COUNTY Limerick TD Dan Neville used his speech at the Fine Gael national conference to recall how he first got involved in suicide awareness.
Mr Neville has spent more than 20 years raising awareness around the problem of suicide in Ireland, and is the president of the Irish Association of Suicidology.
It was at a Young Fine Gael conference in 1990 when he decided to put the issue on the agenda, fighting for three years to have suicide decriminalised, while in Seanad Eireann.
At this event in Tralee, he took on a motion submitted by a delegate from Clare that it happen.
“I worked with Young Fine Gael and, in January 1991, I took his motion into the Seanad. In June that year, I wrote a Bill that suicide be decriminalised. In November 1991, I introduced that Bill, and had it accepted as Fine Gael policy,” he recalled.
However, the Justice Minister at the time, Ray Burke voted it out, promising to bring in a similar Bill within a fortnight.
“It didn’t happen of course.,” Mr Neville said, “but I reintroduced the bill in May 1992. But it fell because of the election.”
It was not until the third time Mr Neville brought forward the legislation that it was successful, and in 1993, president Mary Robinson signed it into law.
At that stage, he said he received a lot of encouragement from the psychiatric profession to carry on his campaign work.
But it was a mention in Fergal Bowers’ book Suicide in Ireland, which spurred him on to do more.
Quoting from the book by the now RTE health correspondent, Mr Neville said: “Dan Neville has remained silent on the issue. It is not due to loss of interest, but more an effort not to be labelled as the suicide senator.” Mr Neville decided to embrace this, and worked alongside Dr Michael Kelleher to have a task force set up focusing on suicide, similar to that which had existed in Switzerland.
He developed proposals in 1994 to be put to the Health Minister Michael Noonan, paying tribute to his then programme manager, the late Richard Greene, for all his help.
“The credit for bringing suicide into the political domain to have something done about it goes to the Minister for Health at the time, Michael Noonan,” he said to applause from the audience.
President of the Irish Association of Suicidology, he said: “We were told we are the most renowned organisation in the world. Finally, in the work we do, we only know our failures.”
He also expressed solidarity with members of the 2,000 strong gathering, who have been affected by suicide, saying: “There are people in the audience who have been bereaved by suicide, so I just want to sympathise and empathise with you.”
Mr Neville was first elected as a TD for Limerick West in 1997. He took a seat vacated by the late Michael J Noonan, who died last month.