Departments split over proposed mental hospital move to prison site

A SPLIT has emerged between the Departments of Health and Justice over the future location of the Central Mental Hospital (CMH).

The Department of Health is insisting the redeveloped CMH should not be identified with a new prison complex.

Last August, it emerged Justice Minister Michael McDowell was proposing moving the CMH, currently located in Dundrum, south Dublin, to a 100-acre site, incorporating a new Mountjoy prison complex.

In a statement yesterday, the Department of Health said it “fully agreed” with the views of families and carers that the hospital should not be associated with a prison complex.

Last week, the State-appointed Irish Human Rights Commission said it was “gravely concerned” at the proposal to move the CMH to a prison site and said this could “undermine” the rights of mentally ill people.

The CMH, the only centre which provides services to mentally ill prisoners, is managed and funded by the Department of Health.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health yesterday said it was considering proposals for the development of a new CMH.

She said the majority of submissions had come from within the prison service.

“Accordingly, ease of access between the main Dublin prisons and the hospital would be of importance and the Department understands that the location of the hospital adjacent to a prison would have operational benefits for the prison service.”

But she added: “On the other hand, it must be borne in mind that the Central Mental Hospital is a therapeutic, healthcare facility. The Department fully agrees with families and carers who feel that it would not be desirable that the hospital be perceived as, or closely identified with, a prison complex. This Department will be asking officials in the Department (of Justice) to consider how the matter might be progressed to the mutual benefit of both services.”

The proposal has been strongly criticised by medical staff at the hospital, Schizophrenia Ireland and the Irish Penal Reform Trust.

A spokesman for Mr McDowell yesterday said there was “no intention” to locate a mental hospital within the new prison complex.

He added: “However, the Department of Justice and the Department of Health are in agreement as regards the potential benefits of having a relocated Central Mental Hospital adjacent to the site of the proposed new prison complex.”

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