Concerns: Gardai oppposed bail at Limerick District Court
A COUNTY Limerick man who breached a barring order by calling to his mother’s home on consecutive days last October has been released on bail, despite strong garda concerns that he represents an immediate risk to his mother and members of the community in which she lives.
The 34-year-old defendant, who suffers from schizophrenia, was admitted to the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum earlier this year after he was declared unfit to stand trial due to a significant deterioration in his mental health.
Giving evidence at Limerick District Court this Tuesday, Dr Ronan Mullaney, a consultant forensic psychiatrist at the Central Mental Hospital, confirmed the defendant was discharged from the CMH last week as his condition has improved in recent weeks.
He said the man, who is originally from South County Limerick, was “very acutely unwell” when first admitted to the CMH which, the court heard, is the only secure psychiatric treatment centre in the country.
Dr Mullaney told Judge Marian O’Leary a decision was taken to discharge the defendant following a lengthy case conference involving various members of his treatment team.
“His mental state had improved very considerably,” he said adding that he had shown an understanding of the charges against him.
However, the witness accepted there are still concerns in relation to the man and his future behaviour as he does not have an insight into his condition and has declined to take his medication while in prison.
He said the defendant remains unwell and that despite the recent improvements his current condition meets the criteria set down in legislation allowing for involuntary admission to an approved psychiatric treatment centre.
However, he said there is no capacity at the CMH and that the best case scenario is that the defendant would be placed on a waiting list for up to six months - during which time he would not receive any medication.
“We can only take so many people at any one time,” he told the court.
Solicitor Sarah Ryan said she was reluctantly seeking bail as it was in the best interests of her client who needs ongoing treatment and medication which he will not get in prison.
The court was told if released on bail the defendant was likely to be detained under the provisions of Mental Health Act and admitted to Unit 5B as an involuntary patient.
However John O’Mahony, executive clinical director for the Mid West Mental Health Services, confirmed the defendant has escaped from the unit, which is not a secure facility, on 21 occasions in the past.
Dr O’Mahony told the court the defendant would be assessed within 24 hours of presenting at 5B and that he would be continue to be treated as an involuntary patient once he meets the criteria set down in law.
However, the witness told Sergeant Donal Cronin that any decisions related to treatment are “entirely a matter for the admitting consultant” and are subject to daily review.
He agreed the treatment regime could be “stepped down” and that the status of any patient could change at any point.
“We’re not in the business of imprisonment, we’re there to treat patients in the hope they get better and can get on with their lives,” he said.
Dr O’Mahony also confirmed that mental health legislation does not allow for someone to be transferred from a prison to a psychiatric treatment centre to receive medication.
Replying to solicitor Maureen Lane, representing the defendant’s mother, Dr O’Mahony said they was no legal mechanism allowing the HSE to inform relatives when a patient leaves 5B without their consent. This also applies to other third parties including gardai.
Opposing bail, Sergeant Gary Thompson said gardai are very concerned about the safety of the defendant’s mother and other members of the community in which she lives.
He told the court gardai have a “real and significant fear” the defendant, who has more than 40 previous convictions, will commit serious offences if released.
He said the defendant has breached the barring order on five other occasions in the past and that the gardai are so concerned about the potential behaviour of the man that the head of the Newcastle West garda district – Supt Tom O’Connor is being regulary briefed.
“We would treat all calls to that location (mother’s address) with the utmost severity,” said Sgt Thompson.
Ms Lane said her client was also deeply concerned and worried about what might happen if the defendant was granted bail and she indicated she may have to take measures “elsewhere”.
Following a lengthy hearing, Judge O’Leary said she had no option but to grant bail given the evidence before her.
“My hands are tied, he needs treatment,” she said adding that she hoped her decision was the right one.
The defendant must not have any contact with his mother or any other member of her family and he was ordered to stay away from several named locations near where she lives.
A report from a consultant psychiatrist is to be prepared for court ahead of a sentencing hearing in September.