Dáil debates

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Public Health, Well-being and National Drugs Strategy: Statements


4:15 pm

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)

I am. Is the Minister of State aware of the closure yesterday, out of the blue, of the Cara Lodge Residential Treatment Centre, run by the Matt Talbot Adolescent Services in Ahiohill in Clonakilty in west Cork? This was a free residential centre with a programme for 14 to 18-year-old males with substance misuse issues. The centre had a capacity for six young people and they could remain there for up to 12 weeks. It was an ideal setting in a tranquil part of west Cork. It gave those young people the space they needed to make decisions, aided and assisted by professional staff who, in so many cases, cared for them until they regained their full health. Many past residents of the centre have acknowledged that they would not be here today except for this centre in Ahiohill in west Cork.

I was informed today by loyal staff in west Cork of the shocking way in which they were told of the closure. One minute they were heading to get further training yesterday morning and the next they were stopped and told that it was all over and that they should go home. Some of those staff have given up to 20 years loyal service in this centre. They are highly trained and delivered a structured and diverse treatment programme. The closure of this centre and the loss of 19 jobs in west Cork is a major blow to places such as Clonakilty, Bandon, Ballinascarty, Ahiohill, Enniskeane, Ballineen and beyond. The loss of 19 jobs in west Cork is similar to the loss of 150 jobs in Dublin. It appears that these staff are being very shoddily treated as well, with just statutory redundancy being provided.

We have two problems. Young people desperately need such a centre and the staff desperately need their jobs. Did the HSE have a role in what happened? I cannot answer that question. There were supposed to have been reports, but they are not being published. We need reports to be published immediately. This building in Ahiohill was kindly donated to a Christian Brother, Brother Rock, several years ago and he subsequently passed it on. The public surely has the right to ask the board what the plan is for this building. More importantly, however, will the Minister of State intervene in this situation and meet with the board, and let us do all that we can in west Cork to save this vital service and save these jobs?

While I have the floor, I will comment on the necessity of examining the issue of medicinal cannabis licences. Deputy Gino Kenny is a far better expert in discussing this matter than I am. The Deputy has done Trojan work in the area over the years. The successful use of medicinal cannabis has been well documented by Vera Twomey. She has not only championed the cause of her daughter, Ava, but has also been a champion for tens of thousands of other people suffering with severe pain. The worry for those very few who have access to medicinal cannabis from the Netherlands is that the licence is being deemed temporary. That is an extremely worrying word for those patients who desperately require this life-saving product.

I ask the Minister of State to intervene and make this licence permanent for those already covered by it. People could then get back to their normal lives and would not have to worry about access to this product being stopped. Addressing this situation should not stop there, however. The Minister of State could go one step further. Thousands of people in pain need medicinal cannabis, and it is being denied to them. The previous Government did everything in its power to deny access to desperately ill people. Only for people like Vera Twomey, no one would have access to medicinal cannabis in Ireland. However, no mother should be made to walk hundreds of miles, sleep outside the Dáil, or be forced to travel the length and breadth of our country to fight for a medicine that should be freely available, in the same way as any other medicine in any pharmacy. The Minister of State is new to his role and we will know in the months to come if he can be different to his predecessors, who have failed miserably on this issue. I ask that this matter be placed at the top of the Minister of State's agenda.

This debate is about public health, and I do not want to let the opportunity pass without speaking about Bantry General Hospital. I mentioned the issue of a full-time anaesthesiologist in that hospital several times to the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, and to his predecessor, Deputy Harris. It is a vitally important position. In the last six months, we have been told that an increasing number of people who have a fall on the Beara, Mizen, and Sheepshead peninsulas, as well as in surrounding areas such as Bantry and Skibbereen, have been told by the National Ambulance Service that they must go to Cork University Hospital. This is outrageous and cannot continue. We need to know if a full-time anaesthesiologist is being appointed to Bantry General Hospital.

In my final few seconds, I must take issue with what Deputy Ó Ríordáin said earlier. He referred to so much time being spent on talking about pubs and drinking. We put forward a motion, in the same way that his party could have put forward a motion, against the statutory instrument signed last week by the Minister for Health. The leader of the Labour Party said it was bonkers. Deputy Ó Ríordáin was critical of the time we spent discussing the issue. Another Deputy from his party discussed the issue here yesterday and spent time praising public houses. Deputy Ó Ríordáin can certainly put forward Bills against drug use if he wants to and if he is strong enough within his own party - maybe he is not - to do so. He should not, however, criticise others who have democracy on their side and who have good intentions in trying to open public houses to try and get our country back up and running again.


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