The proportion of total health care expenditure devoted to mental health care in Ireland, at just below 7%, is low relative to other countries. There have been few studies that have examined the relationship between public preferences for different kinds of health care expenditure and priority setting as undertaken by policy-makers and governments. This paper examines citizen's rankings and willingness to pay for a community-based mental health care programme in Ireland relative to two other programmes: cancer and elderly care. Respondents rank cancer as the most important programme, followed by elderly care and then mental health care. The contingent valuation survey demonstrated that people are willing to make significant tax contributions to new community-based services for people with mental health problems, counteracting the view sometimes expressed that people do not care at all about mental health care provision. However, the survey also found that people tend to value additional spending on mental health care lower than cancer and elderly care programmes. (C) 2008 Published by Elsevier Ireland Ltd.