Image: 
Boxer Michael Conlan, and Peaky Blinder actor Packy Lee
If you are reading this and are in distress, or are having thoughts of suicide please call Lifeline free on 08088088000 or Samaritans 116 123.

Dear Minister 

We are boxers, sports organisations, charities, mental health workers, teachers, community workers, writers, artists, performers, journalists. We come from all walks of life.  

We welcome the restoration of Stormont’s political institutionscongratulate you on your appointment as Health Minister and wish you well in the weeks and months ahead as you take up what is undoubtably one of the most challenging but also most important posts in the newly formed Executive.  

However, we are writing to you about a matter that simply cannot wait for the roll out of the action plans and strategies outlined in the New Decade New Approach agreement - and that is the issue of suicide.  

In September 2019 the Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride stated that there is no greater public health challenge than suicide. Sadly, in these first weeks of 2020, his statement has proven all too accurate, with the tragic loss of yet more precious lives by suicide. More families have been plunged into unbearable grief and pain and communities have been left reeling, struggling to make sense of it all. 

Suicide is something everybody hopes never comes to their door, but the reality as we’ve seen is that it can affect any family.  

Yet we know that suicide is preventable, is not inevitable and can never be the answer.  Mental illness is a risk factor in relation to suicide but mental illness does not necessarily lead to suicidal behaviour.  

Access to the right support at the right time can prevent suicide and right across our communities there are numerous excellent suicide prevention and crisis intervention services working tirelessly to help keep people safe and to reduce the risk of suicide.  

More people have died by suicide since the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement than died as a direct result of the conflict. Our rates of suicide are the highest across these islands, something that is receiving international attention for all the wrong reasons.  

Behind the statistic of 307 deaths by suicide in 2018 are individuals who were much loved and continue to be mourned by their loved ones.  

While the suicide prevention strategy Protect Life 2 contains many good initiatives that must be fully resourced and implemented, it is clear that something more, and of a different measure, is now needed to tackle this crisis. It is regrettable that the New Decade New Approach document does not specifically address the issue of suicide 

Alarm bells are ringing in all communities 

The current suicide reduction target of 10% over 5 years, equating to roughly 6 deaths a year being prevented, is wholly inadequate. Similarly, the funding allocation of £10.35 million a miniscule 0.2% of the overall health budget - is a fraction of what’s required.  Access to services is piece-meal and waiting times for counselling vary greatly across Trusts, with people being forced to wait several months for an initial appointment.  

We are therefore asking you as the Health Minister to declare a public health emergency 

As a first practical step we call on you to:  

  • immediately double the funding available for counselling  
  • ensure that nobody waits longer than 28 days for a counselling appointment

Neither of these proposals costs a lot of money.  

Going forward, it is vital for you to ensure that suicide prevention is prioritised within the upcoming Programme for Government, not only by your own department, but around the Executive table. Given the concentration of deaths by suicide in deprived communities, commitments in New Decade, New Approach, designed to address poverty and inequality, must also be recognised as suicide prevention measures and resourced accordingly.  

But we need your help today 

We are all doing our bit to prevent any more deaths by suicide.  

We urge you to act now.  

If you are reading this and are in distress or are having thoughts of suicide please call Lifeline free on 08088088000 or Samaritans 116 123 

Show your support and add your name bit.ly/publichealthemergency 

 

 

Signed by:

Sports People /Organisations 

Boxing  

Andy Lee  

Carl Frampton  

Jamie Conlon 

Katie Taylor 

Ken Egan 

Kurt Walker 

Michael Conlon 

Paddy Barnes 

Sean McComb 

Steven Ward 

The Star Amateur Boxing Club 

 

Football  

Conor Hourihane 

James McClean  

Jeff Hendrick 

Joseph McCall, St. James Swifts Football Club 

Liam Boyce  

Niall McGinn 

Shay Given 

St. Patrick’s Football Club, North Belfast  

Stuart Dallas 

Ryan McLaughlin  

 

Other  

Aidan O’Shea, GAA 

Andrew Trimble, Rugby 

Antrim Ladies Gaelic Football, GAA 

AP McCoy, Jockey  

Caroline O’Hanlon, GAA 

Finn Balor, WWE 

Jason Smyth, Athletics 

Ken Doherty, Snooker 

Paddy Holohan, UFC 

Paul Dunne, Golf 

Paul McGinley, Golf 

Peter Stringer, Rugby 

Philly McMahon, GAA 

St. Teresa’s GAC 

Tommy Bowe, Rugby 

Ulster Rugby, Rugby 

Vincent Hogan, Sports writer 

 

Arts and Entertainment  

Adam Turkington, Seedhead Arts 

Al Foran, Comedian 

Alison McCrudden, Brassneck Theatre Company 

Amanda VerlaqueWriter  

An Cúlturlann, Irish language arts and cultural centre  

Andrea Montgomery, Playwright/theatre director  

Anna Leckey, Three’s Theatre Company 

Anthony Toner, Singer/songwriter  

Barry Keoghan, Actor 

Barry Kerr, Singer/songwriter  

BeogaMusicians  

Brian McFadden, Singer 

Carlo GeblerWriter  

Carol Moore, Actor  

Caroline Curran, Actor  

Ciarán Nolan, Actor  

Claire Keegan, Writer 

Conor MacNeill, Writer/Actor  

Damien Dempsey, Musician 

Dan Gordon, Actor  

Dominic Montague, Actor 

Eamonn de Barra, Musician  

Edwin  Mullane, Actor 

Eibhlín de Barra, Young at Art  

Fatchna O’Ceallaigh, Artist Manger/Producer  

Fran Porter, Big Telly Theatre Company 

Gary LightbodyMusician 

Grainne Holland, Singer/songwriter  

Grainne Tobin, Poet  

Hugh Mulholland, the MAC 

Hugh Odling-Smee 

Jan Carson, Writer  

Jimmy Fay, Lyric Theatre 

Jo Egan, Playwright  

Joe Lindsay, DJ and Presenter 

John Connors, Actor  

Julie Stewart, The MAC 

Kieran Smyth, The Playhouse 

KNEECAP, Hip-Hop artists 

Laurence KinlanActor 

Lawrence McKeown, Writer/playwright  

Libby Smyth, Actor  

Lisa McGinley, the Mac 

Louise Gallagher, Gallagher Films  

Margo Carr, Actor/comedian  

Margo Harkin, Filmmaker  

Maria McManus, Poet  

Martin Lynch, Playwright  

Matt McGinn, Singer/musician  

Medbh McGuckianPoet 

Michael Anthony Wright, Singer/songwriter 

Michael Patrick McDonald, Writer/activist 

Niamh Flanagan, Theatre NI 

Oliver Corr, Craic Theatre  

Olivier Martin, ActCetera Arts Studio  

Packy Lee, Actor 

Paddy Jenkins, Actor  

Paddy Raff, Comedian   

Pádraig Ó’Tuama, Poet/Theologian 

Patricia Byrne, Sole Purpose Productions  

Patricia Downey, Spanner in the Works 

Paula McFetridge, Kabosh Theatre 

Paula Meehan, Poet and playwright  

Pauline Ross, Playhouse Derry 

Rachel Kennedy, Eastside Arts and C.S. Lewis Festivals 

Ray Giffen, The Duncairn  

Rebecca Mairs, Lyric Theatre 

Roisin Gallagher, Actor  

Rosemary Jenkinson, Poet 

Ruth Carr, Poet 

Ryan Hennessy, Musician 

Sarah Clancy, Poet  

Shane Todd, Comedian   

Shelley Tracey, Community Arts Partnership  

Simon Magill, The MAC 

SOAK (Bridie Monds-Watson), Singer/songwriter 

Stacey Gregg, Writer/director  

The Craic Theatre  

The Wolfe Tones 

Theo Dorgan, Poet 

Tony Devlin, Brassneck Theatre Company  

Una McCann, Singing facilitator  

Una Nic Eoin, Prime Cut Productions 

Vicky Blades, She Wolf Theatre Collective 

Vincent Higgins, Playwright and actor 

Visual Arts Northern Ireland  

Viviana Fiorentino, Writer    

 

Academics 

Dr. Aisling Monds 

Dr. Andrew Biggart 

Dr. Bethany Waterhouse 

Dr. Jonathan Lewis 

Dr. Michael Pierse 

Dr. Philip McGowan 

Gerry Skelton MBE 

Goretti Horgan, Policy Director ARK 

Prof. Phil Scraton 

Prof. Tony Gallagher  

Vinny McCormack 

 

Community and Voluntary Sector 

#123GP Campaign 

Angie McFall, Workforce Training Services  

AnnMcVicker, Women’s Resource and Development Agency 

Ann Pendleton, Full Service Community Network 

Annie Armstrong, Colin Neighbourhood Partnership  

Annmarie Mervyn, Springvale  

Bap Kelly, St. James’ Walking Group 

Barry FeganClonard Monastery Youth Group 

Belfast Feminist Network 

Chris O’Halloran, Forthspring Inter Community Group 

Colin Fowler, Men’s Health Forum Ireland 

Colin Neighbourhood Partnership 

Committee on the Administration of Justice 

Community Youth Work Department, Ulster University  

David Smith, Suicide Down to Zero 

Duane Farrell, CEO (Relate NI) 

Dylan Quinn, We Deserve Better 

Emma Campbell, Alliance for Choice  

Falls Community Council 

Foyle Women’s Information Network 

Fra Stone, Falls Community Council 

Gerard McCartan, suicide awareness campaigner 

Glór na Mona 

Glór na nGael  

Harry Maguire, Community Restorative Justice Ireland 

Heather Floyd, Forthspring Inter Community Group 

Isabel Ford, Good Morning Colin  

Jacqueline Russell, Newhill Youth and Community Association 

Jill McManus, Women’s Officer, NUS-USI 

Kellie Turtle, Feminist Activist 

Louise Coyle, NI Rural Women’s Network 

Margaret McGukian, SAVIA 

Michael Doherty, Lenadoon Community Forum 

Naomi Connor, Alliance for Choice 

New Traveller Assembly  

Niall Enright, Upper Springfield Development Trust  

Paddy Boyd, One Small Step 

Pat Wilson, Upper Andersonstown Community Forum 

Patricia Downey, Reclaim the Agenda 

Participation and the Practice of Rights 

Philip McTaggartMindskills 

Pilib Ó Runaí, TACA   

Rachel Powell, Women’s Resource and Development Agency 

Reclaim the Agenda 

Richard May, CEO, Ardmonagh Family and Community Group 

Olivia Cosgrove, Row the Erne 

Psychologists for Social Change NI 

Susan Picken, Cathedral Quarter Trust  

STEPS, Draperstown  

Teresa Agnew, Campaign by Survivors of Abuse  

Tóme Anosha Traveller Group 

Tommy Holland, Upper Springfield Resource Centre  

Tools for Solidarity 

Turas Na nDaoine 

 

Youth Sector  

Divis Youth Group  

Fórám na nÓg 

Glen Parent Youth Group  

Holy Family Youth Centre  

NI Youth Forum  

Include Youth  

Springboard Opportunities Ltd 

St. Peter’s Youth Group  

St. Malachy’s Youth Centre 

Youth Work Alliance  

Youth Action NI  

 

Legal 

Barbara Muldoon, Solicitor  

Ferghal Shields, Solicitor 

Joe Brolly, BL 

John Magee, Solicitor 

Mark Bassett BL 

Niall Murphy, Solicitor  

Padraig Ó MuirighSolicitor 

Padraigin Drinan, Solicitor  

  

Education 

Chris Donnelly 

Clare Devlin 

Connor Richmond 

Kevin McAreavey 

Joe McCaffrey 

Margaret Magee 

Michelle Young 

Sharon Kinkead 

 

Media 

Dr. Sean Murray, Filmmaker  

Johnny Hero, Radio presenter  

Rodney Edwards, Impartial Reporter 

Stephen Wright, Two Cities TV 

Susan McKay, Journalist  

Hector, Radio presenter 

 

Business 

Breathe Sports Belfast   

Colleen Collins Gingersnap Photography 

Gerry Carlile 

Heron Bros.  

Karl Webb 

Jenny Diane, Hypnotherapy Belfast 

Peter Corscadden 

 

Health 

Bobby Carlin, Counsellor  

Frank D’Arcy, Consultant Galway University Hospital 

Dave Rogers, Clinical psychologist 

Dr. Katie Burns, Clinical psychologist  

Dr. Mary Kate Arthurs 

Marie Quiery, Counsellor  

Martina McIlkenny 

Nuala Quiery, Counsellor  

Rachel Johnson, Art Pscyhotherapist  

Dr. Thomas Donnelly 

 

Other 

Charlie Carson, Chartered engineer 

Rev. Bill Shaw OBE  

Merav Amir, UCU QUB  

Philip Orr, Historian 

UNISON