Central, last week. The person involved cannot be admitted to the Central Mental Hospital due to overcrowding. To free up space, the institution would have to pick somebody to return to the prison population but he or she would clearly be unfit to be moved. We are not fulfilling our duty of care and nurses in particular are concerned about this matter.

The HSE has agreed that the staff have made prudent demands. Rosters were also implemented without a by your leave. The days of draconian management are over. Consultations and negotiations are required, which is the nub of the issue, but the Workplace Relations Commission will probably not meet for some months. I urge the Minister of State to ask the Minister to hurry this matter along and get these much-needed beds opened.

Unfortunately, the Minister of State is not the line Minister. I am sure he will convey the Senator's concerns to the senior Minister. Does the Minister of State wish to add anything? No. I thank the Minister of State and Senator Devine.

Defence Forces Personnel Data

I welcome the Minister of State. I congratulate him on his appointment and wish him well.

As he is undoubtedly aware, even though this matter is not his particular area, the Defence Forces are faced with many challenges. One regularly hears about low morale, the recruitment and retention of staff and low pay. It is sad that many members of the Defence Forces must avail of family income supplement, FIS, to simply survive. With respect, not assigning a full Ministry to the defence portfolio sends out the wrong message. The current Minister responsible for the Defence Forces is doing a good job but I would much prefer if he could sit at the Cabinet table as it would afford him an opportunity to exert more power and influence on his Cabinet colleagues.

I have outlined many issues. Recently, leave entitlements for members of the Defence Forces were brought to my attention. At present, leave entitlements can be lost at the end of the year if a member of the Defence Forces who has been posted overseas for a mission has his or her term extended or if a member is on sick leave or falls pregnant. The loss of leave is unfair and the situation should not be allowed to continue. Interestingly, over the five-year period from 2001 to 2016, as many as 146,038 days were lost by members of the Defence Forces. That is a staggering figure. In monetary terms, the amount involved would be €22 million. I am sure that the Minister of State appreciates that people in any employment can get sick or fall pregnant. It is very sad that in such situations people lose their annual leave allotments if they are out sick at the time they were about to take their annual leave. People, through no fault of their own, can find themselves in these situations. The leave entitlement aspect needs to be addressed. Does the Minister intend to amend the Workplace Relations Act 2015? If so, the terms and conditions enjoyed by all workers could be enjoyed by the members of the Defence Forces, which is the least they deserve. There is a lack of respect for the Defence Forces and the leave entitlement issue is just another example. I am interested in hearing the comments that the Minister of State will make.

I thank Senator Gallagher for raising this matter, which I am taking on behalf of the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Kehoe, who, as a super junior Minister, sits at Cabinet. The Taoiseach has full responsibility for defence matters and sits at the Cabinet table so such matters are well covered.

Defence Force Regulations, DFR, A11, governs the granting of leave, other than sick leave, in the Permanent Defence Force.

As part of normal personnel management, the granting of annual leave is a balance between the entitlement of the individual to annual leave and the requirement to ensure continuity of a public service. Paragraph 16 of DFR A11 provides for the carrying forward of annual leave, not granted or availed of in the leave year concerned. This can be of benefit both to the individual and the organisation. Officers may be allowed to carry forward a maximum of 24 days, non-commissioned officers and privates in the Army and Air Corps a maximum of 19 days, and non-commissioned officers and ordinary or able seamen of the Naval Service a maximum of 24 days. In addition, members are entitled to Defence Force holidays, which include all public holidays along with the 1916 Commemoration day, 11 July and 15 August. The Minister is also authorised to grant such other days, usually in the form of additional days leave at Easter and Christmas, such as Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday, to the Defence Forces to reflect the leave allowable to other public servants who work on a five-day a week basis.

A request to increase the number of carryover days has been considered. The current carryover has been found to be proportionate and reasonable. I have been advised by Department of Defence officials that three plenary summonses have been taken by members of the Defence Forces in relation to the transposition of the working time directive and the carryover of annual leave. Given that these matters are before the courts it would be inappropriate to comment further on the legal proceedings which have been commenced in this matter.

The conciliation and arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force, PDF, provides a formal mechanism for the PDF representative associations, RACO and PDFORRA, to engage with the official side. The purpose of the scheme is to provide a means for the determination of claims and proposals from the associations relating to remuneration and conditions of service. It is open to the representative associations to submit claims to the official side in relation to matters falling within the conciliation and arbitration scheme. Generally, claims relate to pay and conditions, award of allowances etc. When submitted, these claims are generally the subject of negotiations and where agreement is not reached it is open to both sides to seek the assistance of an adjudicator to settle the matter.

The Minister has received representations from PDFORRA seeking to have access to the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court made available to it in the event of any future legislative changes being made to provide An Garda Síochána with access to same. The proposals in relation to An Garda Síochána being granted such access will require detailed legislative change and the Department of Justice and Equality has established a working group to examine in detail what future legislative changes are required. While present arrangements have worked well, it is intended to review the conciliation and arbitration scheme and the Minister has agreed that this should happen towards the end of this year. This review will be informed by any future arrangements to be made for An Garda Síochána.

I understand that this is not the brief of the Minister of State but thank him for his contribution. I am sure he appreciates that the matter needs to be addressed and I would welcome any measures on the part of the Minister for Defence to move it forward for the benefit of all.

Electricity Transmission Network

I raise this matter with the post-Brexit era in mind and in view of the difficulties we are facing. There are many issues with which we must deal. Some of them are complex and some are not of our making but their resolution will be very tricky and may take some time, both for the UK and European sides. There are some, however, which I believe can be resolved quite early and quite simply, one of which is energy security. Ireland is largely reliant on energy imports from the UK and, while I hope this continues, it would be prudent to secure our supply by looking further afield into the European Union. The easiest way to do this is by the completion of the Celtic Interconnector. The EU designation of this project as one of common interest, meaning it has been allocated 50% of funding in the past week, is welcome and we need to grab the bull by the horns and bring the project to fruition as quickly as possible. We need to work with our counterparts in France and the wider EU so that we will have the option of getting an energy supply from France as well as the UK.

I ask the Minister to outline what stage the application is at for the foreshore licence to land the line in Ireland, and what dealings have been held by EirGrid and its French counterparts in RTE. How is the Government working with its counterparts in France and the European Commission to bring this project to fruition?

I thank Senator Richmond for giving me the opportunity to discuss what is a potentially very important electricity infrastructure project, particularly so now in the context of Brexit. I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten.

Interconnection is viewed as critical infrastructure by the European Commission in order to move to a genuinely integrated electricity market. This is reflected in national policy through the White Paper on energy, published in December 2015. The Celtic Interconnector is a €1 billion electricity interconnector jointly proposed by EirGrid and its French counterparts, the French transmission system operator, Reseau de Transport d’Électricité, RTÉ. It is proposed as a 500 MW to 700 MW high-voltage direct current line that will run from the north-west coast of France to Ireland’s south coast, coming onshore at either Cork, Waterford or Wexford. At this scale it would be able to provide electricity for some 450,000 homes.

In July 2016, together with the Taoiseach and the then President of France, François Hollande, the Minister, Deputy Naughten, was present at the signing of a memorandum of understanding between EirGrid and RTE. This marked the completion of the feasibility phase of the project and was an agreement between the two organisations to move to the current phase.

The feasibility phase of the project was a two-year process, part funded by the EU’s connecting Europe facility, CEF, programme. It concluded in mid-2016. A suite of marine surveys and marine engineering studies was carried out, as well as the identification of possible landing sites and preliminary economic and other assessments. This phase provided the information required to determine that there was sufficient justification for EirGrid and RTE to proceed to the current phase of the project. This current phase of the project comprises an indepth economic assessment of the project, technical and environmental studies and pre-consultation in preparation for permit granting procedures in France and Ireland. Last month the project was awarded further funding of €4 million from the CEF to support the delivery of this phase of the project. Around the middle of next year EirGrid and RTE are expected to seek regulatory approval for the development of the project, with a final investment decision to be taken in 2020. The construction of the project would be expected to be completed circa 2025.

The Celtic Interconnector project has the potential to provide a reliable high-capacity electricity link between Ireland and France that would have significant benefits for the people of Ireland. The project would provide access to the European electricity market, leading to expected increased competition and lower prices in Ireland. It would also improve security of electricity supply and facilitate increased capacity for renewable energy here via access to the mainland European market. As the Senator said, in the context of Brexit it is hugely important that we have an additional interconnector to the one we have with the UK. I hope we will see progress on it and that it can be provided for by 2025.

Sitting suspended at 11 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.