Tuesday, May 03, 2011



A Cheann Comhairle,

Thank you for affording me the opportunity to speak on the issue of suicide. There have been many excellent contributions from all sides of the house on this matter, and I will not repeat points previously articulated. However, I wish to particularly focus on children and what we as a society are failing to do to protect their mental health, and what we must change to ensure that we intervene at the earliest opportunity to protect our most vulnerable of young people.

As everyone in this chamber is only too well aware, this country has returned to the days of high unemployment, mass emigration and social despair. And the most tragic by-product of this is the increasing rates of suicide that we are seeing amongst our citizens.

This tragedy is not confined to one particular class or corner of this island, but it is one that is affecting rich and poor, old and young, male and female. In 2009, there was a 24% increase in the rates of people taking their own lives. That is a startling and frightening statistic.

These are people who see no way out from their despair. Whether it be negative equity, addiction, unemployment, emigration or discrimination, the people who are taking their own lives can see no hope for their future.

So how do we tackle this national emergency facing us? Obviously in the long term we tackle it by creating a better society for people to live in. We do it by ensuring that people are provided with the best services in education, social protection and health care (in particular mental health services).

But what of our children? What of those who are victims of circumstance, who are going up in those households of despair. Who are fragile, impressionable, easily corruptible, and who can be damaged almost permanently by the environment in which they grow.

What interventions do we have in place to care for delicate minds, whose childhoods are now filled with nights where heated words are exchanged by financially crucified adults, so close to the brink that they see no way out.
What of children who live in areas where the only viable economic activity is the drugs trade, where older siblings get sucked into a hopeless spiral of street-corner loitering, to low level anti-social behaviour and often onward to full-scale membership of violent gangs, incentivised by easy money, street credibility and a perverse sense of empowerment. Communities such as these are rarely understood, chronically under-resourced and frequently stigmatised by outlandish generalisations by media outlets.

If we accept that it takes a village to raise a child is it any wonder therefore that children of such a village would grow up with a poor sense of self-esteem, negative self-image, feeling totally disempowered and disconnected from the mainstream of Irish society.

Our educational system is charged with the responsibility of identifying, diagnosing and treating children who display a variety of emotional behavioural disorders. Yet the system as it is currently constituted, outrageously misplaces resources in a manner which inevitably benefits children from middle class backgrounds, and not those who are more in need. Our educational supports for those who need help are misplaced and poorly structured.

This happens in two main ways

Firstly, the allocation of resource teachers is based on the General Allocation Model, introduced by the previous government, allocates teachers on the basis of number and not on the basis of need. As a result children who attend schools with a smaller enrolment do not receive the same level of supports no matter what the level of need. This is a crude, blunt and indeed cruel arrangement which must be amended to ensure that our most vulnerable children are supported.

Secondly in the allocation of resource hours sanctioned by the Special Educational Needs Organiser or SENO, the reality is that those schools who have access to private psychological or clinical assessments receive more resource hours, and those who depend solely on the under-resourced NEPS service, receive less.

School leaders, teachers and school principals are left in an almost impossible position when attempting to provide supports for children who present with specialised care-needs. They have to juggle referral forms and representations to the NEWB, NEPS, Agencies such as the Mater Child Guidance Clinic, the relevant social worker, the HSCL links service and if they are fortunate, supportive parents.

However If a parent or parents prove obstructive or difficult, the school is powerless to proceed. This is just one more glaring example as to why our Children's Rights Referendum is so sorely needed. Bizarely at present the remit of the 2000 Educational Welfare Act does not stretch to children aged under six years of age no matter how chronic their level of absenteeism.
Our children now live in a society that is a breaking point, in a culture that shortens childhood to maximise corporate profit, in a country that only purports to cherish every child equally but only punishes our vulnerable rather than liberating them.

We must liberate our children from the dark clouds that hang over their minds. We must empower them with the ability to express their feeling, to understand their circumstances, and to encourage them to believe that they truly are more powerful than they could ever contemplate.

We cannot fail them at the earliest stage. At the stage when they depend onBecause the risk of internalising the hurt permanently is too great, and the potential of becoming another suicide statistic too real.

Go raibh mile maith agat a Cheann Comhairle.