Home > Dail Eireann debate. Topical issue debate - suicide incidence.

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Topical issue debate - suicide incidence. (17 Jul 2012)

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Acting Chairman (Deputy Olivia Mitchell): The next item is in the name of Deputy Billy Kelleher. This matter and the next matter in the names of Deputies Finian McGrath and Denis Naughten come under the remit of the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, but she sends her apologies to the House because she is held up in traffic. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, has kindly offered to respond to the issue. 

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Knowing the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, quite well it is a brave person who would try to replace her but I know the Minister will do his best.


Acting Chairman (Deputy Olivia Mitchell): Brave or foolish.


Deputy Billy Kelleher:The reasons I raise this issue are twofold. First, a report was published today which analysed suicides in Cork over a three year period. It was quite disturbing in view of the fact that behind the statistics I personally knew some of the people who had taken their own lives for whatever reason. There is a need to implement the national substance misuse strategy and to address the issue of alcohol once and for all in society. I hope we will not park the issue and refer it to a committee that will wait for ages before a sub-committee issues a report. We know for certain, and all the statistical data show, that alcohol is a major contributory factor to mental health problems and suicide in this country. The recent report found that 80% of young males who took their lives were abusing alcohol for a year prior to their committing suicide. For all those reasons I urge the Government to implement the substance misuse strategy as quickly, efficiently and effectively as possible.


Recently we witnessed disturbances and anti-social behaviour connected with a concert in the Phoenix Park. Thousands of people congregate on a regular basis in this country and no difficulties arise but it is a recipe for disaster where there is a cocktail of cheap drink sloshing around the system and the use of illegal and other substances in terms of anti-social behaviour, damage to individuals, collective damage to society and, in this unfortunate case, deaths.


According to the World Health Organisation, tackling alcohol pricing is one of the most effective policies a government can undertake to reduce alcohol consumption and associated alcohol-related harm. We have taken action on tobacco. We adopted the policy of increasing prices to decrease consumption and of making advertising less attractive so as to reduce consumption. I do not blame the Government but it is unfortunate that we have done the exact opposite with alcohol. Collectively, the Government and the people should try to limit the availability of cheap alcohol, in particular to younger people. For all those reasons I urge the Minister to follow up on the report commissioned by the Suicide Support and Information System, the National Suicide Research Foundation and Dr. Ella Arensman. It brings home the impact of alcohol on society and on individuals who are already under pressure, who may have mental health issues and use alcohol as a crutch and for escapism, and who end up in a situation where further depression leads to self-harm or suicide.


I was a little disappointed at the Cabinet’s response to the proposals on the advertising of alcohol. Let us have such a debate, but the Government should at least introduce minimum pricing for alcohol. That would automatically make drink more expensive and less available to people. We can have a debate on the other issue again but we should not let it slow this issue down. It is critically important for us to show, collectively, as a society that we acknowledge that we have a problem with alcohol in this country.


Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn): I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter. As the House has been informed, my colleague Deputy Kathleen Lynch, whose shoes I would never attempt to step into, is unavoidably detained and I have offered to take both this matter and the subsequent matter on her behalf.


Reach Out, the national strategy for action on suicide prevention, recognises that alcohol and substance misuse are strongly related to deliberate self-harm and suicidal behaviour. The national registry of deliberate self-harm for 2011, published by the National Suicide Research Foundation, again highlights the misuse of alcohol as one of the factors associated with the higher rate of self-harm presentations on Sundays, Mondays and public holidays.


We, as a society, can no longer be tolerant or ambivalent when it comes to the pattern of alcohol consumption and the problems for which alcohol is responsible. The Government is concerned at the harm caused by the use and misuse of alcohol and, to that end, a report of the national substance misuse strategy steering group was launched in February this year. The report contains a range of recommendations to, among other things, reduce the consumption of alcohol in general. The recommendations are grouped under five pillars of supply reduction, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and research.


The main recommendations cover areas such as those correctly raised by Deputy Kelleher, namely, the price of alcohol, advertising, sponsorship, monitoring the enforcement of the provisions of the intoxicating liquor legislation and the development of early intervention guidelines for alcohol and substance use across all relevant sectors of the health and social care system. The substance misuse report is a roadmap for the future direction of policy to deal with the misuse of alcohol and an action plan is currently being developed.


The latest figures for the number of people who died by suicide last year or who have engaged in deliberate self-harm are truly disturbing. Suicide is a tragedy that we are constantly working to prevent, and we are also working to give more support to the families affected. The implementation of Reach Out, the national strategy for action on suicide prevention, is a priority for the Government and a personal priority for the Minister of State directly involved in the area, Deputy Kathleen Lynch. The National Office for Suicide Prevention, NOSP, is implementing the Reach Out actions as part of a four-way strategy which involves delivering a general population approach to mental health promotion and suicide prevention; using targeted programmes for people at high risk of suicide; delivering services to individuals who have engaged in deliberate self-harm; and providing support to families and communities bereaved by suicide. The annual budget for this work has been increased by the Government to more than €12 million.


A wide range of awareness and training programmes are available, including safeTALK and ASIST, which train participants to become more alert to the possibility of suicide in their communities. The Irish College of General Practitioners is currently developing a specific suicide prevention skills training programme which will be rolled out in the near future. The NOSP has also piloted a system under which suicide crisis assessment nurses work with emergency departments and GPs, which will be rolled out nationally this year. Up to 20 voluntary organisations part-funded by the HSE provide excellent prevention, intervention and postvention support services including telephone helplines and web-based support. The special allocation of €35 million for mental health which was announced in budget 2012 will be used primarily to further strengthen community mental health teams in both adult and children’s mental health services. Some of the additional funds will also be used to advance further suicide prevention initiatives and to initiate the provision of psychological and counselling services in primary care, specifically for people with mental health problems.


Deputy Billy Kelleher:I thank the Minister for the reply. We must admit that as a nation we have a problem with alcohol. We must introduce policies that send out a strong message that we accept our difficulties in terms of how we deal with alcohol and our pattern of drinking and binge drinking. The reduction in the age of people who regularly abuse alcohol is disturbing. I do not wish to be seen as a killjoy. I was a young lad too, but the bottom line is that we cannot ignore the issue any longer. If the Cabinet, as is indicated, has a difficulty with the area of sponsorship then let us have the debate at another time, but let us deal with minimum pricing and supply as a matter of urgency. At least that would send out a message that the Government, Parliament and people are willing to tackle alcohol consumption and its fallout in terms of mental health problems, suicide, anti-social behaviour and all that flows from it.


Deputy Ruairí Quinn: I thank the Deputy for raising the matter. I do not think we can say any longer that we do not know the facts, that we do not have the evidence and that we are not aware of the scale or extent of the problem. As the Deputy rightly said, the evidence is in front of us. I share his concern that the Government must listen to what is being said in this House and must consider the various reports I have cited on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch. I assure Deputy Kelleher and the House that I will convey his concern to her personally.


Topical Issue Debate - Suicide Incidence

Dáil Éireann Debate Vol. 772 No. 1

Tuesday, 17 July 2012


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