The ministers of health and justice are “committed” to implementing recommendations of a government task force on diverting people with mental health or addiction issues from prisons and improving their level of care.
The departments said that a steering committee across the two agencies has been set up to drive implementation of the 67 recommendations of the High Level Task Force (HLTF) on mental health, addiction and the criminal justice system.
The statement comes after the head of the task force, former Labour TD for Cork North-Central, Kathleen Lynch, said the task force shared the “same worries” about implementation of the report that have been aired by various people.
Speaking at a seminar in UCC last Thursday, she said the task force wanted implementation of the report to be given to an office with the sole purpose of ensuring its implementation.
The 230-page report, published last September, called for significant changes across various government departments and State bodies in the treatment of people with mental health and addiction issues who commit crimes.
Ms Lynch said that her concerns about implementation was not due to lack of will among the relevant ministers or the departments but due to how the matter was going to get on the agenda in departments that were constantly responding to crises.
In response, the Department of Health said both the Health Minister Stephen Donnelly and Minister of State for Mental Health Mary Butler were committed to working with the Minister for Justice to implement the recommendations.
It said a “joint steering committee” between the departments had been set up, jointly chaired by assistant commissioners from the two departments – which reports directly to the ministers. It said monitoring was done at “national, cross-departmental level to provide drive and momentum to implementation”.
It said representatives of key agencies, such as the Gardaí and the Irish Prison Service, can be asked to attend and provide updates. “The first meeting of the Steering Group was held in December last year and another is planned in the coming weeks,” it said.
It said many of the recommendations dovetail with those from other Government strategies, such as Sláintecare, Connecting for Life, and Sharing the Vision. The Department of Justice said the report included an implementation plan, with time frames of 18 months, three years and five years.
Ms Lynch said the task force had "the same worries about implementation" other people had, though she believed the departments were committed to it.
"But, there’s a crisis in the Department of Health every day," she said. "I've been there, I know. There's a crisis in the Department of Justice every week, whether it's staff shortages, whether it's an incident. So where is the space then for this? Who is going to drive this on?”
Budgetary issues were also raised at the seminar.
Commenting, the Department of Health said: “It should be noted that delivery systems and budgetary process can vary between countries when it comes to health and personal social care services. The focus on mental health improvements in Ireland through a variety of funding mechanisms and service structures renders an exact comparison to other countries difficult.”