February 12, 2010

A SITE has been chosen for the relocation of the State’s Central Mental Hospital.

It will move to Portrane in north Dublin from Dundrum, in the city’s southern suburbs, it has been confirmed.

The hospital will be built in the grounds of St Ita’s Hospital, according to informed sources, and it is expected to be built by way of public private partnership (PPP). The timeframe for the development is not yet clear.

It is understood discussions have been taking place with builders about the private element of the project.

The Government is expected to officially announce Portrane as the site in coming months after it has had an opportunity to engage with the local community.

There has been speculation that Portrane would be chosen since July last when Minister of State with responsibility for mental health services John Moloney confirmed in the Dáil that it would not be built on the prison site at Thornton Hall as it was too small.

The original decision to move the hospital to Thornton Hall from Dundrum in 2004 had met much criticism from support groups for those with a mental illness, who claimed that placing the hospital on a site adjacent to a prison would stigmatise patients, distress their families and reduce opportunities for rehabilitation.

When the hospital is built in Portrane, it is expected that the old Dundrum site will be sold and the proceeds reinvested in mental health services.

St Ita’s Hospital itself is expected to be closed within the next three years along with a number of other old psychiatric hospitals.

Fine Gael’s health spokesman Dr James Reilly said that while the preferred solution would have been to rebuild the Central Mental Hospital on its Dundrum site, the decision to move it to Portrane was “beyond doubt immeasurably preferable to stigmatising patients with mental illness by placing them in the vicinity of a prison”.

He added that Portrane was an area where there was already a culture of caring for people with mental health issues and, if the move was handled properly, with shuttle bus services provided to the train station, it would be a positive thing.

John Saunders, chairman of the Irish Mental Health Coalition, said Portrane was not a bad choice at all in a nice, semi-rural area. Given that the hospital could not be redeveloped on its current site, he believed the site at St Ita’s was “accessible and appropriate” and “as good as any”.