Derek Keating delivers his Dail maiden speech on suicide prevention and Pieta House
Recently I had the privilege of making my first address to Dáil Éireann. The focus of my speech was suicide prevention, Pieta House and the importance of metal health awareness. You can find the full body of text from my speech below as well as the video at the very bottom.
I thank Deputy Hannigan for sharing time. As this is the first opportunity I have had to speak since I was elected to the 31st Dáil, I would like to thank everyone who helped me to reach this point in my life — my family, my close friends and my party. In a special way, I thank the people of Dublin Mid-West and express my sincere gratitude to them for sending me to this House as a Teachta Dála.
In the early days of this Dáil, we have focused our attention on the economy, the national debt, the banks, emigration and unemployment. One of the hidden effects of our failing economic circumstances is the growing problem of suicide. The issues of suicide and self-harm are of great importance. I place the social crisis of suicide alongside the national crisis that is our economic future. My personal and political belief is that for the first time in our history, we are preparing to confront directly the issue of suicide in Ireland. Previously, we were not even prepared to talk about suicide. Perhaps as a result of the stigma associated with suicide and the message of failure, we were happier to skirt around the edges. I have seen expensive advertisements relating to issues like food safety and health promotion. It has often struck me that we make little or no effort to advertise suicide prevention, even though hundreds of necessary lives are being lost unnecessarily through suicide each year.
I suggest we need to consider the economic impact of a single suicide. We should think about the many people, including members of immediate and extended families, work colleagues, social friends and neighbours, who are affected by each suicide. We should consider the impact on our economy of the deaths of thousands of people by suicide over recent years. The cost of suicide has been estimated to be €900 million per annum. Suicide is hurting us more than ever. The number of cases of suicide is increasing and anxiety is rising. Suicide is casting a shadow at national level. At local level, it is piercing the heart of every community and parish. Other countries, including Australia, Scotland and England, are tackling youth suicide successfully.
Projects like Pieta House, which has been mentioned, are making remarkable strides at local level. Those involved have a vision for a better future and a determination to save more of the lives of the most vulnerable people in our society. As a proud director of the Pieta House charity, I welcome its chief executive, Joan Freeman, its chairman, Joe Houghton, and his wife, Penny, to the Dáil. I ask Members to imagine what would happen if Pieta House did not exist. Almost 4,000 people have visited Pieta House in its five-year existence — they would be forever in darkness if the charity’s services were not available. The good news is that almost 4,000 people are alive today having been to Pieta House. This is a brand, or new model, that works. It focuses its services on the crucial area of intervention. It is a new concept of care. People from all walks of life and all corners of Ireland visit Pieta House every day. The youngest visitor to date was six and the oldest was 83.
As we move forward with a new brand of vision and belief, in the interests of sustaining a healthier Ireland, it is of critical importance that a suicide crisis centre be available no more than 100 km from any citizen. I look forward to taking on that challenge during my time as a Deputy. I will work with the Government and the Opposition and share the journey with my constituency colleagues — the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, Deputy Tuffy and Deputy Dowds. The Taoiseach made a powerful statement when he ended the pre-election party leaders’ debate by speaking about the subject of suicide. He spoke again about the issue in a compassionate and determined manner last week. I am pleased that the matter is being debated at length at this early stage of the 31st Dáil. I understand additional time will be allocated next week.
There are almost 430,000 people on the live register. More than 2,000 people, most of whom are young, are being forced to emigrate each week. We have more than one national emergency. As Deputies, we can be smothered with statistics but we must not lose sight of the fact that the individual experiences of people can change actual lives and often do so. I had such an experience when I was canvassing outside Clondalkin parish church one Sunday during the general election campaign. I noticed a lady who made sure she avoided me by passing me without making eye contact or speaking. My life-changing experience happened later that day, when the lady in question, Margaret, returned to tell me her story. When Margaret goes to bed every night, she wishes that God had taken her. She has no money and no heat. I am aware that she went to bed early on Christmas day because she did not have heat. It is important for me to maintain contact with Margaret. It is of critical importance that, as a Dáil and as a society, we care for those who are most at risk.
I reiterate my promise to do all I can to work with my Dáil colleagues in the interests of suicide prevention. I acknowledge the work of the Minister and Deputy Neville. I look forward to playing my part in doing all I can to save the lives of those most at risk. If, by the end of this Dáil, I have achieved nothing more than that, I will be satisfied.