Gardaí engaged in a three-hour standoff at the gates of the Central Mental Hospital (CMH) last week when staff refused to admit a severely mentally ill man following a court order that he be taken there for treatment.
Officers eventually managed to gain entry to the facility, a secure hospital which cares for criminals or alleged criminals with severe psychiatric issues, by driving through a gate during a shift change.
The man’s solicitor, Ciarán Mulholland, described the situation as a “Mexican standoff” and said his client was in urgent need of psychiatric care.
It is understood gardaí felt they had no choice but to enter the facility in order to comply with the court order.
The accused, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, had been in prison on remand for the previous 14 months awaiting trial. He spent much of that time on 23-hour lockup in Wheatfield Prison due to his unstable condition.
The lack of beds in the CMH has been a serious issue for many years. There is typically a list of 20-30 prisoners waiting on a bed there at any one time.
“There’s people like this falling into the criminal justice system because there is no adequate care for them in the health system,” Mr Mulholland said.
The incident began last Friday when the 38-year-old defendant appeared before Trim Circuit Court where a CMH psychiatrist gave evidence he was third on the waiting list for a bed but that there was none available.
The prosecution told the judge the accused man had no insight into his mental illness and he was a risk to himself and others.
Judge Patrick Quinn criticised the failure of the system to meet the accused’s needs and ordered that he be taken to the CMH for treatment.
The defendant was taken by gardaí to the hospital at about 2.30pm but gardaí were refused admission. The staff told a garda sergeant they had been instructed that there was no room for the man and gardaí should bring him elsewhere.
During this time the defendant was handcuffed in the back of the garda car, Mr Mulholland said.
When staff at the front gate changed shift, gardaí used the opportunity to drive in. The man was eventually transferred to the custody of the CMH at about 7.30pm.
When asked about the incident a Garda spokeswoman said officers were acting “on the instruction of a court order”.
The medical director of the hospital, Prof Harry Kennedy, said he “could not possibly comment” on a patient matter. The HSE said it could also not comment on individuals. It said the CMH was at “100 per cent bed occupancy” and that Covid-19 had negatively impacted capacity.
Mr Mulholland said the man’s mother was deeply concerned. “He needs help. He needs treatment urgently.”