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Sunday 25 February 2018

Minister pledges to 'take the fear out of mental health' as he begins new brief

Jim Daly says issue is 'greatest challenge' for society, writes Cormac McQuinn

Jim Daly, Minister of State at the Department of Health, in Clonakilty, Co Cork. Photo:
Michael MacSweeney
Jim Daly, Minister of State at the Department of Health, in Clonakilty, Co Cork. Photo: Michael MacSweeney
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Jim Daly has been given a difficult brief in the difficult Department of Health. It's just over two weeks since he was given responsibility for mental health and older people by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, and he's aware of the scale of the task he faces.

Mr Daly accepts that successive governments have failed people with mental health problems and believes the issue is "the greatest challenge presenting to society".

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has warned that the minority Government's delivery of mental health services and funding has fallen short of what was agreed in the 'confidence and supply' agreement.

But Mr Daly says mental health is a priority for the Government as well.

He said: "I don't believe it's about resources at this point in time," adding that "throwing money at the issue is kind of an easy way out".

He said he has a "far greater responsibility" to ensure the €900m mental health services budget is spent "prudently and effectively".

He says one of the greatest challenges he faces is to "de-mystify the whole sphere of mental health and to take some of the fear out of it".

He wants to bring the focus onto efforts to treat people in the community and to reward and replicate such initiatives when they're successful.

One of the first steps he has taken is to set in motion the establishment of a cross-party Oireachtas committee to look at long-term solutions for mental health services, something Fianna Fáil has been seeking.

Minister Daly also says that he wants a pension hike included in the Budget.

He emphasised Fine Gael's commitment to increase the weekly pension by around €5 a week each year over the lifetime of a government and said he'd like to see that honoured.

Asked if he had a specific figure in mind, he pointed to the Fine Gael manifesto commitment to increase the pension by up to €30 a week over the lifetime of the Government.

He said: "I think that's reasonable and fair in the circumstance and I certainly would like to see that implemented in full," he said.

"While the economy is continuing to grow it is timely to do that. We couldn't have made that commitment in the last government, but we can now," he added.

On wider political issues, Mr Daly said: "How long is a piece of string?" when asked how long he thinks the minority Government will last.

He said it currently "looks reasonably stable and solid", adding: "'Events, dear boy, events.' No one can predict the future and certainly not in politics."

The Government has indicated there will be a referendum on abortion next year. Mr Daly rejects the labels of pro-life or pro-choice, saying "everybody is pro-life". He said society had changed and legislators had to accept that change, adding that he thinks "the Constitution is a bit too restrictive on that whole area". Mr Daly didn't say if he is in favour of abortion in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality, but said he was "on the conservative wing". Mr Daly was an early backer of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in his bid to win the Fine Gael leadership election.

It surprised many he didn't support his fellow Cork man Simon Coveney.

On this, he said: "For me it was never going to be about geography", and that he believed Mr Varadkar was the best man to lead the party, admiring his straight-talking and courage.

Mr Daly praised Mr Varadkar for his "strong" performance since becoming Taoiseach.

What about the Taoiseach's reference to 'Love Actually' at 10 Downing Street, or the Canadian socks he wore when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited last week? Is some of that a bit cringey?

"I certainly don't think they're cringey. They add a bit of humanity to the role. I think people like that."

Irish Independent

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