Surviving parents of children killed in three of Ireland’s most tragic murder-suicides have supported a call for more psychological support for communities struck by such events.
That is after relatives and neighbours of a Kerry family who died in a double murder-suicide last year appealed for better mental health support for the community after such a tragedy.
Eileen O'Sullivan, 56, and her son Jamie, 24, were found dead by neighbours at their home near Lixnaw last September. The body of husband and father Mossie O'Sullivan, 63, was found close to the house with a legally held gun at his side.
The tragedy deeply impacted the close-knit Kerry community, yet, some residents say, little or no State support has been offered.
The HSE says that an intensive response was and remains in place to support the community of Lixnaw. “Out of respect for the family and community involved, we cannot comment on the details of what that response involves,” a statement from the HSE said.
It said both a Kerry-based and external resource officer for suicide prevention offered support to the community as well as an HSE-funded suicide bereavement officer. It added that the resources are still available.
“When a tragedy of this nature takes place, we put in place an emergency response, followed by a long-term response. That response is led by the needs of those bereaved and by the community.”
But two women who were close to the tragedy but returned to their current homes in the UK were struck by the disparity in services between there and Ireland.
Cath Houlihan, a niece and first cousin of Eileen and Jamie O’Sullivan, and Norma Harrington, a next-door neighbour, have joined forces to call for supports and also for tougher regulations when it comes to renewing gun licences.
Norma Harrington works in London but was at home in Lixnaw on holiday when the tragedy happened and remained there for three weeks afterwards. Although Cath Houlihan's family moved to England when she was a child, she still considers Lixnaw as home.
Ms Harrington said that in the weeks and months following the tragedy no statutory agency offered counselling or support.
“We were expected to give statements. We were expected to relive what had happened, not just my family — the whole community. We didn't even receive a leaflet through the door or a number to call,” she told RTÉ.
She said that when she returned to the UK she received specific trauma support, which helped her significantly.
"There isn't any question from the NHS in terms of their role and responsibility, so I don't understand why our Government and the HSE aren't seeing that as their responsibility as well for the Irish people.”
Cath Houlihan said the absence of support from statutory agencies for her family and community was incredible. She said she had written twice to the Taoiseach appealing for supports to be put in place for Lixnaw and communities where such tragedies occur.
The women want the HSE to establish community psychological support teams, to be deployed to areas when such incidents occur.
Ms Harrington specifically called for trauma screening for communities so that people will feel supported, can talk about what has happened and to understand the signs of depression.
Rebecca Saunders, whose late husband Martin McCarthy, 50, drowned their only daughter Clarissa, 3, and then himself in west Cork in 2013, backs their call for better community supports following a tragedy.
She said her daughter's murder impacted the whole community, not just blood relations.
Una Butler’s two daughters, Zoe, 6, and Ella, 2, were killed by her husband, John, 43, who then killed himself in Ballycotton, East Cork in November 2010.
Mr Butler had been suffering from depression and Ms Butler has been campaigning since their deaths for families to be involved in the care of loved ones suffering from mental illness.
She believes that, had she been involved in her late husband’s care, her daughters would still be alive today.
She hopes recommendations contained in a commissioned Familicide and Domestic Homicide Review, established in 2019 and due to be published soon, may outline what community supports are necessary to help people heal following a terrible tragedy.
The review’s methodology specifically requires the study to consider how to develop an integrated procedure to support close family members of those who die in familicides and to consider supports which should be provided to local communities impacted by such crimes.
Andrew McGinley, father of Conor (9), Darragh (7) and Carla McGinley (3) said that what psychological help and emotional support he and his family received after they were killed by his wife in Co Dublin in January 2020, had to be proactively sourced by themselves through charities or paid for privately.
“No one reaches out to you. No help was offered to me. No one from the HSE stepped forward to speak to me. That surprised me. I relied on the charities.”
Mr McGinley said that a Garda Family Liaison Officer gave him leaflets with contact details for three charities – Advic, Anam Cara and First Light.
He said bereavement support and counselling through Anam Cara and First Light were hugely helpful after his children’s tragic deaths. Although both charities receive a small amount of State funding, the vast majority is raised through charitable donations.
“The only support offered to me by the HSE was when I had my first meeting with the HSE when I called for a review [of his wife’s care] after the trial. One senior person from the HSE said ‘can we look at any support for you?’ I thought it was a bit late then.”
The impact of such a tragedy on a community is deep and wide-ranging. Mr McGinley is aware of three of his children’s friends who are still in counselling following their deaths, paid for privately.
He said that he has been campaigning with Una Butler since his children’s deaths for families to be included in their loved ones’ treatment for mental illness.
"It’s something that Una Butler called for back in 2010. Had she been listened to then Conor, Darragh and Carla would be alive.
"The changes Una Butler and I have been talking about could be made in the morning. It doesn’t require a change to the mental health act. It just needs to be put into practice and process of how they treat mental health patients."
"I don’t have any doubts until changes are made that it will happen again and I dread that day."
The HSE said that although rare, incidents of murder-suicide have a long lasting and traumatic effect on communities. It said the HSE National Office for Suicide Prevention has published new national operational guidance to support the development of a community response plan for incidents of suspected suicide, particularly where there is a risk of "clusters and/or contagion".