Limerick families stand up for mental health inside City Hall

Lauren Hehir, Carew Park; Willie O'Neill, Newport and Mary Sheehan, O'Malley Park, holding photographs of family and friends who died by suicide in recent months at the 'Stand UP for Mental Health' protest. Photo: Cian Reinhardt

EMOTIONS ran high in City Hall on Monday as grief-stricken family members and friends of young Limerick people lost to suicide took a stand for mental health.

Protesters entered the council chamber during this week’s Metropolitan District meeting and called for the local authority to take responsibility for the city’s worsening mental health crisis.

Banners calling for action and photographs of loved ones who died by suicide were held aloft as councillors were reminded of their duty of care to the people of Limerick.

‘The Stand Up for Mental Health – Limerick’ campaign saw protesters demand the implementation of a proven mental health awareness programme into all Limerick City schools and the use of a council-owned vacant site as a permanent base for suicide patrols along the River Shannon.

Sinn Féin councillor John Costelloe called on the Council to convene a citywide multi-agency task force to respond to the serious concerns regarding mental health and suicide in Limerick. The City North representative’s motion was greeted by a round of applause by protesters in the public gallery.

“At least one person a day died by suicide in Ireland. It is a shamefully indictment on Irish society that this scandal continues unabated. My motion on mental health is an attempt to highlight this issue and to support those locally who are trying to move the powers that be to take action,” Cllr Costelloe declared.

“There are some wonderful organisations who dedicate themselves to try make a difference. For instance more than 5,300 people have had face-to-face appointments with Pieta’s suicide-prevention service this year and that number is expected to rise to over 8,000 by this years end. However, many people don’t know anything about it until they are directly affected, so when it happens in their family they are completely shocked and they are taken aback by it.

“My motion is a plea for Limerick City Council to wake up, sit up and get involved in fighting this insidious scourge advancing through our local communities. I would urge the council to set up this multi-agency task force to offer a holistic approach to fighting this horrible tragedy, lobby central government for realistic funds and show bereaved families and those currently suffering that City Hall stand with them,” he added.

The motion was seconded by Sinn Féin councillor Sharon Benson, who expressed her sympathy with all those bereaved by suicide.

Offering his support, Green Party councillor Sean Hartigan described the motion as “the most important to ever come before the Council”.

Labour Party councillor Conor Sheahan maintained that volunteers and charities were doing the work that the government should be doing in addressing mental health.

“We have a duty of care and we need to offer support to families,” he added.

Social Democrats’ Elisa O’Donovan commended Cllr Costelloe on his motion.

However, the City West representative said she could not support it as she believed the Council “did not have the experience to deal with the most vulnerable in our society”.

“You’d feel differently if you were faced with this in your own family,” one protester heckled.

“She’s not even from Limerick,” another roared.

Fianna Fáil councillor Kieran O’Hanlon insisted that whatever needs to be done to tackle the issue, councillors would do.

“We are not experts but anything we can do, we must do,” he said.

Fine Gael councillor Daniel Butler commended the protesters on their strength and bravery. He also agreed that early intervention and education were key in tackling mental health problems.

A response read out from Limerick City and County Council stated: “‘Connecting for Life’ is a National Suicide Prevention Strategy, which is being implemented on a local/ regional basis. A Regional Suicide Prevention Steering Group has been established and is chaired by the HSE. This group includes representations from over 40 key service providers, sectors and communities.

“Limerick City and County Council, along with An Garda Síochána, HSE, Public Health and a range of other agencies and groups such as Limerick Mental Health Association, sit on this steering group. They oversee the implementation of the objectives set out in the regional ‘Connecting for Life’ strategy and the national ‘Connecting for Life’ document.”