Belfast Telegraph

Union to erect signs on Belfast's Cave Hill in move to tackle suicide

Dean McIlwaine (left), whose body was found on Cave Hill in July 2017, with brother Glenn
Dean McIlwaine (left), whose body was found on Cave Hill in July 2017, with brother Glenn
One of the signs being erected on Cave Hill today by Unite the Union’s Shankill Community Branch chaired by Steven Pollock
Steven Pollock
Victoria Leonard

By Victoria Leonard

A west Belfast group plans to erect 12 permanent signs today aimed at discouraging people from taking their own lives in Cave Hill Country Park - despite the fact that it has not sought permission from Belfast City Council.

Unite the Union's Shankill community branch says the organisation decided to act without informing the local authority as the number of suicides across the city has reached "epidemic" levels and it feared "red tape" would delay or prevent the signs' installation.

Cave Hill is council property.

In January the body of Michael Cullen (33) was found at Cave Hill after a three-week search operation. And in July 2017 22-year-old Newtownabbey barber Dean McIlwaine was found dead there.

Today, the trade union's community branch plans to affix 12 permanent metal and plastic suicide awareness signs to existing posts and gates near all the entrances to Cave Hill.

The signs, which measure around two foot by one foot, bear the words: "It's time to talk about it. Suicide doesn't end the pain, it just passes it on to someone else."

They also feature the phone numbers of five support groups.

Chair of the union's Shankill community branch, Steven Pollock, who lost his uncle to suicide 14 years ago, said Unite had paid £250 for the signs in the hope of saving lives.

"We don't believe that enough is being done to tackle suicides at Cave Hill," he told the Belfast Telegraph. "We are not doing it with the council, there would be too much red tape and too many hurdles to jump through to do something as important as this.

"People are dying from suicide in this community regularly. Lives could be lost waiting for permission. It's not a protest, it's trying to save someone's life.

"If we save even one life we will have achieved our aim."

Dean's grieving brother Glenn (28) said that "anything that could help save a life is worth trying".

"I would welcome this. Maybe if someone walks past these signs, something will click with them," he said.

"I think it's a good idea if it can help people that are going up there in distress. My family is just struggling on, taking each day as it comes. Some days are OK, other days it just hits you, it's a strange feeling."

Unite's regional community coordinator Albert Hewitt added: "This initiative has been taken by members of our union coming from those deprived communities. Unite the Union is proud to back our community members in this initiative."

Belfast City Council said it had not been contacted over the signs.

It said: "This is a very sensitive issue and we have been engaging with local groups and partnerships to look at ways in which we can try to address suicide in public spaces, and provide support and signposting for anyone in distress.

"We are working on a range of ideas including signs with positive messages and information on how to seek help, which we hope to place on Cave Hill as part of a pilot initiative in early November. Last week, to mark World Mental Health Day, the Healthy Living Centre Alliance held a very successful Take 5 event on Cave Hill which was attended by more than 400 people with the opportunity to engage in new activities and enjoy all the good things the park has to offer.

"We have not been approached by Unite regarding its plans to erect signs on Cave Hill. We would encourage them, or any group wishing to engage on this issue, to get in touch with council."

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