Health ministers on both sides of the border today faced fresh calls for an all-Ireland approach to tackle rising suicide levels.
On the eve of World Suicide Awareness Day, Gerry Adams, Mary Lou McDonald, former Stormont Health Minister Bairbre de Brun and other Sinn Féin representatives signed an open letter urging Health Minister Mary Harney and her Northern Ireland Office counterpart Shaun Woodward to adopt a more integrated approach.
The letter welcomed the Department of Health and Children’s announcement of a 10-year plan for suicide prevention in the Republic of Ireland.
“Like the work of the suicide taskforce in the Six Counties, the real impact of this announcement will be measured by implementation and its effect on local communities,” the party’s five MPs, five TDs and two MEPs wrote.
“Meanwhile, in the Six Counties, the Department of Health is committed to producing a strategy position in the next two months.
“Sinn Féin believes that suicide prevention must be promoted in an integrated, holistic strategy which is resourced and implemented as one across the 32 Counties.
“No political or legal obstacle should be put in the way of all-Ireland action on suicide prevention.”
Almost 500 lives are claimed on average in the Republic each year by suicide, with men under 35 years accounting for around 40% of all suicide deaths.
North of the border, it is estimated another 150 people take their lives each year.
Earlier this week, Tanaiste and Health Minister Mary Harney announced State agencies and interest groups would be involved in a 10-year suicide prevention plan to lower the death rate.
Mary Harney said the national strategy would target the general population as well as specific groups such as young men, prisoners and unemployed people.
Last month Northern Ireland Office Health Minister Shaun Woodward urged the North's taskforce at a conference in Belfast to consider a survey of people affected by suicide which could inform future policy decisions.
Sinn Féin said while suicide was a global problem, the increase in suicide levels throughout the island of Ireland had been higher than in most countries in Europe.
“Many of those campaigning for strategic action on suicide prevention have in the past justifiably criticised the lack of urgency shown by Health Departments in Belfast and Dublin,” Mr Adams and his colleagues said.
“In recent months, announcements have been made by both administrations which suggest a changing attitude at government level, forced upon them by the survivors, families and campaigning groups.
“Whilst we welcome statements of intent, the real test for both governments will be in delivering on their commitments.”
Meanwhile a young unionist welcomed the launch of a new Internet lobbying campaign by Northern Ireland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, Nigel Williams urging action from the minister.
Kenny Donaldson said the ‘Message for the Minister’ campaign on the commission’s website would help raise awareness.
“Suicide as a term has in the past invoked silence, people have preferred not to speak of its causes openly,” the Newry and Armagh UUP member said.
“Sadly many families and indeed society at large know what its effects are.
“The task for government and wider society is to have the issue, its causes and effects discussed openly.”