Geoff Day, director of the National Suicide Prevention Office, said media publicity over his departure was a “distraction” from the real issue — the “ongoing and persistent tragedy of suicide.”
Dr Reilly accepted Mr Day had previously expressed concern over staffing levels in the office, but said he was not retiring for this reason.
Mr Day confirmed he was retiring at the age of 61 to take up an offer of a Masters degree in Trinity College.
They were speaking at a conference on suicide organised by support agency Console, coinciding with World Suicide Prevention Day.
Referring to Mr Day’s retirement, Dr Reilly said: “Of course he will be replaced. The National Office for the Prevention of Suicide is extremely important and we have to have a director there, there’s no question about that. I’ve already been in contact with the department and they’re telling me there will be an immediate replacement.”
He said a second vacancy in the office — which now has a staff of four — will also be filled.
Dr Reilly said there had been a “very worrying increase” in suicides in recent years, with a small drop last year.
Official figures show there were 460 suicides in 2007, falling to 424 in 2008, rising to 527 in 2009, before dropping back last year to 486.
Dr Reilly said “many suicides go unreported” and he would look at the law governing inquests after Mr Day said there was an “overly legalistic” definition of suicide which obliged coroners to be convinced beyond all reasonable doubt before returning a suicide verdict.
Mr Day said it was “no accident” the rise in suicides in 2008 came as the economic downturn began to hit. He said the economic situation was putting “unbearable stress” on individuals, families and communities.
Mr Day criticised commentators who said nothing was being done and said the office funded 25 new projects this year.
President Mary McAleese said issues around alcohol and drugs, attitudes to homosexuality, bullying and cyber bullying “urgently need to be tackled”. She said society must make an individual’s wellbeing “a communal responsibility”.
Fr Aidan Troy said after 40 years being a priest he “finds it difficult” to put on his priest’s collar due to the “decay, sin and criminality” in the Catholic Church.
“Who knows how many good people lost their light in life because of the actions of clergy and religious,” he said. But he urged people not to give up hope.
Professor Annette Beautrais of Yale University said one million people died from suicide every year — half of all violent deaths globally.
She said societies, in trying to de-stigmatise suicide, had to be careful not to “normalise” suicide, particularly among young people.
*Console Helpline 1800 201 890.