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Woman who lost both sisters in double suicide tragedy says letter asking Michelle O'Neill for help unanswered

By Cate McCurry

The devastated sister of a young woman who took her own life has claimed Health Minister Michelle O’Neill failed to respond to a heartfelt letter she has said she sent weeks before another sister died the same way.

Heartbroken Emma Reilly from Co Fermanagh lost her two sisters to suicide within weeks of each other.

The close-knit family said they will never get over the deaths of Shauna (23) and Michelle (33).

“To suddenly go from having two sisters to being an only child is horrific,” Emma said.

A spokeswoman for the minister told the Belfast Telegraph that Ms O’Neill plans to contact Emma “as a matter of urgency”, adding that she had not received the correspondence.

Shauna passed away suddenly in December and her older sister Michelle died last Friday.

The funeral of Michelle, who was engaged to be married next year, took place in Enniskillen on Monday.

Emma (30) said her two sisters were very close.

“We are never going to get over this, ever. The only comfort we have is that Shauna and Michelle are together again,” she told the Impartial Reporter.

Michelle was described as an intelligent and popular woman who was a home bird.

She called at the family home every day to check on her father Michael, who suffered a brain injury in 2010 following a heart attack.

“Dad idolised her,” Emma added.

“She was born on his 21st birthday and they named her Michelle because it’s French for the female version of Michael.”

Following Shauna’s death, Emma told the Impartial Reporter that she sent a letter to the Health Minister on January 16 where she spoke of her youngest sister’s long battle to “get better”.

“We as a family have fought a tireless battle with the NHS mental health service, one which sadly we have lost, but there is potential for other families to be helped and other people’s suffering to be healed,” she wrote in the heartfelt plea.

Emma asked the Sinn Fein minister to look into mental health services, the current gaps that exist and the potential for extra funding.

She also pleaded with the minister to put mental health and suicide prevention “at the top” of her agenda.

“There’s a lack of mental health services in Fermanagh,” she continued.

“Money is being pumped into cancer services and people are benefiting, but mental health hasn’t been getting any funding and people are suffering.”

Emma said she sent the same letter to Sinn Fein MLAs Sean Lynch and Michelle Gildernew and SDLP MLA Richie McPhillips. Mr McPhillips was the only one to reply.

She added: “I don’t know what life is like without Michelle. She couldn’t live without Shauna. Wherever one was, the other wasn’t far behind. From day dot Michelle idolised Shauna.”

Heartbroken fiance Simon Stenson said he met Michelle when she was 17. 

They became a couple in 2010, and the pair became engaged last year. 

He said that Michelle couldn’t wait to get married and that she had paid off the deposit for the Slieve Russell Hotel in Co Cavan a week after their engagement.

Simon said he will treasure these “bittersweet” memories in the difficult times.

“Life won’t be the same again. I was always with Michelle. Myself and the Reillys are all a family now. We will have to get each other through it,” he said.

At Michelle’s funeral mass in St Michael’s Church on Monday, Father Donnelly told mourners how difficult it was to comprehend that two sisters died the same way. 

He also stressed the importance of people talking about their problems.

A spokeswoman for the Health Minister said: “The Minister is deeply saddened to hear of the tragic deaths of Shauna and Michelle Reilly, and extends her sympathy to Emma Reilly and the entire family circle.

“Unfortunately, the Department has no record of receiving correspondence from Ms Reilly as reported in the Impartial Reporter yesterday. The Minister will contact Ms Reilly as a matter of urgency.”

If you or someone you know is in distress or despair, call Lifeline on 0808 808 8000

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