Seanad Éireann - Volume 172 - 16 April, 2003
Central Mental Hospital: Motion.
Dr. Henry Dr. Henry
Dr. Henry: I move:
In view of the proposals by the Department of Finance to raise funds by the sale of some Office of Public Works property, Seanad Éireann calls on the Minister for Finance to apportion the first moneys raised to the building of the long-proposed new Central Mental Hospital at Dundrum in view of the disgraceful conditions under which the patients in the present hospital are kept, despite repeated condemnation by international human rights bodies.
I am delighted to see the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, in the House. He is in charge of the important area of the sale of Government property. The Government does not have any more money of its own. Senator Brian Hayes was giving out during the last debate that I am always saying that the Minister for Finance should come to the House to discuss health matters, as the Minister for Health and Children has no money and the Minister for Finance makes the decisions. In reality, the Minister for Finance has no money of his own. The money he has is ours – it is taxpayers' money. As a compliant taxpayer for 35 years, I like to know what is happening to my money.
Most of the money raised by the State comes from taxpayers. It comes from people like me in the PAYE sector who send in their subscriptions on a regular basis. However, we seem to have little control over what happens to our money. Even if one is a Member of Seanad Éireann, it is very difficult to have much say over what happens with money because money Bills are not looked on in any favourable in the House. One cannot bring forward Private Members' Bills that would involve any cost to the Exchequer. We are, therefore, in quite a weak position, but we have some sort of duty to try to express our opinions on how money is being spent.
Over the years, taxpayers' money has been spent on buying property which is managed, on behalf of the State, by the Office of Public Works. I am sure it is managed very well. From time to time, the Office of Public Works sells various properties and buys others. However, it is not really involved in any major sales. We have made some major purchases such as Farmleigh House, the renovations to which cost a considerable amount. I did not make too many objections to that because I was of the opinion that if it was going to be a useful institution for the State, so be it.
The Department of Finance recently announced that there will be a sale of State property and that the Minister of State will be in charge of this. I am sure he is a very suitable person to be in charge of the sale which, it has been stated, will raise up to €100 million. That is a great deal of money. At the launch of the Office of Public Work's annual report last Monday, the Minister of State said that there are five to six sites of varying values which could be sold to raise this €100 million. I do not expect the Minister of State, for commercial reasons, to provide a list of all the sites he proposes to put forward for sale within the next year or so because that would not help in terms of their final sale price. On the other hand, I would like to know some of those that are going to come up for sale in the near future which will cause no concern on the property market. The Minister of State and the Department of Finance will have ideas about what should be done with the money. However, Members and people in general will also have ideas. It is a great pity that such a small number of people seem to have any input into how this not inconsiderable amount of money from the sale of our property is to be used.
Senator O'Rourke has tabled an amendment to the motion. The property in Lad Lane has been recognised as the first property that the Minister of State is going to put on the market. The amendment to my motion supports the proposal by the Minister of State to use funds raised by the sale of the Office of Public Works property at Lad Lane for a list of what appear to be quite worthy programmes. Why was there no discussion among other Members with regard to where we thought that money could best be spent? I am sure that the National Educational Psychology Service needs money for a regional office to expand its service, but I do not know that it is more worthy than the cause I put forward tonight. Senator O'Rourke's amendment refers to “the purchase of sites for the Garda building programme to accelerate the provision of new Garda stations across the country”. We have already heard that various Garda stations are going to be sold. Would it not be possible to use the money from some of those sales to finance the provision of the new stations to which the amendment refers in order that funding can be provided for projects which some of the rest of us think are important? I feel that very narrow criteria are being used to consider how the money should be spent and that my suggestion is as good as any other. The Minister of State has earmarked Lad Lane for this, but I suggest that we should raise money for a new Central Mental Hospital. Senators Feighan, Mansergh and Quinn may each have projects to which they would prefer the money was given. We are all entitled to further discussions regarding how these moneys are being spent.
The Central Mental Hospital was built in 1852 and, because it has been carefully maintained and is in exactly the same state as when it was built, it is a listed building and cannot be altered. I do not know that this could be described as a great triumph for the State because within that hospital are some very ill people with serious psychiatric diseases who have no hope of improving in such a therapeutic environment. A total of 57 of them sleep on concrete plinths in single cells. I suppose they are not cages because they have walls, but there is no window except at roof level. There is no sanitation, so patients have to defecate and urinate into plastic buckets and slop out every morning. For people in the whole of their health this would be bad enough, but for those who are really ill it is utterly appalling.
It is approximately 20 years since a Minister for Health visited the hospital. Barry Desmond was the last Minister to go there, prior to Deputy Martin's recent visit. Deputy Martin's visit was arranged after it became well known that President McAleese was going to visit the institution. The Minister for Justice Equality and Law Reform also visited the hospital. The Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy O'Malley, promised me in a debate on psychiatric services that he would visit it and he was as good as his word.
The Minister for Health and Children was reported in the paper as saying that the conditions there were “grim, grim”. Good and all as are the Minister of State's projects, I do not believe anyone is saying that there are Garda stations which are “grim, grim” or that the premises of the National Educational Psychology Service are “grim, grim”. Who is responsible for prioritising the way in which the money raised from the sale of State property will be spent?
The plans for this new hospital have been in existence for approximately ten years. It was intended to build it in the grounds of the existing campus at Dundrum. The original cost was estimated at £34 million, but I suppose it would cost much more now. The sale of the Lad Lane property would subscribe at least a third of the price. We introduced in a Mental Health Act last year, but we cannot possibly enforce it because we do not have the necessary resources or facilities. There is a Criminal Insanity Amendment Bill before the House. I pointed out that it was quite impossible to bring this in because the resources are not available to allow us to transport people from the courts to secure hospital instead of to prisons. The Minister for Justice Equality and Law Reform stated that he wants to close down the padded cells in prisons, but where is he going to put the people who inhabit them? I have never seen such fanciful planning in my life in respect of legislation, but it seems to be somewhat prevalent in the Oireachtas.
In England, public private partnerships have been put in place – I am not opposed to anything of this nature – where hospitals are built by the private sector. However, this is a costly process because the institution involved usually has to take out either a mortgage or a lease to pay back the private company and some of its resources have to be spent on repayments. We could do something like that in Dundrum, but this is exactly the sort of thing the amendment indicates that the Minister of State is trying to stop by buying off leaseholds of properties currently occupied by the State on a long-term payment basis in order to reduce the Office of Public Works' ongoing rent roll in the future. That is a line of progress which will not be very good because the Office of Public Works does not want to do it here so I presume it does not want the State doing it in another direction by getting involved in a public private partnership.
I suggest that we ring-fence the money that will accrue from these various sales because I have a horrid suspicion that some of it is going to flow back into the Department of Finance and be used to shore up the deficit or deal with whatever other problems exist. I am sure the projects listed in the amendment are very worthy, but I do not believe they are as worthy that which I have put forward. I also do not believe that Members or anyone else is being granted sufficient input into how this money, which will be raised by the sale of our property, will be distributed.
Mr. Quinn Mr. Quinn
Mr. Quinn: I second the motion.
The Minister of State may be pleased to know that I added my name to this motion for precisely the reasons outlined by Senator Henry. I was involved in the opening of the national lottery in the 1980s. One of things that appealed to me about the national lottery was the battle that went on to ensure that the money from ticket sales did not go into Government funds in order to shore up the deficit or that existed at the time. Accordingly I was happy to add my name to this proposal and to support the ringfencing of the money.
I then read what the Minister of State said during the week and realised that there are State lands with a portfolio value of €2.5 billion, so clearly such sales are likely to happen in the years ahead. Considering that we spent €98 million on rental last year, it clearly makes a great deal of sense not to be paying rent at the same time as we have unused land.
It is logical too for the Minister of State not to declare what is going to be done, because a “fire sale” would then be necessary, where something has to be sold without achieving its commercial value. Senator Henry has asked about the purpose of the Lad Lane sales, and what the money will be used for, and the amendment, which I had not seen until now, expands a little on what I heard. Nobody is going to say these are not worthy causes, but regarding the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum, which the Minister for Health and Children and the Minister of State recently visited – the first Ministers to do so for a long time – there is little doubt that it makes sense to identify that as the really deserving cause.
The Minister recently spoke of his intention to close down the hospital's padded cells, but he also spoke of Shanganagh Castle and his intention to close it. I had never been in a prison until a couple of years ago, when I visited Wheatfield Prison. I went there because I was involved in the curriculum of the new leaving certificate applied. I was impressed with the prison itself, because its governor has managed to make sure that we do not put more people into it than it can handle, unlike Mountjoy and perhaps other prisons where prisoners must share facilities. I was even more impressed with the prison's ability to educate, and one could see that those who had fallen out of the education system were coming back into it in Wheatfield. I was impressed too by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, when, after announcing the closure of Shanganagh Castle, he pointed out that it always had a strong focus on education, and he intended that the money raised from its sale would go to a new closed prison for 16 to 17-year-olds and also to a halfway house for those juveniles when they are freed. This is a perfect instance of ringfencing something for a very good cause.
Senator Henry's proposal if implemented would not establish a precedent. When I became a Member of this House ten years ago I recall being involved in a debate involving the prison service, and asking myself what the purpose of a prison was. One of the answers I came up with was to protect society, another was to act as a deterrent and certainly as a form of punishment. Another answer was rehabilitation. We were talking about normal prisons for normal criminals – but what happens when we come to the mentally ill? That is surely a much bigger challenge, one we must face up to.
The Government's heart is in the right place, going by what the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, has said. The Criminal Law (Insanity) Bill 2002, which will be coming to this House shortly, will set up a mental health review board which will monitor those people detained by virtue of the “not guilty by reason of insanity” clause or the “unfit to be tried” provision. They will monitor them every six months and will then decide what is to be done with them, if they are to be released or sent to court. If the board decides that the people concerned need ongoing care and treatment as in-patients, where are we to put them? We will not have Shanganagh Prison, which is for juveniles. Are we to put them back into the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum?
Senator Henry has visited it and knows the situation. I have not been there, but such a decision would not stand up to reason. We owe something to society, but we also owe something to those people who are criminally mentally ill. If we are to allocate money, I urge the Government that this money should be ringfenced for this purpose. As Senator Henry noted, we all have our favourite areas for this money, but in this case I second Senator Henry's proposal and believe it is worthy of consideration. Not only do we owe it to the State and its citizens to do this, we also owe it to those who are criminally insane and may have no other chance in life than this. I urge the Minister of State to accept Senator Henry's motion.
Dr. Mansergh Dr. Mansergh
Dr. Mansergh: I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words and substitute the following:
“That Seanad Éireann confirms its support for the proposal of the Minister of State at the Department of Finance to use funds raised by the sale of Office of Public Works (OPW) property at Lad Lane in Dublin in the manner set out by him in his recent statement namely: the funding of fit-out works for regional office space taken by Office of Public Works for the National Educational Psychology Service to accelerate the expansion of the service; the purchase of leaseholds of properties currently occupied by the state on a long term/permanent basis to reduce the ongoing Office of Public Works rent roll into the future; the purchase of sites for the Garda building programme to accelerate the provision of new Garda stations across the country; to provide additional funding towards the Garda maintenance programme to improve the working conditions at many Garda stations throughout the country.”
I warmly welcome the Minister of State to the House, fresh from a successful party conference. We have managed to work together very well over the past five or six years and I look forward to doing so in the future, despite any suggestion there may be to the contrary.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss the matter that Senator Henry has brought up. Other colleagues of mine will respond in more detail on the health matters. It is a hybrid motion, relating to finance and health. Nonetheless, on the health aspect, I have no doubt whatsoever of the priority we have to give to the improvement of physical and mental disability services. I am not personally familiar with the Central Mental Hospital but from all I have read about it during the years, and from what I have heard this evening from Senator Henry, it all suggests – without casting any aspersions on the good work there, as I am referring only to the hospital's facilities – that it is not something which in its present state we can be terribly proud of.
I support the spirit of what Senator Henry intends, and I understand that the various authorities in the Eastern Area Health Board, the Departments of Justice Equality and Law Reform and of Health and Children and others have been working together and have produced reports involving plans to refurbish, modernise and extend the hospital building, and indeed to provide a new residence on the campus. It is clear that this is regarded as a priority, and I am sure that when the plans are ready, plans which have in principle been accepted, this will proceed and be given the proper priority.
In my experience of Government, working obviously as a public servant, decisions on spending priorities in different areas are not taken arbitrarily by a few people. A great deal of preparation, study and groundwork goes into such decisions. Government nevertheless does not have a monopoly of wisdom, and it is important to hear from all sides of the Oireachtas what particular priorities are.
Having some finance background, I would be temperamentally opposed to ringfencing appropriations that come from one area and transferring them to another. The Office of Public Works, which at one time had a particular reputation, in recent years enjoys a very high reputation in Government as being a very efficient and dynamic organisation. It has had resources in the past ten or 12 years which it did not have before and it has done an enormous amount of good work in the management and refurbishing of property. We see the effects in, for example, refurbished courthouses. A comment was made earlier in this debate regarding improvements that have been made in prisons, and we need such improvements in the areas that Senator Henry has spoken about too. From my experience of working with successive Taoisigh, whose Department has maintained close contact with the Office of Public Works, I am aware of the significant amount of work carried out by the Office of Public Works on refurbishing and cleaning up these premises, Government Buildings and other locations around the country. However, I have to disagree with Senator Henry on one point. Many Garda stations are in an unsatisfactory condition.
Dr. Henry Dr. Henry
Dr. Henry: That is a separate issue in terms of priorities.
Dr. Mansergh Dr. Mansergh
Dr. Mansergh: One cannot compare oranges and lemons. There are many priorities in several different areas. One might suggest stopping the road building programme and divert all that money elsewhere. Government has to decide on a balance between different priorities. As I understand it, work on the Central Mental Hospital is under way and a committee has reported. As regards Garda stations, the Minister of State will be aware that I have some interest in a Garda station which has been abandoned in County Tipperary and which a number of social organisations wish to use. Some decisions in this area await the keenly anticipated decentralisation programme, to which reference has been made from all sides of the House within the last 24 hours.
Mr. Feighan Mr. Feighan
Mr. Feighan: I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I thank Senator Henry for introducing this motion, which I support. Comments have been made about the Office of Public Works which, I accept, has carried out many great projects around the country. However, the Office of Public Works has squandered vast financial resources over many years. In some instances, there is a strong case for public private partnerships involving the Office of Public Works which currently has five or six sites for sale. Although I have never been to an asylum, I have visited a prison. Castlerea Prison is regarded as one of the most modern, compassionate prisons and is supposed to be drug free.
I am trying to visualise the situation in the Central Mental Hospital, Dundrum, and I have been informed that Mountjoy Prison is a hundred times worse. I find it difficult to make an accurate comparison with the asylum. Senators have described it as a 19th century building where a 21st century building is required. The inmates have no social partnership representation, no vocal lobby and no friend in Cabinet. As public representatives, we have certain responsibilities. As Senator Henry rightly stated, all of us may have our own views as to how money should be allocated. In this instance, however, the required funding is relatively minimal and should be ring-fenced for the Central Mental Hospital.
The Government may have put plans in place but those plans have been allowed to remain in abeyance indefinitely. If we expect any compassion or forgiveness for our neglect of the people in the institution in question over the years, I urge that we now ring-fence the funding in accordance with Senator Henry's proposal. If we can have agreement on one matter as the Seanad approaches its Easter recess, I hope it will be on the basis of support for Senator Henry's motion.
Mr. Dooley Mr. Dooley
Mr. Dooley: I join with my colleagues in welcoming the Minister of State to the House. He has been here on a number of occasions and his willingness to make himself available is welcome. I support the courageous initiative he has undertaken and on which action has been needed for a long time. The Office of Public Works has a considerable asset bank. At a time when it is essential to ensure that all elements of financial management are under control, it is critical to sweat those State-owned assets. Any review of State property is likely to give rise to the disposal of elements which are not of immediate use because of geographic location. The first property the Minister of State intends to put up for tender is the facility at Lad Lane. Due to its location and the zoning of the area, there is an opportunity to realise a substantial amount of money for the State. We do not have a precise figure, nor do I expect the Minister of State to quantify it at this stage.
I agree that money realised from the disposal of an asset should not be squandered or diverted into current spending initiatives by the Department of Finance. I share Senator Henry's objection to any approach of that nature but that is not what the Minister of State has in mind as, no doubt, he will outline to the House. In recent statements, he has indicated his intentions with regard to the first tranche of the proceeds. That is reflected in Senator Mansergh's proposed amendment, which I second, notably the provision with regard to fit-out works for regional office space taken by the Office of Public Works for the National Educational Psychology Service to accelerate the expansion of the service. That is a worthwhile project for which the use of this funding is appropriate.
The purchase of leaseholds is also part of a process of consolidation of the overall property portfolio. Provided that the money is re-invested in the property portfolio, that is a positive approach which ensures that the State is not incurring a financial loss on the sale of its assets or taking a short-term view of asset disposal. The purchase of sites for new Garda stations is particularly important. I listened with interest to Senator Henry's discussion with Senator Mansergh as to the relative conditions of Garda stations and the Central Mental Hospital. I admit that I have not visited the Central Mental Hospital but I have visited quite a number of Garda stations – in an observer capacity, I should add.
Mr. Feighan Mr. Feighan
Mr. Feighan: Perhaps the Senator had a ride in a police car.
Mr. Dooley Mr. Dooley
Mr. Dooley: In my constituency, there are many Garda stations in need of repair. That has come about over a period of time, particularly in some outlying areas where gardaí are no longer resident in local stations but use them as office space. Some stations are in poor condition. Just as in the case of schools, which have been the subject of much discussion, there are also Garda stations in immediate and urgent need of repair. I am delighted the Minister of State is moving ahead in that regard, as well as providing new buildings. We have had a great deal of debate in recent weeks on the state of the nation in terms of crime. Many Senators called for action by the Garda on maintaining law and order. We must also have regard for the basic requirements of gardaí in carrying out their duties by ensuring they have proper facilities in which to operate. We will not provide them with that if we do not put a programme of refurbishment in place along with the building of new stations. In that context, I agree with the Minister of State's proposals.
As Senator Henry indicated, the services provided in Dundrum are vital and a recent report has recognised the need to have the facilities upgraded. Since 1999, just €500,000 has been pumped into its maintenance, which is a small amount of money considering that the facility houses some 70 to 80 people and that some 160 people are admitted there on an annual basis. The facilities are in need of funding and I call on the Minister of State to consider providing it. I do not necessarily believe in the concept of ring-fencing in this case because a project team in place, which is going through the design and redevelopment of the unit. To ring-fence the money now, would effectively leave it aside when it could be better used or at least used in advance. I am sure Senator Henry would agree and I would like to see is a commitment that, when the design team has got to a point of making a recommendation and we get ready to build such a facility—
Dr. Henry Dr. Henry
Dr. Henry: The design has been in existence for years.
Mr. Dooley Mr. Dooley
Mr. Dooley: I understand it has been reviewed in recent times. There is a need to ensure that it is provided. Despite the fact that people in the facility do not have friends, as legislators, it is incumbent on us not to see ourselves legislating only for those who have their freedom. It has more to do with the people who need our assistance. The dignity and quality of their lives is of importance to us and I am sure the Minister of State will be forthcoming in providing the finance necessary for the re-design and development of this facility.
Mr. Bannon Mr. Bannon
Mr. Bannon: I welcome the Minister of State. Senator Mansergh referred to what should and should not be priorities of Government. The first priority of any Government should be the health and well-being of all citizens. It is provided for in the Constitution that we cherish all of our citizens equally. I am unhappy with conditions in many of our mental health institutions and, from time to time, the condition of buildings is a topic for discussion on radio and television programmes and in the local media. The buildings in many parts of the country belong to a different era, having been built by a different Administration and they have been outdated for many years.
I compliment Senator Henry on tabling this motion. I am a member of the visiting committee of a health board and I am often not happy with the admission units where patients sometimes spend two or three weeks for assessment. They are not pleasant places and they should be more welcoming. A stigma is attached to admission units and the issue should be examined in great detail, because, as Senator Henry said, we owe it to our people.
Many elderly patients in mental institutions have been there for a lifetime and they often have no friends or family and perhaps have Alzheimer's disease. These institutions are the wrong place for such people and every effort should be made by the authorities to move them to more warm, welcoming institutions such as nursing homes. This is happening in some health board areas, but it should be national policy. The only friends in whom patients can often confide are the staff. I join other Senators in complimenting the staff of mental institutions who have often worked beyond their duty. It should be a priority of Government to look after the health needs of our citizens. God knows when anyone can be afflicted with mental illness, to which an unfair stigma attaches and which is, after all, a health condition. I wholeheartedly support Senator Henry's motion.
Mr. Parlon Mr. Parlon
Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon): I welcome the opportunity to discuss the property plans of the Office of Public Works and I thank Independent Senators for proposing the debate.
The Office of Public Works is 150 years old and in that time a substantial portfolio in excess of 1,800 properties has been acquired by the State. It is a rich tapestry which includes everything from small rural Garda stations to large urban office blocks, from small Garda quarters to Farmleigh Estate, from sites of little monetary value to those which are worth millions of euro.
At the beginning of the 21st century, there was a need to take strategic look at the future of the State property portfolio and examine ways to ensure that we always have a modern and dynamic State infrastructure. In many instances, what was state-of-the-art 40 years ago is now creaking at the seams and some properties that were in full usage at that time are now lying idle. I decided to implement a new approach to ensure that the maximum value was extracted from the State property portfolio. In the past there was a non-commercial approach to State property. However, there is little point in having huge tracts of State land lying idle when it could be put to profitable use for the country.
The first step in the process of transforming State assets commenced with a full audit of the property portfolio. This was a comprehensive look at the status and value of all the properties and it acts as a guidebook to the hidden value of State property. Following this, I launched the transforming State assets initiative in March of this year. The objective of the programme is to transform the State property portfolio by extracting maximum value. The programme will include straight sell-offs of sites, public private partnerships, joint ventures and land swap deals. It will include a regional mix and a focus on both large urban, small urban and rural sites. Its objective is for value gained from the process to be reinvested in new State infrastructure.
The first site offered in the programme is a classic example of the latent potential that exists in the State property portfolio. In the swinging sixties, if any of us remember them—
Mr. Ryan Mr. Ryan
Mr. Ryan: If the Minister of State remembers them, he was not there.
Mr. Parlon Mr. Parlon
Mr. Parlon: I was just barely around then. I have poor recollection, so I will not name any of the Senators who might have a better recollection than me.
In the swinging sixties, the building maintenance service of the Office of Public Works needed to be in Dublin 2, close to Government Departments where the majority of its work resided. For it to have been located elsewhere would have been inefficient. If we fast-forward to the beginning of this millennium, the argument has come full-circle. In 2003, it is no longer efficient for a builder's yard to operate from a one acre prime residential site between the canal and Baggot Street. In order to unlock the latent potential in this property, I moved the building maintenance service, at a small cost, to a better premises at Collins Barracks.
We are selling the prime residential site in Lad Lane and making a direct link with the property portfolio by re-investing the proceeds in upgrading other State property and investing in other programmes. All the projects in which I am investing and properties I am proposing to sell are within the Office of Public Works's narrow remit. The Office of Public Works does not have control over all State properties.
The four key areas identified for reinvestment are the funding of fit-out works for regional office space taken by Office of Public Works for the National Educational Psychology Service – this will accelerate the expansion of the service; the purchase of leaseholds of properties currently occupied by the State on a long-term-permanent basis – this will reduce the ongoing Office of Public Works rent roll into the future; and the purchase of sites for the Garda building programme to accelerate the provision of new Garda stations across the country and to provide additional funding towards the Garda maintenance programme. This will improve the working conditions at many Garda stations.
The National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, provides psychological services in primary and post-primary schools. The mission of NEPS is to help students to develop to their potential and maximise the benefits of their educational experiences. In the early years of the development of the service, priority is being given to children who have learning disabilities. The money earned from the sale of the Lad Lane site will provide a much needed boost to this social service. We will provide investment for offices and building accommodation where children with disabilities can meet with psychologists.
There is an urgent need to modernise our community security infrastructure through maintaining existing Garda stations and building new ones. This year, €11 million has been allocated to new Garda stations throughout the country. This will see the completion of some projects, the fit-out of completed stations and the turning of the sod on nine new Garda stations. In addition, €2 million has been allocated this year for the maintenance of Garda buildings. The targeted input from the sale of the Lad Lane site will make a significant extra impact on maintenance of existing stations and the building of new ones.
It is estimated that this year the Office of Public Works will spend in excess of €100 million on renting accommodation for Government Departments. The corresponding figure for the year 2000 was €55 million. Thus, the overall cost of renting accommodation has increased by more than 80%. The plan to use some proceeds from the sale of Lad lane to buy out the leasehold interests in some of the properties rented by the Office of Public Works will go towards containing the growth in the rental bill.
The second phase of the programme is one of the most significant property developments ever in Dublin city and will transform the western entrance to it. The half a billion euro development, when completed, will incorporate some 1.5 million square feet of office, residential, cultural and recreational space. Phase one of this development will be completed in a joint venture between the Office of Public Works and Eircom. The residential element of the total project amounts to 650 apartments and the development will make full provision for 20% social and affordable housing. When completed this development will be home to some 1,500 people and workspace to some 5,000 others.
This development will take place on a 14-acre site close to Heuston Station which is an under-utilised warehouse space for the Office of Public Works and Eircom. With vision and imagination we will turn a concrete yard, sheds, weeds and thistles into one of the most exciting urban regeneration projects in the history of the State. When the entire development is undertaken, the full 14-acre site is expected to yield some €100 million, 75% of which will revert to the State. This is what transforming State assets is about – taking land and properties that have outlived their usefulness and transforming them into an asset for the benefit of the State.
Regarding the issue raised by Senator Henry, the use of money from the sale of Office of Public Works property to build a new Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum, I am informed that the Central Mental Hospital admits approximately 150 patients per year, the majority from the prison system. As the prison population has expanded in recent years, the services of the Central Mental Hospital have come under increasing pressure, resulting in delays in the transfer of mentally ill prisoners to the hospital.
The shortage of in-patient psychiatric beds for prisoners was commented upon by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, CPT, during its recent visit to Ireland. In response to the concerns expressed by the CPT and with a view to eliminating delays in the provision of in-patient psychiatric care to prisoners, the Government established a special committee to draw up a service level agreement on the admission of mentally ill prisoners to the Central Mental Hospital. There is an acceptance on all sides that the physical conditions at the Central Mental Hospital are unsatisfactory. As has been pointed out by the Inspector of Mental Hospitals on numerous occasions, most of the old building is quite unsatisfactory for its current purpose and conditions in some parts of it are unacceptable.
Since 1999, €500,000 has been spent on the refurbishment of the hospital but there is an acceptance by all parties that a more substantial redevelopment is required. In December 2000, the East Coast Area Health Board, in conjunction with the Eastern Regional Health Authority, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Department of Health and Children established a group to advise on proposals for the future of the Central Mental Hospital. They took into account national and regional services provided by the hospital, linkages with community psychiatric services and with the criminal justice system, new mental health legislation, the training role of the Central Mental Hospital for medical, nursing and paramedical staff and future accommodation and resource requirements. The group concluded its work last year and its report was submitted to the Eastern Regional Health Authority and to the Department of Health and Children. The report includes plans to modernise, refurbish and extend the existing building at the Central Mental Hospital and to provide a new residence on the campus.
The Minister of Health and Children has accepted, in principle, the main thrust of the report of the review group and requested that the East Coast Area Health Board establish a project team to progress the matter as quickly as possible. The project team had its inaugural meeting on the 19 February 2003 and its remit will be to examine critically all options for the redevelopment of the hospital; to put together a design brief for the redevelopment; and to examine various financing options, including the possibility of a public-private partnership.
The examination of the State property portfolio by the Office of Public Works with a view to identifying vacant, under-utilised, under-developed or surplus property is well under way. The process has produced a number of properties deemed suitable for detailed assessment to determine their potential for disposal or redevelopment. In assessing these particular properties, a range of considerations is being taken into account, including the planning issues in the context of their development potential; their overall condition; the extent to which decisions on decentralisation might impact on them – we will not be selling off any property that may become a site for a decentralised Department; the alternative uses to which they might be put, including the possibility of their being used for housing purposes, and their market value.
The sale of Lad Lane and other properties in the Office of Public Works property portfolio is in line with the Government decision on the 2003 Departmental expenditure Estimates. As the Office of Public Works is not responsible for the funding of hospitals, it is not proposed to divert proceeds from the sale of Office of Public Works properties to fund Department of Health and Children projects. The funding of hospitals is primarily the responsibility of that Department and it is up to it to see if the necessary funding for the Dundrum hospital can be afforded within the financial parameters that it must operate.
My remit is narrow. I do not have any control over properties which come under other Departments. The Department of Health and Children and the health boards have substantial properties and lands. That is not the business of the Office of Public Works and neither are the lands which come within the remit of the Minister for Transport, be it through CIE or otherwise.
Senator Henry cited a figure which recently appeared in the media. She should be careful about how she reads such media reports. I was asked this week, when undertaking our Office of Public Works annual report, what I saw as the likely outcome of sales this year. I said I could not tell. I was asked if it could be €100 million and I said that would be an ambitious target. The article concerned suggested the figure would be €100 million and quoted me as saying it would be ambitious.
As regards the announcement which appeared in today's newspapers regarding the new site near Heuston Station, that project could realise €75 million over the next five years but it depends on acceptance of our plans and deals to be done at a future date. This is not a goldmine by any means. Like every other ministerial Department, adjustments were made to the Estimates I submitted this year. I have a great deal of responsibility in four areas, two of which are the new offices for NEPS and the refurbishment of Garda stations.
I accept the Senator's apt description of Dundrum. One could say the same about Garda stations throughout the country from a safety point of view. I have decided to make my own efficiencies and to spend my allocation as best I can to give the best service within Office of Public Works. I cannot go beyond that remit.
Mr. Ryan Mr. Ryan
Mr. Ryan: I suppose I had better say first that I am married to a consultant psychiatrist. Since we are talking about the issue, I had better declare an interest. I am not sure my wife would regard me has having much interest, but nevertheless the proprieties are correctly expected of me.
Not wanting to be flippant, I enjoy the way Government uses different sets of units to magnify things. For instance, the new motorway being built in Senator Glynn's area is described by the NRA in kilometres because of course it makes it sound longer.
Mr. Glynn Mr. Glynn
Mr. Glynn: Some of us know the difference.
Mr. Ryan Mr. Ryan
Mr. Ryan: I have a reasonably good idea myself. I note the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, talks about his new development in square feet because that sounds much bigger than if the figure was set out in square metres, but that is only an aside.
Mr. Parlon Mr. Parlon
Mr. Parlon: I was not trying to impress the Senator in any great way.
Mr. Ryan Mr. Ryan
Mr. Ryan: The Minister of State spent years doing that and he knows he has impressed me. We have had many an interesting and lively discussion in other fora. I do not agree with the Minister of State about many issues but I have a very high opinion of him. That is entirely possible and I enjoy such relations with many people.
I am disappointed at the tone of the Minister of State's response, and it is not necessarily his fault. I have not read everything the Minister of State has said about this programme which is designed to make sure the most efficient use of any buildings and land assets in the State's possession. That is a tautology, it goes without saying we should do that.
I hope at some stage he will do the equivalent of what Gordon Brown did in Britain, that is, produce a full portfolio of what the State owns. I am not sure that anybody knows what precisely the State owns, although it is probably all recorded somewhere. It would be a good start, if we are to sell assets, to find out what we have before we start selling. Keeping such a portfolio up to date would pose no difficulty, particularly with the help of modern information technology, once it was formalised and put together first.
Of course assets should be re-used and looked at. Contrary to what people think, I do not have a huge ideological issue about the efficient use of State assets. They should be used in the way that works most efficiently for the benefit of the community, sometimes by the State retaining them and sometimes by the State selling them because there are different ways of getting the value out of them. However, it would be close to being entirely foolish to sell off land which potentially could be used for building houses. That would be my opinion. It is very difficult to see how the State could be better off in terms of anything to do with the provision of housing by selling off land which could be used for that purpose.
I do not want to go too far down that road because the real issue here is the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum. The suggestion of a way of funding it is a good idea and it is a bit disappointing to hear, from the Minister of State's speech, that the review started in December 2000. This is not a greenfield issue. The world is awash with reports, both official and unofficial, about the conditions in the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum. In my own involvement with the Simon Community in Cork, which is where most of my time with the organisation was spent, one of the issues with which I was familiar from people in the Dublin Simon Community was the condition of the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum. That was a long time ago – 20 years.
A group set up in December 2000 concluded its work last year, the Minister has accepted its report in principle and the project team has met. However, I do not see anywhere in the Minister of State's speech a statement about funding this project. I see proposals to work out what would be needed, to look at alternatives, to put together a brief and to look at various finance options, but so far there is no assurance that anything will be done.
 Of all the areas of the health service, the psychiatric services is the area which will only benefit if politicians of all parties take them very seriously because there never will be an external public lobby on the psychiatric services, for the obvious reason mentioned by Senator Bannon. If I need heart surgery and cannot get into a public hospital, I will climb up on every platform at every meeting and say that I needed surgery and could not get it. If I need admission for depression, even if I recover perfectly I will not be getting up on public platforms to say I could not get treatment for my depression because there were no beds in the psychiatric hospitals. In spite of all our rhetoric, we still do not see psychiatric illness as just another illness. In spite of all that we have learnt, there are a huge number of overtones.
Therefore reform of the physical infrastructure of centres like the Central Mental Hospital will only come about because of the hard work of the staff in letting us know about the conditions and because of a political decision made because it is the right thing to do, not because there will be huge public adulation for it. One would hope that the criticisms of international bodies would at least focus the attention of Government on this issue.
The truth is that, as in all our psychiatric services, there are superb people working in the Central Mental Hospital. Psychiatry is a very difficult and demanding area in which to work, and it is also emotionally demanding. To work in physical conditions of the kind that exist in the Central Mental Hospital must be an even greater burden on people. As I said previously to the Minister of State, Deputy Tim O'Malley, I am reluctant to make the sort of political speech about the psychiatric services or about the Central Mental Hospital that I would about many other areas because I do believe we need to build a strong political consensus that these are right things to do because they are needed. The Government will get no extra votes for refurbishing the Central Mental Hospital and it will lose no votes for not doing it, but I happen to believe, whatever I might say politically from time to time, that there are enough decent people in all the political parties to recognise that this is an issue which needs to be prioritised.
Whether the funds come from the Office of Public Works or out of general tax revenue is an interesting debate, and this suggestion is interesting, but the fundamental issue is that if we want to be able to look ourselves in the eye, we must do something about institutions like that.
Mr. Glynn Mr. Glynn
Mr. Glynn: I welcome the opportunity to speak to this motion. When we speak about psychiatric institutions there would have to be a consensus that in terms of a shelter which provides a service, the Central Mental Hospital is unsatisfactory. It is also important to note that, prior to last February, the first Minister ever to visit the Central Mental Hospital was the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin. That speaks volumes. That tells it all in a nutshell.
As I happen to be a member of a health board, I had better declare my interest. I had better declare a further interest in that I am a former psychiatric nurse and therefore know a little of what all this is about.
We must be very careful in speaking about the facility known as the Central Mental Hospital as against the care provided there. In fairness to the staff, there is quite a range of services provided. I will talk about the standard of the facility in a moment.
The service currently provides the highest known national rate of transfer from prison to hospital of any jurisdiction. A multidisciplinary team approach to care is being developed, with the hospital providing an active programme of assessment and rehabilitation geared towards each patient's needs. That is as good as one will get in any psychiatric setting and I have no reason to believe that is not the case.
Individual care plans are in use addressing the physical, psychological, interpersonal and social needs of the patient. Rehabilitation is encouraged through the use of the hospital school, woodwork, industrial therapy and recreation departments. There are daily clinics in the prisons in the Dublin area, while community psychiatric nurses provide liaison supports to the prisons and the community mental health services. That is the situation in most psychiatric sector areas. Out-patient facilities are provided at Ushers Island in Dublin city centre. The hospital has a gymnasium and a swimming pool. I could go on.
My colleague, Senator Bannon, spoke about other psychiatric hospitals. However, when planning the future of psychiatric services commenced, there was uproar over the closure of psychiatric wards. Some argued that it should not happen, that too many lights were turned off and there were too many dark windows at night. The important thing, however, is that the patients were going to a better care setting. It is about the people who are there and those who are providing the service.
Community care might be a more expensive service but there are differences of opinion even about that. Professor Alan Maynard of York University says it is more expensive, but other experts will tell one it is cheaper. I prefer to believe Professor Maynard. When, with the stroke of a pen, the word “psycho” was split from “psycho-geriatric”, the staff of certain geriatric hospitals were the first to object that they would be sent to geriatric settings. The Constitution refers to cherishing all our children equally, but I regret to say that psychiatric patients have often been treated as second-class citizens.
I agree with what the Minister intends to do with resources that are surplus to requirement. What sort of criticism could we expect from Seán and Mary Citizen if we allow great facilities to moulder and gather dust while other facilities are urgently required? This was outlined in the amendment and, in fairness, by Senator Henry. We would be responsible for this. The Minister, by paying a formal visit to the hospital and establishing a project team from such a broad spectrum, has indicated that he is serious about what he is saying. I thank Senator Ryan for putting that on the record because I believe he is right. Over the coming months, we will hear what the project team has to say.
Senator Dooley made an important point when he said that ring-fencing was not the best idea. If we agree that the redevelopment of the Central Mental Hospital site – one of the oldest services of that nature in the British Isles – is urgently needed, which it is, how do we go about it? The Minister has dealt with this in a way that is the accepted norm when it comes to providing capital projects in the public service.
We must continue to focus on this important service. We need to devolve more resources to the psychiatric services. If anybody thinks the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, is wrong in his approach, all he or she has to do is to walk down the banks of the Royal Canal and see how many derelict lock houses there are. These are beautiful stone structures, worth quite an amount, and in most cases they come with between three quarters of an acre and an acre of land. God only knows who owns them at this stage.
I welcome the opportunity of speaking on this issue and I want to record my appreciation to the staff who provide such an excellent service in adverse conditions in the Central Mental Hospital, Dundrum. Far too often over the years, even before I went into the psychiatric service, there have been reports from visiting committees in local newspapers in which the staff were objects of derision. It is not the job of a nurse, a nursing assistant or a doctor to paint walls or do woodwork, but they carried the blame when it was not done. I resent that because it has been the case for far too long. Although the conditions in the hospital are far from ideal, an excellent service has been provided in adverse conditions. As Government spokesperson on this issue in the House, I record my appreciation of their work.
Dr. Henry Dr. Henry
Dr. Henry: I thank the Senators from all sides of the House who took a sympathetic approach to the problem I was trying to explain to the Minister of State. I also thank the Minister of State for his approach.
I echo what Senator Glynn said about the staff of the Central Mental Hospital. The conditions are bad for the patients, but they are just as bad for the staff. They must also endure them. To try to ensure a therapeutic milieu in a place like that is verging on the impossible. What they are trying to do is unbelievable – I do not know how they manage it. One former director of the hospital left after about ten years because, as he told me, he felt such a failure for not persuading us politicians to do something about the conditions. That was years ago. Senator Ryan rightly said that if we do something about it, there are no votes in it, but if we do not, there are also no votes. By “we” I mean the Government, but we all have some responsibility in this matter.
I am disappointed the Minister of State does not feel he could fund my hospital. However, I am not totally defeated because he brought up the matter of public private partnerships, as I did when I spoke. This is how some big psychiatric hospitals in the UK have been funded. I do not know whether it is necessarily the best way, but it should be considered. In fact, it is not a good idea, because we are already trying to cut down on rents and mortgages being paid by the State, but we may still have to consider it because, as I said earlier, the Minister for Health and Children has no money. We must get money somehow.
I am most anxious that money from the sale of public assets could leak into the general coffers of the Department of Finance. This is why I mentioned ring-fencing. Nobody spoke against selling off property that is not being used. It is ridiculous to keep something as an empty monument. Senator Mansergh was clever to get in his bid for the local Garda station for his community groups. I am not picking out the Garda as being undeserving of having their buildings renovated or replaced, but gardaí would be some of those most sympathetic to the need to rebuild the Central Mental Hospital because they must bring patients to that institution.
I regret that the Government could not allow the motion to go forward, at least as a pious hope. The amendment, at least, explains what is to happen to the Lad Lane money, but there should be far more suggestions put forward about what is to happen to all the money that will come from these sales. I appreciate that the press is inclined to exaggerate in whatever direction it likes, but there should be more openness in terms of the projects we can support. Perhaps the Department could consider once again the possibility of a public private partnership in Dundrum.
Amendment put and declared carried.
Dr. Henry Dr. Henry
Dr. Henry: I wish to record my dissent.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: When is it proposed to sit again?
Mr. Moylan Mr. Moylan
Mr. Moylan: On Wednesday, 7 May at 2.30 p.m.
Seanad Éireann 172 Central Mental Hospital: Motion.