Skip Page Header

Home > Suicide prevention: statements. Dáil Éireann debate.

[Oireachtas] Suicide prevention: statements. Dáil Éireann debate. (05 May 2011)


Suicide Prevention: Statements (Resumed) Thursday, 5 May 2011 Vol. 731 No. 3 (Unrevised)

Deputy Joe Costello: Suicide is a silent killer. In particular, it strikes many young men, so often without warning. Twice as many people die from suicide as in road deaths here. Combined, they are the two highest killers of young people. It is a hugely important issue. Road deaths have received enormous attention and was the subject of debate in the Chamber and in other fora. Scarcely a year has gone by without another Bill passing through the House to improve road safety and reduce road traffic deaths. I refer to permitted blood alcohol levels, speed cameras, road improvements and drug issues. Young people are those most at risk on the roads. 

One could ask how often we have had a debate in the Chamber or in the public arena on deaths by suicide. I recall the previous debate we had lasting approximately two hours, which was hardly adequate to address the issue although it results in double the number of road deaths here annually. I hope the debate that has been taking place for the past four weeks will change the situation and stimulate more activity in terms of the manner in which we approach the issue. More intervention and preventative measures are required. I hope also that we will bring to the attention of people the length and breadth of the country that there are voluntary and State facilities in terms of assistance and intervention. I received a letter only yesterday from 1life suicide helpline which referred to the effects of the debate. It offered an update on the calls received over the Easter break in the light of the recent and forthcoming statements on suicide in the Dáil. Some 705 callers rang the 1life suicide help line over Easter week alone and some 56% of those callers presented with serious suicidal ideation. Five calls were classed as ‘suicide in progress’. Some 59% of the callers were female and 40% were male. The number of male callers was much higher than the average for male callers, which is 20%. Young men do not come out into the open on this issue and do not use the help lines in the same way as young women. The number of female callers is quite high, at 59%, but young men are generally only one-third of that number. That we are having a debate on this issue and that the issue is being raised in the public arena through the media will have a desirable and beneficial effect in the broader community where some young people are subject to depression, have suicidal tendencies or suffer some form of mental illness that drives them to take extreme measures. While Dáil Deputies were enjoying the Easter break, calls to the help line numbered more than 1,000.  

I hope this debate on the issue of suicide will bring ongoing benefits. The debate reflects the fact that many new Members, particularly younger Members, have a great awareness of the issue and we have had no shortage of Members wishing to speak on it. It is a growing concern that the largest increase in the number of suicides currently is among middle-aged men. This is unexpected as suicide was mainly a youth issue. There has been a sharp increase in the number of men in their 40s or 50s who die by suicide. Anecdotal and other evidence suggest that this is related to the prolonged recession we have had here over the past three years. Men who have been holding down stable, safe jobs and who have had a good career, now find themselves with mortgage difficulties and find it difficult to put bread on the table, educate their families and hold on to their jobs. They see little prospect of improvement. The result is enormous stress and trauma for people who did not have any problem with earning a living, rearing a family and buying a home. Now all of these issues are causing problems which are often overwhelming. Depression, stress, trauma and inability to cope are the result and these have given rise to the sharp increase in suicide in the middle-aged group.  

In my constituency, Dublin Central, we have seen a new phenomenon of grandparents burying grandchildren. This has been going on for some time and is related to the scourge of drug addiction which has blighted so many young lives in the constituency and elsewhere. It is also related to the hopelessness and lack of purpose in these young lives, the shortcomings and frustrations of their environment, the emasculation of young men by a society which provides few job opportunities, the inadequate education services, the lack of facilities and the lack of a meaningful role in an environment which is often ghettoised. This environment undermines young people’s self belief and many of them turn to drugs and drink. This is the pattern in the deprived areas of the inner city of Dublin, other suburbs and other parts of the country. It has been a particular feature of my constituency in the north inner city. The fact that grandchildren are being buried by their grandparents is unnatural. This should not happen in any civilised society. It happens due to the stresses and trauma, particularly for young men, in an environment where they face hopelessness and lack purpose in their lives. This is an issue we must address. Suicide in this instance is a malaise of our lopsided and unequal society. It results from the degree of poverty and ghettoisation in certain sectors.

 A long-term solution to the problem will only be found in redressing these inequalities and in providing hope, self respect and equality of opportunity for all. The Minister of State mentioned some good intervention and prevention policies in her address. She mentioned what she intends to do and what the previous Minister of State, Mr. John Moloney, put in place. The policies are there and much good work is being done by voluntary and State agencies throughout the country. There has been a stigma attached to the issue of suicide at individual, family and neighbourhood level. It is important the issue is more transparent and discussed more openly. That is the reason for this debate.

Some €8.7 million is to be spent on suicide prevention this year. This compares poorly with the amount of money being spent on road safety. It is most unlikely the amount will be increased significantly because it would be difficult to put policies in place that would be able to avail of an amount anywhere close to what is being spent on road safety in a short space of time. However, there should be a gradual increase in the amount allocated annually and that should be part and parcel of the policy to be adopted by the Minister of State for the duration of this Administration. Policies must be researched and put in place over the next years and the increased funding should only be put in place when those policies and the necessary legislation are implemented.


I compliment the Minister of State on the priority she has given to this issue and on the commitment she has given to dealing with it. I acknowledge that it is a priority issue for society, although it has been neglected for a variety of reasons, not all of which relate to the authorities. It is time we came to grips with the issue. I wish the Minister of State the best in the work she proposes to do to deal with the issue. I suggest that she should institute a debate on the issue in the House each year during which she can report on progress in dealing with this awful scandal of suicide in society.


[Click on the link above for the full debate] 

Repository Staff Only: item control page