Seanad debates

Thursday, 1 February 2007

3:00 pm

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Power, to the House and thank him for being present to reply to this matter. This issue arises from an initiative of Killarney Town Council, which I am more than happy to support, which believes 30 acres of the HSE lands in question should be used to accommodate social housing together with facilities for a number of voluntary social care and sporting organisations.

The availability and price of land in the Killarney area makes it extremely difficult to provide for all of those who are currently on the council's housing list. These lands are ideally placed for such housing and the council has already indicated to the HSE its willingness to acquire as much of this land as possible. Perhaps the Minister of State is in a position to indicate the timetable of the phased closure of St Finan's. People in Killarney and Kerry are strongly of the view that these lands should remain in public ownership for the common good because they were handed over at the stroke of a pen from Kerry County Council to the former health board when it was statutorily set up.

The Government has paid much lip service to the securing of lands in State ownership which are surplus to requirements for much needed social and affordable housing. This is a laudable aim but we need to do more to live up to this objective. There is an ideal opportunity to put in place a suitable, substantial housing programme to facilitate Killarney's urgent housing needs now and into the future.

The Minister will be aware of the St. Finan's community action group which has been in touch with her. It comprises a number of very worthy and meritorious organisations such as MS South Kerry, the Wheelchair Association, the Association for the Blind and Kerry Care, the Order of Malta ambulance corps and the two sporting organisations, Killarney Rugby Club and Killarney Judo Club. They have also put forward a number of useful suggestions which have a lot of merit and would require very little space to house their organisations and allow them to carry out their work in suitable premises. The Order of Malta simply needs sufficient space to house three ambulances and to provide training facilities for its own members.

A good and useful proposal has been made to the effect that doctors and chemists will require a health care centre to be on-site. There is no reason this meritorious proposal would not be viable with the town council and St Finan's community action group proposals that a sufficient extra portion of these lands be retained for the public good, especially the provision of social and affordable housing.

Photo of Seán PowerSeán Power (Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I will reply to this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. I thank Senator Coghlan for raising the matter.

The HSE has informed the Department that St. Finan's Hospital campus, which was referred to by the Senator, measures approximately 55 acres in total with approximately 43 acres sited to the south of the Ring Road in Killarney and the remainder to the north of the road. Currently, mental health services are provided from accommodation within the St. Finan's Hospital building. It is planned to transfer these services to new purpose built accommodation over the next two years. The HSE's plans for the campus involve a range of health care facilities in order to provide modern accommodation to meet the current and future health needs of the population of Killarney and its surrounding areas. The plans include the development of a primary care centre and headquarters for HSE services provided to the population of Killarney and East Kerry.

The St. Finan's building itself, and some curtilage — an area of land to make the building saleable — has been identified as surplus to requirements and will be disposed of when the building has been vacated. The HSE has advised that no actual date has been set for the sale of the St. Finan's building at this time. The HSE is in discussions with the local authority concerning the possibility of the disposal of some of the site to facilitate affordable housing. The HSE has informed the Department that the remaining lands are required for the development of HSE facilities and services and are not available for disposal to provide sporting facilities.

The report of the expert group on mental health policy, A Vision for Change, which was launched last year, outlines an exciting vision of the future for mental health services in Ireland and sets out a framework for action to achieve it over the next seven to ten years. The expert group report found that, "Mental hospitals have been the mainstay of mental health services in Ireland for many years. However, the type of person-centred, recovery-oriented care recommended cannot be provided in institutions of this size or environment". On that basis, the group recommended that steps be taken to bring about the closure of all the remaining psychiatric hospitals which are a legacy of a bygone age and to re-invest the resources released by these closures in the mental health services.

The Health Service Executive has indicated that it anticipates the closure of psychiatric hospitals and the reinvestment of the proceeds in modern, replacement facilities to take place on a phased basis. It has also emphasised that hospitals can close only when the clinical needs of the remaining patients have been addressed in more appropriate settings such as additional community residences, day hospitals and day centres together with a substantial increase in the number of well-trained, fully staffed, community-based multidisciplinary mental health teams.

The implementation of the recommendations will be a matter primarily for the Health Service Executive which has established an implementation group to ensure the recommendations are realised in a timely and co-ordinated manner. An independent monitoring group was established to monitor progress on the implementation of A Vision for Change.

The Government has already commenced implementation of this strategy and provided €26.2 million in funding in 2006 for this purpose. A further €25 million has been made available in 2007.

I assure the Senator that the Government is fully committed to the implementation of the national mental health strategy, A Vision for Change, as the basis for the future development of our mental health services.