Around one million people a year worldwide take their own lives by suicide – more than those who die by homicide, war and road traffic accidents…combined.
Around 500 per year take their own life in Ireland; 400 of them male. A study of young Irish men aged from 18 to 34 found that 78% knew someone who had died by suicide, 42% knew more than one person, and 17% had a close friend who completed suicide.
This year Pieta House marks ten years in existence having opened its doors at a time when suicide was still a taboo subject.
This week the organisation is preparing for Darkness Into Light, an event that is not just the charity’s flagship fundraiser but also a sign of how much the issue is now in the public conscience.
“Nobody would even mention the word then and yet when news got out that we had opened it seemed that we had opened a flood gate of sorrow fear and unspoken grief,” remembers Pieta founder, psychologist Joan Freeman.
Ten years on, the grass roots organisation has helped over 20,000 people in suicidal distress or engaging in self harm. In 2015 Pieta House delivered 49,900 hours of therapy to 5,466 people presenting with suicidal ideation and self-harm.
Today Pieta House has nine centres with a further three planned to open in the next two years – and it depends on fundraising events for a massive 85% of its income.
The Darkness into Light charity walk will place at 4.15am on Saturday, May 7, in 89 venues both at home and abroad – eleven of them in Galway city and county.
The international events – in London, New York, Canada, Abu Dhabi, Sydney, Melbourne and elsewhere – will see 50% of proceeds going to Pieta House and the other half going to a local like-minded charity in the respective area.
A real effort has been made to include the rurally isolated, especially islanders with events running on the three Aran Islands, Inishbofin, Arranmore and Tory Island.
Starting while it’s dark and finishing just as dawn is breaking, this beautiful symbolic event gives hope to people affected by suicide and self-harm.
The charity sees social isolation as a major risk factor; those living in rural areas – and particularly in farming communities – are seen to be at greater risk and have higher suicide rates.
There is no one singular cause, but Mental Health Ireland says that one in four people will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives.
For the 500 people lost to suicide every year in Ireland a further 9,500 end up in A&E departments as a result of failed suicide attempts and intentional self-harm injuries.
Donna Burke of Pieta House West explains how the removal of barriers is an essential part of Pieta’s success; all services are free and medical referrals are not required.
“The biggest thing is that it’s self-referral; a person that is feeling maybe that they need help or support can just pick up the phone themselves – they don’t need to go through a doctor, they don’t need to go through a medical service of any kind,” she says
Pride can be a major obstacle preventing people from seeking the help they need. This is particularly true with older generations and people living in small town and rural settings.
“The likes of my dad – I know there’s no way he would go to his doctor and open up about not feeling okay,” she says.
But by removing these barriers, privacy has not been compromised and there’s no waiting time. “Anyone can be seen at any time,” says Donna.
Rural isolation has been recognised as another serious cause for concern. The high rate of suicide among men in rural areas was the driving force behind the ‘Mind Our Farm Families’ campaign – a joint initiative between the IFA and Pieta House.
Farmers face many challenges – financial pressures, red tape, long working hours, and isolation are just the tip of the iceberg.
“Unforeseen changes in farming work conditions such as continual bad weather, failing a herd test, bad harvest, isolation, being over worked, financial difficulties, impending retirement, or ill health are all things that might cause a farmer distress or bring on suicidal feelings,” say the Mind Our Farm Families campaigners.
Tom McEvoy of Pieta House West says the trained vets became ‘our eyes and ears on the ground’ and since then they have seen a big increase in numbers attending therapy.
Tom, who lost his own brother to suicide, is keen to encourage men to talk and to facilitate women to empower themselves to lookout for the signs.
That helps those who turn to Pieta House to make the journey from darkness into light – next weekend, tens of thousands around the world will make that journey for real, and by doing so they’ll shine even more light on what was once a stigma in the darkest of shadows.
There are Darkness into Light walks in Galway city, Tuam, Ballinasloe, Ballygar, Clifden, Kinvara, Inismeáin, Inis Oirr, Inis Mór, Inishbofin and An Cheathrú Rua. For further information go to www.dil.pieta.ie
Housing charity evicts family after ‘number of incidents’
A family was evicted from the Westside Family Hub in Galway due to a number of incidents in recent weeks.
Peter McVerry Trust, which runs the temporary social housing facility on behalf of Galway City Council, confirmed it found alternative accommodation for the parent and children.
In a statement to the Galway City Tribune, a spokesperson for the housing charity said: “Peter McVerry Trust can confirm that despite intensive and extensive engagement it was reluctantly forced to end the placement of a household at Westside Family Hub recently due to health, safety and child safeguarding risks. We did provide alternative accommodation and continue to offer alternative temporary accommodation to the family that was removed.”
The hub has supported dozens of families since it opened in May 2020. It was due to be a temporary accommodation for families before they move-on to more permanent homes but residents have ended up staying far longer due to the housing shortage.
A spokesperson added: “Our focus at Westside Family Hub is on providing a safe, supportive environment for the families on site who need of emergency homeless accommodation. While the aim is to progress families into long term housing as quickly as possible, the current housing crisis and the limited availability of suitable and affordable housing has made progressions extremely challenging.
“To this end we have established an internal working group of senior staff to look at ways in which to significantly increase housing delivery in Galway City so as to accelerate move-ons for families from the service in partnership with Galway City Council.”
File photo: the Westside hub
Concern over urban sprawl as ‘new town’ in Galway turned down
From the Galway City Tribune – Plans to develop a ‘new town’ at a 19-acre site off the Tuam Road have been torpedoed by An Bord Pleanála.
The planning authority has overturned a previous grant of permission by Galway City Council for the proposal which included 248 apartments, office blocks, a supermarket and a 222-bed hotel.
In its refusal, the Board stated that the development, which was to be located at the City North Business Park, would materially contravene the Council’s own zoning in the City Development Plan – representing ‘urban sprawl’ instead of compact growth in the city centre and established suburbs.
An Bord Pleanála said the location of the development outside the city centre, as well as both the established and outer suburbs, would result in “dependency on unsustainable commuter-driven trip generation by private car” and therefore was “contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area”.
Strategic Land Investments Ltd was granted planning permission for the mixed-use development on lands adjacent to the An Post Distribution Centre in August 2021.
The local authority gave the go-ahead for the eight residential blocks, ranging in height from two to eight storeys; the nine-storey hotel; and four office blocks with 30 conditions attached.
However, an appeal was lodged by Pat O’Neill on the grounds of issues with the zoning; the location of the site outside the city centre; the site’s absence from the city’s Housing Strategy; a shortage of car parking spaces as only half of the 1,674 required were provided for; and the environmental impact of the development.
In his appeal to the Board, Mr O’Neill stated that Galway was a county with one of the highest vacancy rates in the country for commercial floor space “at 16.6% compared to the national average of 13.6%”.
Those behind the project had made much of the site’s proximity to Boston Scientific and the Ardaun lands for which the Council has prepared a Local Area Plan.
However, the Board’s Senior Planning Inspector, Jane Dennehy, in her assessment of the appeal said this proximity “would not alone justify positive consideration” of the plans.
Ms Dennehy said in her report that the development would increase car trips as public transport options at the site are limited, “and are likely to remain limited”.
“It is questionable as to whether the proposed development is consistent with and would not hinder the implementation of the adopted national, regional and local strategic policy,” states Ms Dennehy’s report.
Recommending that permission be refused, Ms Dennehy stated that the proposed development would contravene these strategies and “would lead to diversion of residential and commercial development from areas within the city and suburbs”.
The Board accepted Ms Dennehy’s recommendation and refused permission for the development.
This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune, September 23. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. The print edition is in shops every Friday.
Asylum seekers pitch business ideas to Galway’s food and music experts
From the Galway City Tribune – Two projects from asylum-seekers living in city Direct Provision centres will be pitched to a national competition to fund social enterprises.
Áras na nGael on Dominick Street was a hive of activity on Wednesday as the migrants honed their presentations in front of a panel of local mentors before facing the judges for the ‘Champion Changemakers’ competition.
Michelin-star chef JP McMahon, Galway Arts Festival co-founder and Saw Doctors manager Ollie Jennings and manager of the Town Hall Theatre Fergal McGrath were among the mentors who showed up to share their expertise as part of a Dragons’ Den for community groups.
Up for grabs is €10,000 bursary of supports to set up selected projects, which are deemed to positively impact the lives of people in local communities. The Champion Changemakers is free to enter and run under the auspices of the Community Enterprise Association Ireland, the country’s leading network of enterprise hubs, co-working locations and flexible working spaces that is funded by Enterprise Ireland.
The first project from United Women Galway is for a proposal to set up a culture café offering multi-ethnic food.
Food is a particularly hot topic for people living in Direct Provision, explains Flutura Rrebani.
“We know Irish food is nice. Unfortunately, people in Direct Provision are never offered very good quality food.”
While asylum-seekers have been allowed to cook in the last two years, some children who have spent years in the centres had never tasted food from their homelands.
“We want to offer a bit of their own food. It’s important to keep their culture alive and there is no culture without food,” insists the mother from Albania.
She was one of a number of women in Direct Provision who set up United Women Galway two years ago to alleviate boredom during the pandemic. They are made up of ten nationalities.
“Everyone was affected by Covid but mostly Direct Provision people because we had no jobs, no cars, the shops were closed and our children were small. What can we do as a group – we discovered we can cook.”
The group began to cook together for different events, such as Africa Day, Melting Pot Club and the Westside Festival. But now they hope to get funding for a city café where they can sell their wares and create a space for people to meet over food.
“We want a place to cook traditional food from our homes and give an opportunity for migrants to cook their food for their own community. The emphasis would be on integration, eating and preserving our culture.”
For the mentor session, the women cooked a variety of food from Nigeria, Zimbabwe and the Lebanon such as spicy fried chicken and beef with peanut butter.
The second project is from a group of African musicians who set up the Galway African Diaspora. They want funding to set up a company with access to a venue and equipment that can be used to stage ethnic concerts and community events. The company will mentor African artists and produce musical projects.
Wally Nkikita is a member of the band Elikiya that played at the Galway Arts Festival in 2019 as support for Grammy-award winning Tinariwen, a blues band founded in refugee camps in Libya. They’ve also been on the bill of the Electric Picnic Festival.
“We’ve found it difficult to get community spaces to play our gigs and hold our events. We want spaces to be involved in the arts. We’ve been organising Afro music nights once a month and have been organising Africa Day here. We’d like to use music as a tool for social integration.”
After finalising presentations with the help of their mentors, they will present their projects at the West of Ireland finals, when ideas will be selected under three different headings – Environment and Climate Action, Economic Inequality, Human Wellbeing.
Ideas will be shortlisted to participate in a national PitchFest in October at Innovate Communities Social Innovation Hub in Dublin
(Photo: At the music mentoring session were, from left; Arts Festival co-founder, Ollie Jennings, Mairead Duffy, Lorg Media; Jonathan Healy, Wally Nkikita; Brandon Duke and Stevo Lende).