Mental Health Tribunal member under scrutiny after joining anti-mask rally

Barrister Una McGurk holds two quasi-judicial roles on State bodies

 A protester is detained  during an anti-lockdown and anti-facemask protest outside the Custom House over the weekend. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

A protester is detained during an anti-lockdown and anti-facemask protest outside the Custom House over the weekend. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

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A senior counsel appointed to the Mental Health Tribunal, which decides on the detention of mentally ill patients, is facing scrutiny over her appearance at an anti-mask, anti-lockdown rally on Saturday.

Barrister Una McGurk occupies two quasi-judicial positions, one on the Mental Health Tribunal and one on the International Protection Appeals Tribunal (Ipat) which decides on the refugee status of asylum seekers.

At Saturday’s rally she spoke alongside members of the anti-immigration Irish Freedom Party. The rally was attended by a large number of far-right activists, including members of the National Party who displayed a banner reading “Ireland for the Irish”.

It was organised by Health Freedom Ireland, which has described itself as a wholly non-political organisation and Yellow Vest Ireland, which frequently demands stricter immigration rules.

On Monday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he does not believe Ms McGurk’s appearance at the protest is compatible with membership of Ipat. Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has requested a report on the matter from Ipat.

A spokeswoman for Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said he has been made aware of Una McGurk’s appearance at the rally and has requested information from the Mental Health Commission. Photograph: Tom Honan / The Irish Times
A spokeswoman for Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly (above) said he has been made aware of Una McGurk’s appearance at the Dublin rally. Photograph: Tom Honan / The Irish Times

A spokeswoman for Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said he has also been made aware of Ms McGurk’s appearance at the rally and has requested information from the Mental Health Commission (MHC), an independent body which appoints members to Mental Health Tribunals.

The commission said it is “aware that a member of one of its tribunal panels attended a public gathering in Dublin on Saturday, August 22nd, 2020 relating to the wearing of face masks and Covid-19”.

It said it is “dealing with this matter” and it would not be appropriate to comment further “until it has considered the matter fully.”

A spokesman for the commission said it “fully supports all public health advice issued by the National Public Health Emergency Team and the Government to protect the public from the effects of Covid-19”.

‘Fake pandemic’

Ms McGurk said she was preparing a statement but had yet to respond to requests for comment by last night.

A review of the barrister’s YouTube and social media profiles shows she frequently repeats debunked or highly controversial views on medical science and has called Covid-19 “a fake pandemic”.

She has shared posts from the Irish Freedom Party and from a far-right YouTuber who has been behind several anti-immigration demonstrations around the country.

In one video, Ms McGurk stated coronavirus is no more dangerous than flu, that social distancing is useless and that face masks are dangerous to people’s health. She also stated Ireland has already achieved herd immunity.

On vaccines, Ms McGurk said they have been shown to contain fetal and “corona dog tissue” (lab grown tissue derived from human fetuses is used in some vaccines).

In another video, she shares and praises a film from a conspiracy theory group which calls 5G “a military weapon” and falsely states it has never been safety tested.

However, none of Ms McGurk’s public statements relate to immigration or mental health. Her speech at Saturday’s rally did not mention either subject and focused on opposition to mandatory face mask rules.

Controversial views

Ms McGurk’s role as a chairwoman of mental health tribunals involves reviewing, alongside a psychiatrist and a lay person, medical evidence supporting the involuntary detention of mentally ill people in secure settings before voting on that person’s continued detention.

People who have worked with Ms McGurk told The Irish Times they are not aware of any concerns in relation to her work as a tribunal chair but expressed surprise she would publicly share such controversial views on medical matters given her position.

Legal colleagues also said they are not aware of McGurk expressing concerning views in her role in hearing refugee appeals. One barrister said she has a reputation for being compassionate towards asylum seekers.

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