herald

Wednesday 29 January 2020

Brain-damaged homeless man spent a year in jail on remand in dire conditions

Minister Charlie Flanagan
Minister Charlie Flanagan

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan is seeking an urgent report from the Prison Service on the "disturbing case" of a brain-damaged homeless man who was kept on remand in prison for more than a year.

The High Court heard the man spent over a year in Mountjoy's high dependency unit after the HSE cancelled a residential care plan due to "resource issues".

According to court reports, the man's bed linen had not been changed in months and he had "absolutely filthy" feet, with hugely overgrown and curled toe nails.

Constrained

"When I became aware of this disturbing case, I sought an urgent report from the Irish Prison Service and I expect to receive that today," the Justice Minister said.

"I have also spoken to the Governor of Mountjoy Prison. I intend to discuss the case as a matter of urgency with my Cabinet colleague Simon Harris," he added.

The minister said he was "constrained" in commenting further, "as the matter is subject to court proceedings".

The man, aged in his 50s, has been homeless for some time and has a history of mental health issues.

He was charged in November last year after security guards found him in the women's toilets of a shopping centre in Dublin.

While in a garda cell, the court heard he defecated in the cell and was unfit to plead.

He was charged the following day and remanded by the district court to the unit in Mountjoy, where he remained.

A Central Mental Hospital plan for the man's move to a care unit was cancelled by an administrative officer due to "resource issues".

The man's solicitor said that the HSE was failing in its statutory duty towards the man, whose rights, including to life, were being breached.

Speaking yesterday with Sean O'Rourke on RTE Radio One, co-founder of Trust, Alice Leahy, said the case was "truly appalling" and needed to be investigated.

She said the reality of what is happening on the ground is not being discussed.

She said it was disgraceful that all kinds of people were involved in the care of the man and it appeared no one decided to look at the dire conditions he was left in.

"This is happening in our capital city in 2019," she said.

However, she said there was no point having people on a committee if they were not in touch with what was happening on the ground.

She said that while one could easily look at the mental health issues in this case, this did not concern her as much as the appalling conditions he has been residing in.

Rare

She said common sense was required to ensure people were not left in such conditions.

"People are allowed privacy but common sense is required."

Professor Harry Kennedy, director of the Central Mental Hospital, said the case of a brain-damaged homeless man in prison is "far from rare."

He said they have a case-load of around 250 people in the prisons with severe mental illnesses or disorders like this.

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