Cavan murder-suicide: 'More needs to be done in order to learn from these awful tragedies'

Una Butler in Ballycotton, Co Cork. Picture: Michael Mac Sweeney

Bereaved mother calls on the government to change laws on partner’s access to mental health treatment, writes Joe Leogue.

A WOMAN whose two daughters and husband died in a murder suicide in 2010 has called on the Government to amend legislation to enable spouses and partners have a greater knowledge of, and involvement in, their loved ones’ mental health treatment.

Una Butler’s husband John took his own life after he killed his daughters Zoe (six) and Ella (two) in the family’s Ballycotton, Co Cork, home in November 2010.

He had been suffering from depression, and had been attending a doctor.

Since then, Ms Butler has campaigned for changes to the Mental Health Act, arguing that such tragedies may be preventable if spouses and partners are involved in the treatment their loved ones receive for mental health difficulties.

“It is numbing to hear,” Ms Butler said yesterday of the news of the murder-suicide in Co Cavan.

“It hasn’t been six years yet for me and it is hard to come to terms with and to live with. It’s difficult to get on with the rest of your life,” she said.

“It is shocking, the devastation it creates for so many people. So many lives are destroyed by what happened,” Ms Butler said.

In the past she has met former Mental Health Minister Kathleen Lynch to outline her concerns, and while last year saw a review of the Mental Health Act 2001, the expert group’s recommendations on Ms Butler’s proposals were not what she had hoped for.

The group recommended that there “should be proactive encouragement for the patient at all stages to involve his/her family ... in the admission process and in the development of the care and treatment plan with the patient’s consent.”

This does not go far enough, said Ms Butler.

“The problem is seeking the patient’s consent. It should be compulsory. Patient confidentiality is put on too high a pedestal. I believe there is a way to respect that confidentiality while still involving the family,” she said.

Ms Butler has researched murder-suicides, and said that the Cavan tragedy is the third such incident this year.

However, she said researching cases is difficult as the only material available are news reports. She said more needs to be done to investigate such cases.

“The gardaí perform their duty, there is an inquest and that is it. They know who did it, the person responsible is dead. Gardaí are not looking for anyone else.

“More needs to be done in order to learn from these awful tragedies, but the only one that led to an enquiry — the Dunne family in Monageer, [Co Wexford], in 2007 — and a third of the chapters in that report are blacked out,” she said.

“We need more than the inquests in order to learn the common factors in these tragedies,” Ms Butler said.

How to get support from Childline:

By phone: Children and young people can contact Childline’s 24 hour phone service by phoning 1800 666666.

By text: Text the word: ‘talk’ to 50101 (service available from 10pm to 4am)

Live online chat: Available from 10am to 4am, live chat on

Via the web: You will find various items of support and advice for children and parents on and

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