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Leaders' Questions (Continued)

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 802 No. 1

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The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny People made the point very vociferously that every national government was reducing its individual budget in order to get its own circumstances into better shape. Any additional proposals or policies should be in addition to the central decisions made by the European Council. It is really important that people see that the decisions made are followed through, as I said in respect of the decision of 29 June last to break the link between sovereign and bank debt. That means banking union in its three different sectors. One of these is now virtually in place. The second area, bank resolution, is being discussed, and the third deals with deposits and a Europe-wide guarantee. These are central to an efficient European banking system and they are not easy because they are technically complex. That is what European leadership and politics should involve. We would be very happy to hear of anything else that comes along if it is additional to and of benefit to that process.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams The most recent statistics indicate that every year more than 800 citizens lose their lives to suicide across this island. Last year the statistic was 525 in this State and 289 in the North; these do not include attempted suicides or people who self-harm. I know the Taoiseach has had personal experience of how this has affected people in this Dáil. Hardly a day goes by in which some family does not have to come to terms with the shock of losing a loved one through suicide.

There is concern that some suicide might be linked to cyberbullying. What steps is the Government taking to curb cyberbullying? We know - and it is to be applauded - that substantial resources have been made available to tackle the carnage on our roads, but now three times as many people die every year by suicide as die on the roads. The model and approach of the Road Safety Authority could be adapted, with the use of a similar authority to tackle the suicide crisis. We need to ensure there is counselling, that there are more resources and that education and information are provided for those in distress and to allow everyone else to recognise the signs so that they can help those who have difficulties in their lives and encourage people to talk.

In budget 2012 the Government told us that €35 million had been ring-fenced for 414 mental health service staff, yet by the end of last year only 62 of those staff were in place. The Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for mental health services, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, said she was appalled by this. When will all the staff be in place, and what happened to the €35 million that was supposed to be ring-fenced for mental health services?

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny Deputy Adams raises an issue that is particularly sensitive for many families and people. It is an issue that Deputy Dan Neville raised in this House for 20 years when he was in opposition. I do not have the actual figures in front of me but as far as I am aware, those who were to be recruited using the moneys voted for recruitment of psychologists and qualified personnel to work in this area have all been recruited but for a few in particular categories that may not be available here and for whom it may be necessary to advertise internationally. I will get the figures on this for Deputy Adams, because I asked for them this morning. The Minister of State with responsibility for mental health services, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, has been heavily involved in all of this work. The commitment of €35 million of ring-fenced moneys was made for this purpose and for a range of activities dealing with community mental health teams in adult and child mental health services.

The Deputy makes a valid point about the difficulty of bullying, particularly cyberbullying, and he is aware that the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children held hearings on this and is preparing a report on its impact and how it might be dealt with. The causes of suicide are many and difficult to determine, be they pressure or depression, financial problems, alcohol abuse, relationships or whatever. The tragic result is very difficult for people to understand. As one person said to me some time ago, "For the rest of our lives we will ask: was there something we should have seen? Was there something we should have known? Was there an issue that we should have addressed?" I know from talking to people across the country that there is a great deal of assistance and understanding available for those who find themselves in a pressurised situation in one way or another. The staff that were to be recruited have all been recruited except for a few, and I believe the services have to look to other areas for the categories of speciality they need. I will send the figures to the Deputy.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams I look forward to receiving those figures, but by the end of last year only 62 of those 414 staff positions had been filled, which is a huge gap. The Taoiseach spoke earlier about the need for leaders to deliver. This issue is above party politics. I knew of the work of Deputy Neville before I came into the Dáil, when I was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly and worked on this issue. It is a national crisis, and what do we do about a national crisis? We put in place structures and strategies to reduce the crisis. That is why I am advocating the establishment of an authority similar to the RSA. I am not talking about a quango or another tier of bureaucracy but an agency to focus on and educate people, to give information to help them to know the signs and be able to help, and to educate people to talk to someone. This is crucial to dealing with this issue. I am sure the Taoiseach will agree with me when I applaud those in the community and voluntary sector and in charitable organisations, as well as those in the very slimmed-down mental health service who work on this issue. Yesterday 4,000 people took part in a cycle against suicide. All of this work needs back-up. People want to resolve this issue but it needs to be backed up by resources and Government action. The Taoiseach is not sure of the figures and that is fair enough. I am not making a point about that, but can he give a firm commitment on when these 414 mental health staff will be in place? Does he agree that because suicide knows no borders, we need a joined-up, all-island approach to this issue?

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I do. Sometimes one gets so much paper that one misses the page one should have. I have the numbers here for the 2012 mental health posts: 339 posts were filled, and in 42 cases posts have been accepted but those concerned are awaiting clearance from the Garda vetting unit. There are two positions for which candidates have been accepted and there are 20 that could not be filled in a permanent capacity, 17 of which are psychologist posts at staff grade. It will be necessary to inquire further afield to find persons of suitable experience to take up those positions.

The Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, secured €35 million for mental health services staff, the majority of whom are in place. The budget for 2013 allocated a further €35 million, which will include an additional 470 posts. These will be advertised soon.

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