Robin Swann to meet family of loved one who died of overdose on Belfast streets over urgency of drug and homelessness crisis in city centre
The health minister is due to meet the family of a young man who died from a drug overdose on our streets, Sunday Life can reveal.
And Robin Swann wants Deirdre Hargey, the minister for communities and the Justice Minister Naomi Long to take part as pressure mounts on Stormont to do more to tackle the problem.
“Enough is enough. If this doesn’t get them (politicians) back into their seats, what will?” asks Martina McIlroy, whose cousin Patrick died on June 9.
“I just hope we can get somewhere, not just for Patrick but the others too, God bless them, they are somebody’s son,’’ adds Bernie McCrudden, Patrick’s aunt.
The tragic case of Patrick McIlroy prompted fresh calls for politicians here to take more action to combat an issue that’s not new — but growing.
And it all centres around mental health and addiction, be it drink or drugs.
Patrick was one of five men to die on the streets of Belfast in the space of just a few months.
The 27-year-old was just out of jail when he relapsed.
It was initially thought he had taken heroin, but his loved ones have been told it was Ketamine, which is a powerful anaesthetic often used on animals.
Toxicology results, which his family are still waiting on, will determine exactly what he had taken.
“On the street they are saying it was Ketamine. Whatever was in it, his body couldn’t take it,’’ says Martina.
“It is devastating. It was very hard for us to go on with our daily lives, we are never going to see him again.”
Patrick’s aunt Bernie becomes tearful as she describes seeing him just a few days before his death.
“The day he got out of jail I thought he would have called to the house but he didn’t. We went down the town and met him, and he looked amazing. I told him not to go on the hard stuff, he promised us he wouldn’t. We hugged and he kissed me and told me he loved me.
“I will never forget it til God calls me when police came to the door. To think he (Patrick) was lying in a toilet. I would loved to have been there to hold his hand, say it was ok. He wasn’t a bad boy, he was a foolish boy.”
Despite their own grief — and with drug deaths at a record high — Patrick’s family wrote to the health minister to see what more can be done.
Robin Swann’s offer to meet came in the post just a few days ago.
“Protecting the health and wellbeing of such vulnerable individuals in our society is a cross-government issue,’’ said the health minister.
“As well as improving our treatment and support services for those who need help, I believe it is essential that all ministers and departments work together to address the underlying causes of substance use and tackle the issues that are linked to poor health outcomes, such as homelessness and loneliness.
“I believe it would be helpful for the minister for communities and the justice minister to join our meeting so that together we can hear your experiences, discuss how each of our respective departments can address these issues more effectively and share with you our thoughts on how we can improve our collective response.”
Any meeting involving all three ministers could take place as soon as after the Twelfth holidays.
“We don’t want Patrick or anyone else dying in vain. We need a mental health facility and drug facility in (Belfast) city centre,’’ says Martina.
“People like Patrick, they have trauma in their life, imagine your life was that bad.
“I understand why some can’t get clean to get on a programme and live on the streets.
“Everyone needs to understand, drugs are never going away.
“They are used every day on the streets, and people accept that it goes on, it has become the norm.”
Patrick used to be a mental health support worker, but his life spiralled out of control and he ended up on the streets. His family did all they could to help him — but it was never going to be enough.
“On the streets Patrick would have made up to £130 a day (begging). So he bought diazepam, heroin, what he would call ‘sweeties’ to come down and he would give the rest (of his money) to the other homeless people. He had it all worked out,’’ says Martina.
“Then he used to come and cry, want to change, then the craving (for drugs) came back…
“What was going on in his personal life, his issues, he couldn’t handle it, he needed something to take that away and that’s where the drugs came in.
“He would say, ‘I’m not chasing the dragon but escaping reality’. Watching that, it’s devastating, and accepting that was the way he chose to live.”
Bernie can’t believe the nephew she treated like her own son is gone.
“I loved him so much. He looked like a prince lying in his coffin, you wouldn’t have known he lived on the streets. I’m just so glad no one can hurt him anymore.
“He’s not going to be lying in the cold, his demons are gone.
“I’ve been down in town every day, where he was found, and say a wee prayer for him.
“These kids living on the streets, they’re getting younger, they need help. Families can’t do it, but the government can do something.”