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Suicide groups welcome ‘positive’ contact with Poots

By Kieran Hughes

The health Minister has echoed calls from North Belfast suicide awareness groups on the need for a cross-departmental approach to tackle the alarming rate of suicides here.

Edwin Poots was speaking after he met with North Belfast-based suicide awareness groups PIPS Programmes and Lighthouse at Stormont on Monday. The groups were appealing for the  DUP man to tackle the high suicide rate as a matter of urgency.

In the past month alone, North Belfast has lost three men to suicide, the latest being Ardoyne father-of-seven Paul McAuley, who died last week.

“At the meeting, it was very clear that we are all concerned with reducing the number of deaths as much as possible,” said the Minister.

“There was also clear agreement that this issue cannot be tackled by the health sector on its own. A wide range of social issues such as education, employment, employability, crime, poverty and community strength influence mental health and suicide levels.

“My department will work in partnership with other government departments, the voluntary and community sector and faith groups to do everything possible to prevent suicides.”

Gerard McCartan from PIPS said they raised a number of issues with the Minister, including the recommendations from a report into Gerard’s  son’s death.

Danny McCartan took his own life in 2005, and following an admission of negligence by health officials a report into his death was published in 2007.

“There were a lot of good recommendations made in Danny’s report, but it feels like it has been left on the shelf, so we raised that with him and the need for those recommendations to be followed up,” said Gerard.

“The Minister listened to those concerns and it was a good, productive meeting and another step forward in our campaign to bring a cross-departmental approach to the work of tackling suicide.”

Jo Murphy from Lighthouse said after the meeting that Minister Poots was “very supportive”.

“It was encouraging to attend a very positive meeting with discussions around positive mental health and suicide prevention,” she said.

North Belfast Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly, who facilitated the meeting, said it was “frank and cordial”.

“The groups made the Minister aware of the difficulties faced by the families and survivors of suicide and he was clearly sympathetic to their plight,” he said.

“The Minister is arranging a meeting of all groups in the North concerned with the serious and pressing issue of suicide to discuss a way forward, and that is to be welcomed. Any groups that do not receive an invite should get in touch with the health authorities.”

Edwin Poots said that he will take the issues raised in the meeting and apply them to the Protect Life Strategy which is being updated for publication later this year.


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