A Sinn Féin TD has said there are lessons for everyone after one of the party’s youngest councillors returned safe after going missing for almost two weeks, citing stress due to college and constituency work.
Cork North Central TD Jonathan O’Brien made his comments yesterday after spending time with Cork City Cllr Stephen Cunningham, 23, who had been last seen on March 18.
Mr Cunningham, a student at University College Cork who topped the poll in the city’s north-east ward in 2014, returned home safe on Wednesday just hours after being reported missing.
“There are lessons for everybody from this,” said Mr O’Brien. “We all need to be more aware of the pressures people face, not just in politics, but in everyday life. These kinds of issues could affect anyone, at any time.”
Concerns were raised when Mr Cunningham did not attend the 1916 commemoration events last weekend, and failed to attend a city council meeting on Tuesday.
His family contacted gardaí, who were poised to issue a public appeal for help tracing him yesterday.
Word reached Mr Cunningham that people were concerned and he returned to his family home in Mayfield. He issued two statements yesterday thanking people for their concern.
“It means the world to me,” he said. “Over the last number of weeks I have felt a lot of pressure and stress with college work, constituency work, etc and needed some time to myself. I can’t express how grateful and overwhelmed I am by the amount of people, both close to me and perfect strangers alike, who rallied around me. I am now spending time with my family. I need some space and I would sincerely appreciate that my need for privacy be respected.”
Mr O’Brien said similar issues could affect anyone and were not just linked to Mr Cunningham’s college commitments or political work alone.
“This is a societal issue,” said Mr O’Brien. “We need to break down the stigma of mental health issues. We need to be more open, more aware, and more encouraging of people experiencing mental health difficulties.”
Mr Cunningham is expected to resume his political responsibilities in time. Mr O’Brien said that, in the meantime, anyone with constituency issues should contact his office.
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