Wednesday, 12 October 1966
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. Dillon: asked the Minister for Justice whether his attention has been drawn to the circumstances in which a homeless and friendless man was sentenced to one month in jail at the District Court in Swords, County Dublin for stealing 10/- which the Garda stated they accepted he wanted to buy food, being both physically and mentally ill; and whether he will release this man from jail and ensure that the appropriate social services will be alterted to protect him and to provide such services as his essential welfare may require.
In sentencing the defendant to imprisonment for one month for house-breaking, the court, on 4th October, took into account the fact that at another court on 9th August the defendant had been given a suspended sentence of six months imprisonment after a plea of guilty to six separate charges of theft committed during a period of three months earlier in 1966. In committing the defendant the court recommended that while in prison he should be kept under observation as to his mental condition. He has been under observation as to his mental  health but there is nothing to show that he is mentally deficient or unstable.
Mr. Dillon: Is the Minister aware that the District Justice is reported in the papers, and has not corrected it, as saying: “I do not think anybody in the courtroom is very happy about the result of the case but it is the best I can do in the circumstances of the society in which we live”? He describes himself as satisfied that the man at the time of sentence is not only physically but mentally ill, as satisfied that the man is homeless and friendless and hungry and as satisfied that the man entered the premises through an unlocked door and took from the room 10/- out of 30/- because he needed the money for food. Is it appropriate in those circumstances that that man, friendless, homeless, hungry and sick, should be sentenced to a month in jail because, if that is true, we are not a civilised, much less a Christian community?
Mr. B. Lenihan: Let us get this thing in perspective. I read the newspaper report myself and I have investigated the matter very closely. What I said in my reply are the facts, that there were six other charges against him as well as this particular one. From investigation of the matter, I am satisfied that the abbreviated newspaper report did not contain accurately what the District Justice said on the occasion. Secondly, I am satisfied that, on the personal level, from this man's own point of view, having regard to his mental condition and otherwise, the best place for him is where he is under proper medical supervision and observation and from his point of view, it would be better if the matter were allowed to lie at that.
Mr. Dillon: We are bound to give consideration to the welfare of any destitute person who comes within our knowledge but, surely, if a person in  this country is friendless and homeless, our purpose should be to show that in our society nobody can be friendless, that if he has no other friends, he has 147 friends here in Dáil Éireann; that nobody in our society can be homeless: that if someone is homeless, we will provide him with a home; that no one can be sick mentally or physically with no one to care: that if he is sick mentally or physically we will take care of him, we will take him in?
Mr. Dillon: The man is in jail for being poor, friendless and hungry. Surely Dáil Éireann cares? I put it to the Minister that this man should be taken out of jail and our social services should be mobilised to set him right. If he is hungry and robbing and acting as the Minister says, keeping no job or anything else, is it not highly likely that the poor fellow is a bit daft? If he is, let him be helped.
Mr. B. Lenihan: I want to assure the Deputies that I have personally taken an interest in this case. I am satisfied that the man is getting the best available medical treatment to deal with his particular condition. I had a report from the prison medical officer on the matter and am fully acquainted with the facts. The whole thing will be dealt with in a sympathetic way, best appropriate to the circumstances.
Mr. Dillon: I accept what the Minister says. May I suggest to him that the first thing to do is to take the fellow  out of jail? I sympathise with the Minister's difficulty. Cannot we take him into the county hospital and have him properly looked after so that we can with a clear conscience say that, if he is friendless, he has 147 friends here, that if he is homeless, we will give him a home, that if he is sick we will care for him?
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