Councillors break down in tears as meeting debates suicide rates

May 16th, 2016 10:05 PM

By Jackie Keogh

Cllr Hayes and his family at the Clonakilty walk. (Photo: Howard Crowdy)

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A WEST Cork councillor broke down in tears when he discussed the issue of suicide at this week’s County Council meeting.

Cllr Paul Hayes (SF) wept openly as he spoke about a close friend, Gareth, who committed suicide 10 years ago. 

The scenes of raw emotion weren’t just limited to Cllr Hayes, during a debate on cutbacks to the mental health service. 

A second councillor was forced to leave the chamber to compose herself after attempting to speak on the subject.

The debate began when Cllr Danielle Twomey – one of seven Sinn Féin councillors who wore the Green Ribbon to highlight mental health awareness month – tabled a motion calling on the new Health minister Simon Harris to reverse the decision to cut the mental health budget by €12m.

She appealed, not just for a reversal of the decision, but also for an increase in staff numbers, which have fallen by 10%.

‘Budget cutbacks are not the answer,’ she said. ‘We should be looking at mental health reform, not regression.’ With suicide on the increase, further cuts will have ‘devastating consequences’, she added.

Cllr Hayes paid tribute to the 120,000 people who took part in the Darkness Into Light annual fundraiser for Pieta House at the weekend, a non-profit organisation that provides specialised treatment programme for people who present with suicidal ideation or have self-harmed

He said it is organisations like Pieta House and Lisheens House – established in Skibbereen by Noreen Murphy, after her husband took his own life – that are ‘picking up the pieces’.

The Sinn Féin councillor, together with his wife Gertie and their two boys, Lorcan and Tiernan, were among the 3,000 people who took part in the Clonakilty Darkness Into Light event in the early hours of last Saturday morning.

Cllr Hayes said there were many people in the crowd that had ‘their own tragic stories of suicide’. 

Speaking about his friend, Cllr Hayes said: ‘He was an avid Liverpool fan and I will never forget that the Liverpool anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone was sung as we shouldered his coffin. It was one of the saddest days of my life.’

Cllr Rachel McCarthy (SF) spoke about the loss of her uncle. ‘We know how important the mental health services are, particularly the preventative services,’ she said. And she advocated that an additional €12m be invested in education to help young males who are most at risk.

 Cllr June Murphy (Ind) tried to speak about a recent loss in her community but was unable to do so and left the chamber to compose herself. 

Bantry-based Cllr Danny Collins (Ind) spoke about the loss of his brother-in-law, and some of his friends, through suicide. Speaking as someone who has come through the mental health services, Cllr Joe Harris (NP) said he supported the motion. So, too, did Ger Keohane (Ind), who disclosed that he suffers from depression. Cllr Twomey’s motion was carried unanimously.

As well as in Clonakilty, the hugely successful Darkness into Light walk also took place after 4am at venues in Carrigaline, Castletownbere, and Inchigeelagh.

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