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Northern Ireland stars of sport and music call for Stormont to declare suicide public emergency

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A number of celebrities have signed the letter.

A number of celebrities have signed the letter.

A number of celebrities have signed the letter.

High profile figures from the worlds of entertainment, sport, education and the voluntary sector have called for Stormont's health minister to declare a public emergency on suicide.

In a letter, to be published in Tuesday's Belfast Telegraph, they have requested an immediate doubling of funding available for counselling and a guarantee that no one will wait more than 28 days for an appointment.

Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody, boxers Carl Frampton, Michael Conlan and Katie Taylor as well as footballers James McClean and Ryan McLaughlin and Ulster Rugby and Antrim Ladies Gaelic Football team signed the letter, which draws attention to the higher rate of suicide in Northern Ireland than in any other part of the UK.

Rugby players Andrew Trimble and Peter Stringer, jockey AP McCoy, golfer Paul McGinley, snooker's Ken Doherty and actors Dan Gordon and John Connors also added their names to the letter.

It was produced by the human rights organisation Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR) group in Belfast as part of its #123GP campaign, organised by families and carers with experience using mental health services.

Over 300 people died by suicide in Northern Ireland in the years 2017/18.

The signatories of the letter criticise the Department of Health's Protect Life 2 strategy which was published in September as part of a long-term plan to reduce incidences of self-harm and suicide over five years up until 2024.

"The current suicide reduction target of 10% over five years, equating to roughly six deaths a year being prevented, is wholly inadequate," the group said.

"Similarly, the funding allocation of £10.35million - a miniscule 0.2% of the overall health budget - is a fraction of what’s required."

The group said waiting times across Trusts vary greatly, with many being forced to wait several months for an initial appointment.

The letter called for suicide prevention to be prioritised by the Executive across departments, as well as focusing on deprived communities where rates of suicide are usually higher.

Sara Boyce from PPR said the organisation has been overwhelmed by the response to the letter.

"When such a broad cross-section of our society comes together like this around one issue, speaking with one voice, and agreeing on one pathway for action, then we expect our politicians to listen and act.

"Suicide is a preventable cause of death, and it won’t take much spending to make a critical difference to hundreds of lives.

"The new health minister has the power to go much further than the inadequate response of the Protect Life 2 strategy, and he has a moral duty to listen to everyone today calling for him to stop more families suffering devastating loss."

The Department of Health has been asked for a response.

Belfast Telegraph