Amnesty International Director Ireland visits UCC

Brian Byrne

Colm O’ Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland, made an appearance at University College Cork last Thursday. Mr O’ Gorman addressed the organisation’s mental health campaign which aims to make mental health a political priority. The event was hosted by the UCC Amnesty International Society, which was reformed last January after two years of inactivity.

Amnesty Ireland launched their mental health campaign in June 2009. Mr. O’ Brien explained, “One of the main problems with mental health is that it’s invisible. The Irish government doesn’t see mental health issues as human rights issues. We spend 3.5% of health spend on mental health while the World Health Organisation (WHO) says it should be at 12%.”

Mr. O’ Gorman believes the Irish mental health service to be deeply flawed. He detailed, “There are issues around attention, treatment, and the kind of facilities people are treated in. One of the major issues in recent years has been concerned with young people in mental health services.

“In Ireland each year, up to 200 children are detained in adult mental health wards rather than specialist childhood and adolescent mental health wards. This is despite the fact that the state’s own watchdog on mental health, the Mental Health Commission, found that placing children in adult psychiatric wards is counter-therapeutic and almost purely custodial.”

Mr. O’ Gorman continued, “The majority of people who experience mental health problems will recover if they’re given the right treatment and will be able to live fulfilling, healthy, sustained lives within their communities. But our mental health system is configured in such a way that they can’t do that.

“International law states that the government must provide services that are accessible, adequate and appropriate. The failure to provide services of this kind exacerbates the problem.”

As part of Amnesty Ireland’s mental health campaign, it began encouraging the Irish government to consider duty bearing obligations on the Health Service Executive (HSE). The new legislation, which would have been ground-breaking had it been brought to cabinet, would have required the HSE to deliver services in line with those detailed in international law.

But while the policy was never introduced, Mr. O’ Brien feels Amnesty Ireland achieved success anyway. He said, “We had a major breakthrough when the HSE revealed they thought it was a good idea. To get to a point where our government recognised it was necessary to have legislation that placed clear obligations on the state to deliver services in a particular way was a huge breakthrough. Essentially, the principle was won.”

However, such a campaign was not always possible for Amnesty Ireland. “One of the initial rules within Amnesty was that you didn’t work on domestic human rights issues,” Mr. O’ Gorman said. “You never addressed human rights issues in the country in which the organisation was based.”

In 2002, the organisation introduced Work On Own Country (WOOK), which allowed Amnesty Ireland to focus on the country’s own human rights issues.

Amnesty International is currently in its 50th year. The current phase of its mental health campaign will culminate this June.

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