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Senator Bacik calls for a debate on Psychiatric Institutions, and the Treatment of Victims and Vulnerable Witnesses in Criminal Trials

10 February 2010

Order of Business

Senator Ivana Bacik: I echo the calls of others for a debate on the state of our psychiatric institutions and the Government's mental health policy. Like others, I was utterly shocked at the “Prime Time” programme last night. I was not surprised by what it revealed because we know a good deal about this from previous reports of the inspector of mental health, but I was shocked that these conditions continue to prevail. Conditions in prisons are similar and also unjustifiable, but the people in psychiatric institutions are unwell and require treatment. It is appalling that they are still housed in these absolutely Dickensian conditions.

I also call for a debate on the treatment of victims and vulnerable witnesses in criminal trials. There has been some controversy around the treatment of a key prosecution witness in the Eamonn Lillis trial, namely Jean Treacy. I welcome the comments of the Garda Commissioner, Fachtna Murphy, yesterday in defending the protection given to Ms Treacy. She was a key prosecution witness. It is a matter for the gardaí that where they believe that a witness is vulnerable they should be able to offer protection.

There is no right on the part of the tabloid press to take photographs of witnesses or anyone coming to the courts. It is rather hypocritical because the same tabloid newspapers that are shouting loudly for the right to plaster photographs of Jean Treacy all over their front pages condemn those who do not come forward to give evidence in so-called gangland cases. There is an issue about witness intimidation. Witnesses can be vulnerable for all sorts of reasons. One of the great advantages of the new courts complex in Parkgate Street is that it enables the gardaí to offer witnesses protection.

It should be remembered that Ms Treacy gave evidence in public in the court room in accordance with the constitutional imperative. We need a debate on this issue to ensure this is all highlighted.