Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach Gníomhach as ucht an deis a bheith i measc na Seanadóirí ar an ócáid speisialta seo. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important discussion on the Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2016 brought forward by Senator Joan Freeman as it concludes its journey through the Seanad before being taken to the Dáil. I am reminded of the fact that I spent five years on the back benches as a Deputy, during which time I published a number of Bills, one of which reached Committee Stage. Unfortunately, it never got as far as Senator Joan Freeman's in just two years. I congratulate her on doing so. There is no mystery to how she has managed to progress her Bill. Initially, she had very fixed ideas, but she and I had numerous discussions subsequently. We were ably assisted by the officials who worked in the mental health unit, including Mr. Gerry Steadman. They guided and enlightened us and the Senator had the capacity to be flexible. She also took on board suggestions and acknowledged difficulties as they arose. Perhaps that is what I lacked when I was a back bench Deputy.
As Senator Joan Freeman and other Senators will appreciate, the Bill proposes to amend section 4 of the Mental Health Act 2001. I was here yesterday for the passage of the Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2017 tabled by Deputy James Browne. As Senators will be aware, that Bill radically amends and alters section 4 of the 2001 Act and the legislation is on its way to Áras an Uachtaráin to be signed by the President. Therefore, we are in a grey area in terms of where we can proceed, but I will bring forward some amendments to the Bill in the Dáil. I will continue to do what I have done to date, as I know the Senator will, and work with her in a spirit of co-operation and collaboration.
In dealing with mental health issues the good thing is that we all recognise no one has a monopoly of wisdom on how to resolve them or knows what is the right thing to do. Senator Joan Freeman has brought her Bill through the Upper House of the Oireachtas. However, her biggest achievement has been shining a light on a very difficult and challenging issue for many, be it patients, their anxious families and the clinicians who work on the front line to provide mental health care. Mental health issues are extraordinarily difficult to deal with and the first reaction of everybody was that one could not be black and white and legislate and tie people's hands behind their backs. The Senator readily agreed and accepted this as a truism, but she was not prepared to give up. In fact, she maintained her focus and established a new way by developing protocols, guidelines and best practice. At the same time she recognised that each case was individual and that clinicians needed a certain degree of autonomy when providing care. I congratulate her on two fronts. First, she shone a light on a difficult issue and brought it to the fore. Second, she ensured we kept a healthy tension or pull and drag between Departments, me and her and the system. In fact, we have managed to come up with this legislation which is an example of solution-led politics. This Dáil has been branded as the "do nothing Dáil" and people have made glib remarks, but this legislation proves that it is not a do nothing Dáil or Seanad. Collectively, we have made real and tangible progress following a lot of work. I again congratulate the Senator and thank her for her co-operation to date.
I look forward to continuing to work with Senator Freeman to progress this Bill through the Houses as speedily and efficiently as we can to ensure we get to the place where we all want to be in the best interests of patients.
I would love to address the various issues raised by Senator Murnane O'Connor, but a Report Stage debate would not be the appropriate setting to do so. I suggest to the Senator and her colleagues on the Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care that a question and answer session would be a fluid way of dealing with some of these issues. During debates like this, we hear statements from the relevant Minister or Minister of State followed by comments from Senators and a concluding statement. A question and answer session at the committee or in this House would be helpful and I would be happy to proceed on that basis.