Residents at the Owenacurra mental health facility in Midleton face being forced out of their community unless the Government steps in.

Owenacurra plight ‘beyond demoralising’

People in East Cork are “holding out hope” for Government intervention as the fight to retain the Owenacurra mental health facility rages on.

The decision to close the centre was made in June last year by management of the Cork/Kerry Health Community, a division of the HSE, who deemed it unsuitable for purpose.

However, East Cork Green Party Cllr Liam Quaide says the decision ultimately lies with the Government.

“As much as it's an operational decision by Cork Kerry HSE management, they're ultimately accountable to Government so this can't go ahead if the Minister for Mental Health or Micheál Martin doesn’t sign off on it,” he told the Cork Independent.

He added: “I think it will be absolutely crucial that we have an intervention either from national HSE management or Government because it's very clear that no amount of appealing to reason and no amount of families pouring their hearts out is going to change the Cork/Kerry HSE management's determination to close the service.”

Nine of the 11 remaining residents at Owenacurra have recently been offered places at a new 24 hour centre in Carrigaline. Some residents have lived at Owenacurra for decades.

Cllr Quaide, who is a mental health professional himself, has been preparing a detailed referral to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) asking for numerous lines of investigation into the decision to close the centre, as well as investigations into investment decisions made by the HSE thereafter.

In his referral, he asked PAC to investigate why the HSE chose a site in Carrigaline for a new 24 hour staffed community mental health residence in 2021 over other towns such as Cobh, Carrigtwohill, Midleton or Youghal, thereby leaving East Cork with no 24 hour facility.

He also asked PAC to investigate the procurement process involved in the purchase of the Carrigaline property by the HSE in light of the fact that it was purchased from close family relatives of a senior manager of the Cork/Kerry mental health services.

According to Cllr Quaide, the premises in Carrigaline was purchased by the HSE for €750,000 in January 2021 and was originally set to accommodate residents from a service named Millfield House in Blackpool. He said the purchase would have drawn from the same budget for services such as Owenacurra.

Instead, residents from Millfield House are now in temporary accommodation at Garnish House Guesthouse in Cork city at a significant cost to the HSE in rent and cleaning charges.

Meanwhile, Cllr Quaide says work on the Carrigaline premises, which was previously a B&B, is halted due to the HSE not acquiring necessary planning permission despite having been advised to do so by a HSE employed architect.

Owenacurra centre renovation

In 2020, the renovation of the Owenacurra centre was tendered at €145,000 but was never pursued, to the frustration of the East Cork community, particularly the family members of the residents of the centre.

Cllr Quaide said: “It's beyond demoralising and I think one of the things that needs to be highlighted more is that, obviously the plight of the currant residents is of the uppermost of our endeavours, but there's actually lots of people out in the community in East Cork, people with severe and enduring mental health difficulties who require regular respite referrals to the Owenacurra Centre. Those people are just left floundering now, they have no local community based facility.”

Cllr Quaide said the decision to close the centre is also at odds with Ireland’s model of mental health service provision A Vision for Change which stipulates that there should be 30 placements in every region of the country. If the Owenacurra centre closes, East Cork’s placements will go from 24 to zero.

Upon visiting the centre earlier this month, Green Party TD and member of PAC Neasa Hourigan, who is an architect with specialist interest in healthcare design, said she saw no reason as to why the premises couldn't be renovated.

Speaking during a session of the PAC, Deputy Hourigan questioned representatives of the Department of Health on the closure: “The building is no more unsuitable than all of the other buildings in the area.

There is no rhyme or reason for closing Owenacurra and spending huge amounts of money on other congregated settings which are absolutely in contrast and contradiction to our national policies. If the Department will not hold completely opaque decision-making of the HSE to account, who will?”

The Cork Independent contacted Cork/Kerry Community Healthcare but no response was received before going to print.