Unionists defend record on suicide
Unionist politicians have defended themselves against claims that they are failing to face up to the problem of suicide in east Belfast.
A prominent suicide support worker accussed political leaders of failing to “face up” to the issue in the east of the city. In a moving interview with the Community Telegraph last week, Bobby Cosgrove from Survivors of Suicide (SOS) said about a recent suicide awareness event at Belfast City Hall: “There was not one unionist there — not one unionist turned up. Unionist politicians, in general, do not treat suicide as a serious issue.”
But UUP MLA Sir Reg Empey said: “I am disappointed to learn that Bobby feels unionist politicians don’t care about the suicide as this is simply not the case.
“Suicide is a tragic loss of life and it has been heartbreaking to see how many people in east Belfast have been affected by it in the last number of years. The Ulster Unionist Party is fully committed to tackling suicide and any stigma that attaches itself to the subject.”
He said his colleague Michael McGimpsey had made suicide prevention a Department of Health priority, establishing Lifeline which offers help 24/7.
“And just last week councillor Michael Copeland met with John McAllister of the Stormont Health Committee along with FASA and families affected by suicide to discuss future plans to progress Northern Ireland’s suicide prevention strategy. If I can be of any help to Bobby or anyone affected by suicide then I would be more than happy to help in any way I can,” he added.
Robin Newton, east Belfast DUP MLA, said he had done his best on the issue. “I have taken part in the from darkness into light walk, met up with concerned individuals, met political delegations, supported initiatives, helped promote and attended services for the Survivors of Suicide and raised the issues with the Minister of Health. I have done all that I can as a unionist politician to help in this most serious and sensitive matter.”
Councillor John Kyle, a GP, added that he had been at the event Bobby was referring to, on World Suicide Day.
“I was there along with others from east Belfast. It was very moving. I agree that in unionist communities we have been less proactive in tackling the tragedy of suicide and politicians should take their share of responsibility for that. But some excellent work is now being done by the community and Belfast Trust. We have a very good suicide prevention strategy — the big challenge is to implement it and that will take a combined effort by all of us.”
Meanwhile, East Belfast MP Naomi Long said: “Suicide is possibly one of the most devastating and most complex problems our society currently faces.”
“It is essential that all politicians act and show leadership to help address this tragic phenomenon. Suicide wrecks families and as public representatives it’s our responsibility to listen to the needs of people, address their concerns and deliver high quality service.”