Significant Reform Needed to Proposed Mental Health Policy and Law

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (‘the Commission’) has called for significant review and reform Irish mental health policy and law, including specifically our law relating to children.

In its recommendations published today on the General Scheme of the Mental Health (Amendment) Bill made to the Oireachtas Joint Sub-Committee on Mental Health, the Commission notes that the General Scheme both engages and interferes with a number of fundamental human rights, protected under the Constitution and international human rights laws.

In order to align this legislation with the State’s human rights and equality obligations, in particular the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (the ‘UNCRPD’), the Commission makes 76 recommendations, including on the rights of the child.

While welcoming many progressive developments in recent years, including the enactment of the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act 2015 and the Mental Health (Amendment) Act 2018, the Commission in its role as both the national human rights institution and national equality body, notes that neither of these acts have been fully commenced and that this has substantial implications for individual’s rights.

The Commission believes that the General Scheme gives Ireland the opportunity to ensure that the State complies with its international obligations regarding the provision of mental healthcare to children, and the means to enshrine the rights of the child as articulated in the 2012 Children’s Referendum.

In addition, this legislation is being progressed simultaneously with legislation to amend the Assisted Decision (Capacity) Act, to ratify the Optional Protocol to the United Nation’s Convention Against Torture (‘OPCAT’) and the placing of safeguards protecting the liberty of persons with capacity issues in certain facilities. The Commission stresses the importance of aligning the provisions of the Bills to ensure there is no difference in standards or treatment of people under the respective legislation.

Chief Commissioner Sinéad Gibney said:

“Every person has a right to have their voice heard in any process concerning them. If they cannot speak for themselves, it is vital that they have an advocate or legal representative to ensure that their voice is heard.

“We have an opportunity here to better protect the human rights of citizens and ensure that their voices are heard, loud and clear. The Commission has clearly set out the areas of the Bill which we believe need further work or change. As a society we need to challenge our assumptions about people with mental health issues, move away from the infantilism of the old system and focus on people’s human rights.”

Among the detailed recommendations made by the Commission are:

  • that the term ‘mental disorder’ be replaced with ‘persons of psychosocial disability, in line with UNCRPD
  • that emphasis be placed on aligning the relevant legislation in line with UNCRPD
  • that there is meaningful consultation with and involvement of persons with psychosocial disabilities, through their representative organisations, including those representing children, in the development, implantation, monitoring and reviewing of the General Scheme and other relevant mental health legislation
  • that the reform of mental health legislation must be accompanied by State measures, including legislation, aimed at ensuring less restrictive forms of treatment in the community are available and the ultimate eradication of coercion in the treatment of people with psychosocial disabilities
  • that the reform of mental health legislation ensures the use of substitute decision making arrangements complies with human rights and equality standards
  • that the right to an advocate be put on a statutory footing and independent advocacy services be provided
  • that the legislation be amended to provide for the creation of an independent complaints mechanism to consider complaints from adults and children
  • that the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities be ratified


The Commission’s Submission made to the Oireachtas Joint Sub-Committee on Mental Health is available at the following link:

Submission on the General Scheme of the Mental Health (Amendment) Bill

For further information, please contact:

Brian Dawson, IHREC Head of Strategic Engagement,

087 0697095

Follow us on twitter @_IHREC

Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is an independent public body, appointed by the President and directly accountable to the Oireachtas. The Commission has a statutory remit set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act (2014) to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland, and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.