Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin addresses cross party Conference on Suicide hosted by Gerry Adams

24 September, 2007


"Ba mhaith liom ar dtús Uachtarán Shinn Féin Gerry Adams agus a fhoireann a mholadh as an ócáid tábhachtach seo a eagrú.

I want to begin by commending Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and his team for organizing this very important event and for consistently working on the issue of suicide.

In the same breath, and in a cross-party spirit, I want to commend my fellow Dáil deputy Dan Neville, who has done tremendous work on the issue of suicide and mental health. He has helped raise awareness firstly in the Oireachtas and then in wider Irish society and we look forward to working closely with him in the future.

I do not have to rehearse for people here the terrible toll that suicide has taken and is taking in Irish society, especially among our young people. I want to extend my sympathy to all those who have been bereaved as a result of the tragedy of suicide.

Today's event is an act of solidarity with them in their loss. It is also an act of solidarity in joining together to ensure that effective action is taken to address this problem and, as far as humanly possible, to avoid future tragedies.

The focus of this session is the role of Government. Our task, as always, is complicated by the fact that we have three Governments - one on each side of the Border and one in London. However, I believe that some progress has been made here in Ireland on the issue of suicide and that much more is possible. I believe also that we can achieve much by pooling our knowledge and experience and by sharing our resources on this island.

Last year the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children published a report 'The High Level of Suicide in Irish Society' which has set the agenda for Government action on suicide.

The report recognizes that there is greater public awareness and concern about suicide in our society. But it also makes clear, regrettably, that this awareness and concern has not been reflected in concerted and effective action by Governments.

The report is especially critical of the state of our mental health services in the 26 Counties. It points out that people with mental illness are known to be at greater risk of death by suicide but 'the type of mental health service one can access is a matter of luck'.

That is a terrible indictment.

The Committee report states that funding for mental health services is "allocated in a random manner with scant regard for need".
Perhaps most damning of all in the context of suicide, the report asserts that "the provision of mental health services for adolescents is high on aspiration but low on action".

Despite 11,000 admissions per annum to accident and emergency departments in the 26 Counties following suicidal behaviour, we have not yet put swift and appropriate standardised interventions in place to treat this high risk group and thus reduce repeat acts.

All of the findings by the joint committee must be taken on board both by the Irish Government and by the Executive here. The report makes 33 detailed and costed recommendations. They cover increasing public awareness, improving mental health services especially at primary care level and targeting those most at risk.

The report places a special emphasis on the need to raise awareness and to put in place support and response systems within the education system. This is extremely important and is surely an area where resources can be shared and joint programmes undertaken.

Those responsible for acting on the recommendations include the Departments of Justice; Education & Science; Health & Children and the Office of Public Works. The entire programme is costed at €60.09 million.

We need to explore in detail how much of this work can be done more effectively in a joint North-South approach. There should be direct and ongoing co-operation between departments in Dublin and Belfast and between the relevant Oireachtas and Assembly committees. We will act more effectively if we act together.

It is very important also that Government assistance is given to support networks for families affected by suicide as the testimony we have heard here today so eloquently demonstrates.

Finally I commend the call for a target to be set for the reduction of the overall rate of suicide. The report suggested a target of a 20% reduction by 2016. Whatever the target, whatever the date, we require action not aspiration. With good will and co-operation we can all make a difference." CRíOCH

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