IRELAND should adopt a private inquest system akin to that in Scotland so that grieving families do not have to endure ‘trial-like’ proceedings in public, a leading Irish charity has said.
Irish suicide prevention and bereavement charity Console, which also has a service in London, has called for a review of Ireland’s legal requirement for a public inquest after a suicide death.
It has also criticised the country’s current inquest system, saying it can give families false hope that they will get answers as to why a loved one has died.
Console CEO and founder Paul Kelly said: “Public inquests can have a trial-like aspect which harks back to the days before suicide was decriminalised in 1993. Families do not have to undergo such public scrutiny when someone dies of cancer and we feel that the individual private and personal circumstances surrounding deaths by suicide are not necessarily a matter of public interest.
He added: “Another problem is that families may not get the opportunity to grieve properly because they are on tenterhooks waiting for an inquest which could take up to a year.”
Mr Kelly believes Ireland should look at the system in Scotland and the North of Ireland where a public inquest is not held if it is not deemed in the public interest and the authorities agree the death was suicide.
Mr Kelly, whose comments come as the Console World Suicide Prevention Day Conference is taking place at Croke Park today (September 10), also spoke of the 475 families that will be affected by suicide this year in Ireland.
“Families bereaved by suicide have gone through one of the most devastating events possible, and in many ways they can feel as if they are being put on trial at a public inquest,” Mr Kelly said, adding personal details surrounding a suicide have no place in the public arena.
“Traumatised families can be asked to give evidence, suicide notes can be made public and family members can be questioned about last conversations and the deceased’s state of mind.
"Deeply private information about drugs or alcohol in the deceased’s system, or if they had a row with someone before ending their life, can all be discussed in a public forum with the media in attendance. This is a deeply intrusive system,” he said.
Mr Kelly also believes the current system adds to the stigma of death by suicide and can prolong the family’s grieving process unnecessarily.
“They think the inquest is going to give them answers about their loved one’s death when its actual role is to establish the facts and reach a medical conclusion,” he said. “We need a more sensitive and compassionate way of investigating suicide deaths in the Republic and we should start by making the inquests into those deaths private.”
Among those also taking part in the Croke Park conference are GP and author Dr Harry Barry, who is speaking about the rising rate of suicide and self-harm among young people.
Dr Barry believes it is necessary to educate young people about how to deal with emotional distress which he describes as “the golden thread” running through problems such as drink and drug addiction, cyber bulling and self-harm.
Console offers counselling services and 24-hour helpline support to people in crisis and those bereaved by suicide. The Console 24/7 Suicide Helpline, 1800 247 247 can be reached anytime and useful information can be found at www.console.ie.
Console has full-time counselling centres in Limerick Cork, Dublin, Wexford, Galway, Kerry and Mayo. It also offers services in Kildare and Athlone and has a service in London.