Taoiseach had ‘neck’ to go on Canadian Darkness into Light walk, says Senator

Joan Freeman strongly criticises cutback in mental health funding

Up to 200,000 people participated in Darkness into Light events across the country last Saturday morning. Photograph:  ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

Up to 200,000 people participated in Darkness into Light events across the country last Saturday morning. Photograph: ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

 

Independent Senator Joan Freeman has said she was surprised the Taoiseach had the “neck’’ to go on a mental health walk given the cutback in funding for the sector.

Ms Freeman highlighted in the Seanad Mr Kenny’s participation in the Darkness into Light event in Canada on Saturday morning during his visit to the country. “It was shown around the world that he was participating in the walk,’’ she told the Seanad. “As the leader of the country, does he not see it as a little ironic, or quite funny in some ways, that he did this after sanctioning the cuts in the mental health budget?’’

Freedom of Information documents released to The Irish Times revealed Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, in correspondence with the Taoiseach, had criticised Mr Kenny’s failure to adhere to an agreement on the mental health budget.

While €35 million was set aside for mental health services, Mr Martin said this actually translated to €15 million in funding allocation.

Ms Freeman, one of three Taoiseach nominees to the Seanad chosen by Mr Martin, said the reduction was grossly unfair.

“As usual, the mental health service is the Cinderella when it comes to dealing with all of the social issues,” she added.

“It is always the one from which money is removed and used as a stopgap in some other area that the Taoiseach wishes to fill.”

Ms Freeman, who is a psychologist and founder of Pieta House suicide prevention charity, thanked members of the Oireachtas who had participated in the Darkness into Light event in Ireland.

“Up to 200,000 people participated in events across the country last Saturday morning and I thank all those who took part,” she added.

However, she said, the dramatic cut in the mental health budget was still a problem. “I keep bringing up the issue all the time,” she said.

Ms Freeman said when Mr Martin raised the matter, the Taoiseach said Minister of State for Health Helen McEntee, “who has no power whatsoever”, would meet the Fianna Fáil spokesman to resolve the issue.

She said the Taoiseach should meet Mr Martin and she would also like to be at the meeting to tell the truth about what was happening.