SF make plea amid spate of suicides in Belfast

03/08/2004 - 13:26:52

The British government was today urged to release funds to tackle the surge in suicides among young people across Belfast.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams made the appeal after a visit last night to the family of Fiona Barnes, whose body was found hanging from a tree in Belfast’s City Cemetery on Sunday, just yards from her boyfriend’s grave.

Michael McComb, with whom the teenager had set up home, committed suicide earlier this year.

Mr Adams extended sympathy to the Barnes family and confirmed he would be seeking an urgent meeting with Northern Ireland Office Health Minister Angela Smith to tackle the problem.

“Too many families have suffered the deep hurt and trauma of bereavement following the suicide of a family member or friend,” the West Belfast MP said.

“Greater efforts must be made to tackle this problem.

“Over the past number of months Sinn Féin and community organisations have been lobbying intensively for money and support to deal with mental health issues.

“The continued high levels of suicide and self-harm across north and west Belfast demonstrates the failure of government to give this problem the high priority it needs.”

Mr Adams said counselling projects were being run on a shoestring budget in the north and west of the city.

He added that a strategy for the prevention of suicide, developed by the North and West Trust, had not been fully implemented because of a lack of funding.

“One project alone in Lenadoon has a waiting list for help of 120 people and the Trust itself has acknowledged that it is underfunded by £3m (€4.5m) in its mental health services,” the Sinn Féin president said.

“We have been told that this is a serious and complex issue for Government agencies. We are told that plans are being drafted. We are told that budgets are being identified. This isn’t good enough, the deaths continue.

“If the British Government and its health agencies are serious about tackling this issue, if they are serious about breaking this cycle and about ending these deaths, then they must invest in services which promote positive mental health, which support people in distress and support the families affected by suicide and self-harm.

“Our communities need the support, we need the resources and we need them now.”

Ms Barnes, from the Divismore area of west Belfast, set up home with Mr McComb, 19, earlier this year.

But her happiness was shattered when he killed himself just over two months ago.

Friends believe he never fully recovered from the death of his 15-year-old sister, Debbie, who was killed by a joyrider driving a stolen car in Belfast in March 2002.

Ms Barnes only turned 18 last week, but her grief was so intense that she refused to celebrate her birthday.

Her body was discovered in the cemetery by a man walking his dog.

Fiona’s death has devastated her father, Aidan, and mother, Maura.

“Kids think it’s the easy way out. They don’t realise they are leaving behind broken families,” said Mr Barnes.

“I wouldn’t say she had it planned, but I would say she thought about it.

“I reckon she sat beside his grave all night.”

Both suicides have brought back harrowing memories of a six-week period in north Belfast earlier this year when 13 young men and women took their own lives.

Priests and community workers have urged youths facing problems to seek help before their troubles become overwhelming.

At the height of the earlier suicide crisis, centred around the economically deprived Ardoyne district, a special 24-hour hotline was set up.

More than a dozen counsellors were dealing with 120 people a week.

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