Speech by Mr Charlie Flanagan T.D., Minister for Justice and Equality

at the Launch of the Mental Health Commission Annual Report 2019


Department of Justice and Equality, 51 St Stephen’s Green, Thursday 20 June 2019



Ladies and gentlemen,


I am delighted and honoured to join you here for the launch of the Mental Health Commission’s Annual Report for 2018.


This is something of an unusual situation for me.  As Minister for Justice and Equality I would not normally be asked to speak at the launch of the annual report of a body which reports to the Minister for Health.   But unusual or not, I am delighted to have been invited here ….  because I know just how important a piece of legislation I am responsible for, is to all of you.


I am talking, of course, about the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015.   As you know, it conferred on the Mental Health Commission the very substantial and important function of establishing the new Decision Support Service within the Commission. 


Indeed we have just heard Áine, the Director of the Service, speak about the ongoing work to get it up and running. 


This service is going to play a vital role in vindicating human rights and ensuring those who  require it get a service focused on their needs.


And that’s why I want to start by assuring you that every effort is underway to ensure that the Decision Support Service has all necessary capacity to open for business as soon as possible.  The necessary staff resources, processes, ICT systems, expert panels, codes of practice and regulations will be in place so that it can get up and running.


As a government, we are providing the necessary financial resources.


The 2019 Revised Estimates have an allocation of €3 and a half million euro in the Justice and Equality Vote for it, while €3 million was provided last year.


And as the annual report being launched today outlines, extensive work was undertaken in 2018 to prepare for a fully operational Service.  That work included organisational design, scoping the Decision Support Service, project governance, scoping ICT infrastructure, defining the regulatory framework, undertaking stakeholder engagement and mapping out customer journeys.


Very importantly, the Director undertook significant engagement with stakeholders to provide information about the Decision Support Service, and to listen to the views of people who are likely to be affected by the Act and the Decision Support Service.


I want to assure you those views are being taken into account.  There has been a great deal of co-operation between my Department and the Mental Health Commission.


Work has been ongoing on the drafting of necessary amendments to the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015.  We are taking account of issues raised by the Mental Health Commission, the codes of practice working groups, and submissions received from other bodies.  Work is also underway on the drafting of regulations under the Act. 


So what about the Act?   The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015…. it, of course is what is needed to underpin all the work I have just mentioned.   And in relation to it, I want to assure you of two things…


Firstly, that key preparations for its commencement are being put in place within my Department. ..


And secondly that the Government is fully committed to its implementation.


This act provides a modern statutory framework to support decision-making by adults with capacity difficulties.


It has been framed to meet Ireland's obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Government’s approach to meeting the terms of the Convention is one of sustained and on-going improvement, and work is continuing on the reforms needed for an optimum level of compliance with the requirements of the Convention.


In that context, the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act is a significant piece of reforming human rights legislation.  It emphasises personal will and preferences, ensures respect for the rights of the person and supports the person in advance planning and in exercising greater autonomy over decisions concerning their lives. 


The Act is designed to meet the needs of different groups …. people with age-related conditions, people with intellectual disabilities, people with acquired brain injuries and also, people with mental health issues. Accordingly, the Act supports people in maximising their decision-making capacity by offering a range of decision-making support options.


Most importantly the Act will remove the archaic legal architecture that has governed this area of the law for too long.  It provides for the repeal of the Lunacy Regulation (Ireland) Act 1871 and the Marriage of Lunatics Act 1811. It also ensures that the current Wards of Court system for adults will be phased out over a three year period from the commencement of Part 6 of it.


And crucially, the decision-making supports provided for by the Act,  which will be monitored by the Decision Support Service, will help to ensure that people are afforded the fundamental human right to make their own decisions about their personal welfare and their property and affairs insofar as possible.


The reach of the Act and of the Decision Support Service will potentially be very extensive. 


It has been estimated that the number of adults in Ireland who require some level of support to help them to make decisions could come to over 220,000.   No doubt this figure will only increase in the coming years as the population ages, and as well, there will always be the other people involved …. decision-making supporters for example, or people who will be notified of a decision-making support arrangement to be registered with the Decision Support Service.


So we are talking broad impact, which I suppose is why, as with any reform of this magnitude, it will take time to change existing practices and get the supports right.  But we will ensure that all the necessary administrative processes and support measures are put in place, and we will do that before the substantive provisions of the Act are brought into operation.


One other thing I wanted to mention….


The Transformation Programme currently underway in my Department will no doubt bring changes in our relationship with the Mental Health Commission and the Decision Support Service. 


Under the new operational model, there will be clearly-defined functional units within the Civil Justice and Equality Pillar with responsibility for policy, legislation, governance, transparency, operations and service delivery. 


These changes will be significant, but I think also positive and effective.  My hope and intention is that they will ensure governance and oversight arrangements of the highest standard in relation to the Decision Support Service, and will facilitate the timely progression of necessary legislation in this critically-important area.


In conclusion, I would like to once again thank the Mental Health Commission and the Director for their work to date towards a fully operational Decision Support Service.  And I would like to assure you all that my Department and I will continue to work closely with them to deliver the full implementation of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 as soon as possible.


Thank you.