The Department of Health in the Six Counties has no suicide prevention strategy despite escalating numbers of deaths among young people in deprived nationalist areas.
The lack of a strategy has been described as “beyond belief” by Sinn Féin, amid intense community efforts to stem a tide of tragedy.
Eighteen have taken their lives in North and West Belfast so far this year, but the British governmetn has failed to identify the matter as a priority.
Over two years ago Sinn Féin health minister Bairbre de Brun announced a new strategy into suicide prevention.
Direct Rule from London was imposed shortly afterward, and the strategy disappeared without trace.
In the five weeks since campaigners met the minister, six people have died as a result of suicide.
Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly called for the urgent establishment of a “regional suicide strategy targeted to address the high numbers of suicides occurring in the North of Ireland”.
“To date no such strategy exists, a failure which Sinn Féin say is unacceptable,” he said. “Suicide is now the biggest killer of young people in the North of Ireland and to not deliver a strategy in the immediate future is unacceptable.”
The North Belfast MLA said that following a meeting held between Angela Smith, the department of health and Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams received a commitment that the department would return with a date to start round table talks on the subject of suicide prevention.
The initiative, he said would involve officials from the department engaging with community, voluntary, statutory and political representatives. “However the absence of a strategy to date is startling,” he said, “given the numbers of suicides that the north of Ireland is currently witnessing, a phenomenon which is by no means a recent occurrence, the lack of a targeted government strategy is beyond belief.
“To stall on this issue would only fail countless individuals and families who need support and somebody to turn to,” said Gerry Kelly.