09 September 2005

Death toll shock

Daily Ireland

Jarlath Kearney

More people in the North took their lives through suicide than were killed during thirty-five years of political conflict, Daily Ireland can reveal.
According to shocking new figures released by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, a total of 4,451 people died through suicide between 1969 and 2002 in the North.
Sinn Féin president and West Belfast MP Gerry Adams obtained the figures through the North’s freedom of information provisions.
The revelations come as health minister and Tánaiste Mary Harney prepares to launch a so-called “national strategy for action on suicide prevention” in Dublin this morning. Despite being billed as a “national strategy”, the new ten-year plan stops at the Border and only covers the 26 counties.
In the North, after months of sustained public pressure NIO health minister Shaun Woodward commissioned a new suicide prevention strategy to be completed by the autumn. The NIO strategy is only expected to cover the six counties.
A wide variety of political representatives and community activists from across Ireland – alongside relatives of those who have taken their own lives – have highlighted the need for an integrated all-Ireland approach to tackle the issue of suicide.
In 2004, a total of 584 recorded deaths across Ireland were attributed to suicide. Since the start of 2005, a disproportionately high number of suicides have taken place in deprived areas of north and west Belfast.
Speaking to Daily Ireland last night, Mr Adams said:
“With World Suicide Awareness Day this Saturday, the official statistics which have now been disclosed make a compelling case – which I have been making for some time – for suicide prevention to become a strategic priority for the health departments in Belfast and Dublin.
“It is a measure of the human cost of suicide in Ireland that more people in the six counties have taken their own lives through suicide than were killed during the conflict since 1969. That does not even take into account the hidden trauma of families bereaved and those who have survived suicide.
“The official statistics also reveal that during the last decade, more people in the North of Ireland have died as a result of suicide than from road accidents. While the efforts to reduce road accidents – including the resources invested by govenrment agencies in this work – is creditable, it begs the question why suicide prevention does not merit the same or greater resources.”
Mr Adams said that the current moves by health departments in Belfast and Dublin to devise separate suicide prevention strategies only happened after “intense lobbying by relatives and campaign groups”. He said the strategies will be judged on their merits.
“In particular, we will examine closely whether the necessary resources are made available and how this strategy is likely to impact on suicide prevention across the entire island,” Mr Adams said.
When reporting statistics on suicide, NISRA states that it is conventional “to combine cases where the cause of death is classified as ‘suicide and self-inflicted injury’ and cases where the cause of death is classified as ‘undetermined intent’”. However, even when “suicide and self-inflicted injury” deaths between 1969 and 2002 are examined in isolation, the alarming total still stands at 3,595.

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