Friday, June 15, 2012

Time to remove mental health disqualification for TDs

Dáil Éireann - CC BY by apanoply
The Guardian reported yesterday that the British government will support a private member's bill by the MP Gavin Barwell which would remove laws which discriminate against people who have mental health problems, including a ban on "mentally disordered persons" from doing jury service, a bar on people who have been sectioned under the Mental Health Act for more than six months from becoming MPs, and another that can have people removed as director of a company "by reason of their mental health".

It is high time that similar restrictions were removed in Ireland.  For example, section 41 of the Electoral Act 1992 states that a "person of unsound mind" may not be a member of the Dáil.
This section has not been repealed.

(By the way, this is also the section which bans undischarged bankrupts or those undergoing a sentence of 6 months or more).

In January 2010, John Moloney TD, then Minister of State for Mental Health and Disability, said that he had written to the Minister for the Environment asking that the relevant restriction on membership of the Dáil be repealed (see article by Mark Tighe in Sunday Times, 31 January 2010).  He also said at the time that he had stress and depression two years previously, forcing him to take four weeks off work.  At the time he referred to s.51 of the Electoral Act 1923, but that had been repealed and replaced in 1992.

In a similar vein, the European Court of Human Rights has overturned an absolute bar on voting by any person under partial guardianship, irrespective of his or her actual faculties in Kiss v Hungary (2010).

In 2011, the Venice Commission reversed an anomaly which allowed countries to exclude people with "genuine mental disabilities" from the ballot box. See more at, a site set up by the Mental Disability Advocacy Centre in Budapest.

See also June Shannon, 'Fears that Dáil rule fuels mental health stigma', Medical Independent, 2 Jun 2011.

[ Dáil Éireann photo - CC BY from Flickr by apanoply ]