21 May 2005


Suicide: Nine dead in three months

As we reveal that nine people have taken their own lives in the past three months in North Belfast the mother of one of those victims asks why nothing is being done to curb the epidemic.

The heartbroken mother of a young man who took his own life this week has made an emotional plea to the British Government to do more to address the anguish of suicide in the North of Ireland.
Theresa McCluskey’s son Declan took his own life on Wednesday of this week. The family home in Greenhill Grove has been flooded with people paying their respects to the 32-year-old who was well known and liked in the community.
Declan worked for St Vincent de Paul and was the Secretary of the Ligoniel Working Men’s Club for many years.
It is not the first time that the McCluskey family have suffered such tragedy – Declan’s elder brother Frank took his own life in June 1996.
And his father, Francis McCluskey, was murdered by the UDA in August 1982 as he walked to work.
At that time his wife Theresa was pregnant with the couple’s ninth child, who was born the following January and was called Anne Francine.
This week as the family struggled to come to terms with their loss and prepare to bury Declan, Theresa said “there isn’t enough being done” to tackle suicide in North Belfast.
In the last three months nine people have taken their lives in the north of the city according to the PIPs project’s estimates. The figure stands at seven in West Belfast. To date a transparent strategy at government level to tackle suicide does not exist here.
“There is not enough being done. No way. Definitely not in districts like here and Ardoyne and Oldpark where it seems to be happening all the time,” Theresa McCluskey said.
“I know that it has happened before. With Frank I never thought it would happen, and it did. But I never thought it would happen again. Never. Declan was such a bubbly character. Everyone liked him. He would always listen to anyone’s problems and help out if he could. He was that type of person.”
Theresa’s sister, Anne Maguire, there wasn’t enough interest being shown in young people.
“We need to encourage young people to talk about their feelings and get projects started which will get them involved,” she said.
“More needs to be done in these areas, locally and it needs done now. It’s happening to families everywhere.”
In the North of Ireland, for nearly two years now, the PIPs project and others have been encouraging the development of a suicide prevention strategy with dedicated resources at least on a par with other countries like Scotland.
Jo Murphy of the PIPs project said there is a reluctance to fully embrace the need to provide adequate resources.
“Mental health is under funded and suicide prevention is seen as only a small part of that. £12million was recently given to a regional strategy in Scotland towards suicide prevention,” she said.
“There has been a 27 per cent increase in the North in the past ten years – that’s not good enough. We need equality. The current mental health budget is under-funded to the tune of £2m in North and West Belfast and that needs redressed urgently.”
A task group set up by the North and West Belfast Health and Social Services Trust to look at suicide meets for the first time in the Everton Complex on Monday.
“This is about different agencies coming together to look at the issue,” Jo Murphy said.
“Suicide is an ongoing crisis which is affecting families. This taskforce can’t be a talking shop, it has to work towards developing a regional strategy in the North of Ireland and make it work on the ground.”
A spokesperson for the N&WBHSST said they were unable to comment on the meeting at this early stage.
North Belfast Sinn Féin MLA Kathy Stanton, whose party has been pressing for a community-based suicide prevention strategy, said the issue was a priority in the six counties.
“The British minister with responsibility for health conceded that mental health services in North and West Belfast are under-funded by more than £2million.
“However, the Department of Health has yet to come up with the money to fill this gap in community support,” she said.
“If suicide is a national disaster in Ireland, we urgently need a national disaster plan. That must be a priority.
“The Health Departments in Belfast and Dublin must begin to realise that the public want urgent, strategic action on suicide prevention.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said considerable work was ongoing and that a new subgroup to look specifically at suicide had been set up.

Journalist:: Andrea McKernon

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