I congratulate the Leas-Cheann Comhairle on his elevation to his position and the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, on her appointment. She has a daunting task ahead of her. I also wish the Taoiseach and his ministerial colleagues all the best in trying to pull this country out of the mire. As this is my first speech, I thank my wife Margaret for her support during the election campaign as well as my family and friends, Fine Gael members and the people of Kildare North who gave me the responsibility of being their representative in Dáil Éireann. I will raise the issues of concern to them and will ensure that issues, which are important to the country, are brought to the fore in the Dáil.
I thank Deputies McGrath and Neville for raising this topic in the Dáil. One of the issues is that people do not communicate and talk about suicide. When people are in a black hole or see no light at the end of the tunnel, they want to be able to talk to someone about it and yet people shun individuals who may be in this state of depression. It is vitally important we remove the stigma associated with people who take their own lives and give them the dignity and burial they deserve.
On the morning of the election, a young woman came into my office to talk to me. She had lost her brother through suicide approximately a year before. She cried in front of me trying to explain the pain through which she and her family were going. She indicated to me that in the nine months before he took his own life, he was suffering from depression and no matter what people said to him, he could not see any way out of the black hole he was in or any light at the end of the tunnel.
My wife Margaret is a volunteer counsellor with Pieta House. When I visited that organisation several weeks ago, I learned of the serious situation in which it finds itself in regard to funding. It is amazing that the Road Safety Authority is allocated €40 million each year for the prevention of road accidents and yet only €5 million is allocated by the HSE to prevent suicide. Almost two people take their own lives each week. Many car accidents – approximately 38% are single vehicle road fatalities – could also be associated with people taking their own lives.
A number of organisations care for people. Aware makes all of us familiar with what is going on before people commit suicide. Console helps the families of the bereaved. Organisations such as Pieta House help those on the verge of committing suicide. I met the director of Pieta House, Ms Joan Freeman, and when I went into the reception area, I was struck by the fact that most of the signs were about fund-raising. I encourage all Deputies to take what is known as the walk from darkness into light in early May and to raise as much funding as possible for those who listen to people on the verge of committing suicide.