Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Housing Mentally Handicapped People.

Liam Kavanagh

Ceist:

6 Mr. Kavanagh asked the Minister for the Environment if he has any plans to review or amend any existing planning legislation with a view to preventing unreasonable obstacles being put in the way of efforts to accommodate people with a mental handicap in the community; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The Planning Acts are relevant to accommodating people with mental handicap in the community only in so far as this might involve development within the meaning of those Acts, whether by way of new construction or by virtue of a material change of use. While planning law does not appear to have given rise to problems for the policy of integration up to now, I will review the situation in the light of recent cases to see what changes, if any, may be desirable.

I thank the Minister for his promise to review housing for mentally handicapped people. In the social housing programme set out in the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, there is not any reference to this category of people and how they can be assisted by a local authority. While this Bill is going through the House will the Minister make an appropriate change to allow the mentally handicapped to be accommodated in their health board areas without being obstructed by people who are obviously less concerned for them than the Minister and I?

There may not be a need to make any changes in the Bill to implement the plan for social housing. As the Deputy knows it covers many areas, including the voluntary sector. I would be concerned if obstacles continued to be put in the way of accommodating the mentally handicapped. General policy is to try to have these people accommodated within the community. It was a new development that any such accommodation would be challenged under the planning laws. I would be more concerned to ensure that developments like that do not relieve local health authorities and the local community of the obligation to find adequate accommodation for mentally handicapped people within their communities. Any action I think necessary in the Bill or elsewhere will be taken to ensure they get a fair deal.

I should like to inform the Minister that there is urgency in the matter. While the Minister is considering the legislation, will he let his views and his concern for this category of people be known to local and planning authorities?

Yes. I have no hesitation, in general terms, about making my views known to the local authorities. The Deputy will appreciate that when it comes to planning applications no matter how much I might disagree, people have a constitutional right to object. I would like greater consideration to be given to how we should approach these problems. There should be less consideration for matters that seem to revolve around selfishness as distinct from our social and natural obligations in this area.