Terence Casey, who previously highlighted a growing incidence of suicide among elderly males, said that while new road safety legislation may be reducing the number of road deaths, it was leading to more suicides.
“I believe this [new legislation] is part of the reason more older men are taking their own lives. These people are often widowed, or single, and living alone. They can’t go to the local pub for a pint because they’re afraid they’ll be caught for drink driving. They were used to going out for one or two pints with friends, but are not doing that any more as one pint could put a person over the limit,” said Mr Casey.
“With the closure of post offices, shops and creameries, there’s a huge gap in relation to social contact in rural Ireland. The new drink-driving laws are creating further isolation and driving suicide rates up.”
Mr Casey, coroner for the largely rural south Kerry area, said there were three road deaths and 11 suicides in the area in 2011. Of the 11 people who took their own lives, two were aged 22 to 30, two were between 31 to 40, three were aged 41 to 50, and four were aged 60 or over. The overwhelming majority were men.
Alcohol was a factor in road deaths, but toxicology reports presented at inquests showed no signs of alcohol in most suicide victims, the Killarney solicitor said.
“I believe that if records throughout the country were looked at, they would show that the amount of accidents involving farmers on rural roads is very low. Most serious traffic accidents occur on main roads.”
There were 67 suicides in south Kerry for the period 2005 to 2011, with 41 of the victims being over 40 years of age.
Meanwhile, there have been calls for a media campaign to prevent suicide, similar to the campaign to reduce road deaths.
Businesswoman and former nurse Deirdre Fee, who is leading a project to create greater suicide awareness in Kerry, said there was a real need to advertise and campaign for suicide prevention.
Ms Fee organised a public meeting in Killarney prior to Christmas. As a result of this, Console, the national organisation for suicide prevention, is to provide services in the town from next month. Console will offer suicide prevention and intervention services as well support for bereaved families, including advice and help dealing with inquests. The service will be free.
Road Safety Authority spokesman Brian Farrell said the issue raised by Mr Casey was a very important, legitimate social issue which needed to be tackled.
“However, this debate is all about rural transportation. To allow people drink and drive is not the solution to these social problems.
“Drink driving has wreaked havoc throughout the length and breadth of this country, which is something we should always be mindful of.”