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Villains and mentally ill to cohabit in Thornton Hall.

Irish examiner :June 1st.

Heated controversy has surrounded the outgoing coalition’s decision to move the old mental hospital from Dundrum to Thornton Hall, a 150-acre site, which is also to house the relocated Mountjoy Prison complex.

Ironically, the key politicians behind the hospital move, ex-Justice Minister Michael McDowell and former minister of state for health Tim O’Malley, both lost their seats in the election. With Mr McDowell no longer at the Cabinet table, the Taoiseach may find it opportune to re-examine this grave issue.

In his letter to Mr Ahern, Dr Kennedy expresses the view that while a new hospital is urgently needed, the move to the Thornton Hall site is not the answer.

A facility with 200 secure psychiatric beds would end what he calls “the current situation in which the prisons are used as psychiatric waiting rooms, the equivalent of A&E trolleys”.

He estimates that €200 million would be generated from the sale of the Dundrum asset and says this should be reinvested for the benefit of patients.

Central to the treatment process, psychiatrists aim to overcome the stigma arising from criminalisation that, in most cases, is an accidental effect of their mental illness. Other key objectives include the rehabilitation and reintegration of patients into mainstream mental health services when it was appropriate and safe to do so.

However, according to Dr Kennedy, “none of these objectives would be helped by placing us physically adjacent to a large, high-profile prison/courts complex”.

Objections to the relocation, which got the green light at a Cabinet meeting last December, have come from a wide range of interests. They include the Mental Health Commission, the Human Rights Commission and the Irish Mental Health Coalition.

Meanwhile, if the controversial move is pushed through, a carers’ group at the Dundrum hospital, comprising the families of patients, will consider taking legal action on human rights grounds.

Over the years, Dr Kennedy has expressed similar opinions to the Department of Health. While most of the correspondence was released to the Irish Examiner under the Freedom of Information Act, two letters were refused and one was censored.

While he has declined to comment in the media, the Dundrum director has expressed his concerns directly to the Minister for Health and the Taoiseach.

With a deadline of 2010, construction of the Thornton prison, with space for 1,400 inmates, is set to begin this year. Politically, the project has been dogged by the selection process and its €30m cost.

According to Dr Kennedy, a viable option already exists on the Abbotstown site, adjacent to James Connolly Memorial Hospital. Even if a prison were built there, it would be remote from the mental hospital.

In the interests of patients, these compelling arguments deserve to be given serious consideration by the incoming taoiseach and his new coalition