Mental health campaigners say they are "deeply concerned" at the high numbers of people with mental health issues in Garda custody.
They have called for urgent changes in the law so that children with mental disorders are brought to a medical facility and not to a Garda station in crisis situations.
Groups representing people with intellectual disabilities want more training for gardaí to recognise and understand such disabilities and said the idea of having an “advocate” available in stations should be considered.
The calls follow the publication of an extensive report by the Garda Inspectorate on people held in Garda custody.
In an examination of custody records over the course of a year, it found that 25% in custody had poor mental health or had engaged in self-harm; 48% had consumed or had a dependency on alcohol, drugs, or both; and 14% had drug or alcohol issues as well as poor mental health.
The inspectorate also said that 5% were identified as having a learning disability.
The report added: “In addition, 20% of the people in custody spoken to by the Inspectorate disclosed that they had poor mental health or a learning difficulty.”
The 188-page report expressed concerns regarding the treatment of children and vulnerable adults, including during searches.
In addition, the inspectorate said that more than 2,000 adults and 60 children were taken into Garda custody under section 12 of the Mental Health Act 2001 during the period studied (July 2018 to June 2019).
This is where the individuals are suffering from a mental disorder and deemed likely to cause immediate and serious harm to themselves or others.
Under the provision, they must be brought to a Garda station first, rather than to a medical facility, even though they may not have committed a criminal offence.
The inspectorate said that a recommendation made by an expert group some seven years ago — that gardaí should be given the power to bring a child believed to be suffering from a mental disorder to a suitable medical facility for assessment — has still not been implemented.
“The findings in the Garda Inspectorate report are deeply concerning,” said Fiona Coyle, CEO of Mental Health Reform.
She said a Garda station is “a completely unsuitable environment” for children and adults experiencing psychological distress.
“There is an urgent need to divert people with mental health difficulties from custody towards appropriate supportive environments. This will require strengthened co-ordination, improved referral pathways, and training and supports for An Garda Síochána.”
She said the Mental Health Act is outdated and significantly out of line with international human rights standards.
There are 41 recommendations in the inspectorate’s report for An Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice.
In a statement last week, Justice Minister Helen McEntee said the Garda Síochána (Powers) Bill “will address” many of the recommendations directed at her department.
Asked specifically about changing section 12 of the Mental Health Act, the department said in a further statement that both the justice and health ministers had set up a high level task force last April to consider the mental health and addiction challenges of people interacting with the criminal justice system.