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Aengus O’Snodaigh Talks About Suicide Awareness

Aengus O'Snodaigh Interview about Suicide

The Sinn Fein TD chats about his origins in politics and Sinn Fein, plus how suicide has affected himself and others around him – Quite a personal chat!

IMAGE: Alan Finn (FRG) and Aengus O’Snodaigh (TD, Sinn Fein) at the Fountain Resource Group (FRG) hq on James’s Street in Dublin 8 – image credit: Eoghan Brunkard/

Note from editor: This was originally published as part of our December 2011 ‘Fountain News’ digital newsletter, which we are re-publishing here. We have re-published it under the current date, because we think it remains relevant, plus it has been offline for a considerable amount of time.

Italics – Alan Finn
A: – Aengus O’Snodaigh

Hi Aengus, before we talked about suicide, for our readers I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind telling us a bit about yourself. Where you come from? What are your connections with the James Street area? What motivated you to get involved with politics? What have been some of the biggest challenges for you as a sitting TD? What motivates you now and what would you like to achieve as a TD?

A: I’m originally from Sandymount, so I’m a Dubliner, I have moved around Dublin quite a bit, I was in Chambers Street for 4 to 5 years, Ballyfermot for 14 and lately in Bluebell. So, I’m a bit of wanderer. I got involved in politics, we grew up in quite an active family, I’m an Irish speaker that would be my first language, my father was an Irish language activist, so we would have been taking part in protests about the Irish language, also environmental protests and also my father would have been republican minded, my mother would have been from a nationalist family. So we had an interest in what was happening in Ireland, particularly considering that it was in 1969 period.

In 1983, I joined Sinn Fein in UCD there, I was doing a degree and I’ve been with the party ever since. I’ve been full time with the party since 1986, I did a bit of teaching and worked as security guard for Bord Na Gaelige in between. I contested the election in this area first in 1999, there was a bi election at the time, I first stood when I was 21 in 1977 in Dublin Southeast, I was still in Sandymount at the time but then I moved to Chambers Street and then to Ballyfermot.

What motivates me in politics is when those who are most disadvantaged need to be lifted so that they have the best opportunity. They should get the biggest slice of the cake as they are the majority, working class people, so working class politics is my politics. I believe the best people in the world are those who have struggled, who understand not only the value of life but also the value of money. The problem is they don’t have it and they don’t have access to the benefits that those who have it have.

I understand you’re also on the Bluebell Drug’s task force?

A: Yes, I have a major interest in this topic, which is why I have volunteered for the task force and for liberties recycling. I have had a number of neighbours and friends who have died from substance abuse. The Drug’s Task Force and the Liberties Recycling does major work for people recovering from addiction and who are trying to get back used to a working environment. I’m a member of the Community Development Project we try to help the community by sourcing resources that other areas get and use it in areas of disadvantage. I’m also on the Dolphin House regeneration board as well, but I’m also the policing committee for the area and the policing committee for Dublin. In the hope overall of hope of match all the resources together and make life better for everyone.

Moving on to suicide, why do you think Ireland has one of the highest (ranked 5th by a recent study) suicide rates in Europe?

A: I think suicide is one of the big plagues of modern society. That said it was always there it just wasn’t spoken about, in the past many people who died were suicides but it simply wasn’t recorded as such. In the last ten years in particular there has been a change especially with young people, perhaps because of the pressures of modern day life. And also, Irish people in general find it difficult to show their emotions and talk about things. Some of it is due to the very rapid change of coming from a very poor to the very affluent Celtic Tiger society and all those new pressures associated with it. And now the other pressure of the absolute collapse of someone’s income and their standing in life and the basic fact that they cannot meet their bills.

Another point about it, is that depression is unfortunately prevalent in many western societies and Ireland has a problem with alcohol and of course, alcohol feeds depression. Drugs are also a factor there is a major problem with drugs in this country and in the last ten years Cocaine use shot up. There are of course consequences to drug taking and one of those consequences is depression but also suicidal tendencies. I think these are some of the reason why we see suicide rates shoot up and not just actual suicides but people who have contemplated it or engaged in self harm.

Who do you feel is most at risk and why? What are the main causes of suicide do you think?

A: Well I think that every part of society is affected for different reasons. Most recently there was a group who would have never thought of suicide who are now unfortunately, considering it, those who are in financial distress. That wasn’t a factor in the main in Irish society before, but quite a lot of business men and people who were working now have no income with mortgage with family pressures is huge. The main people I believe in Ireland who are at risk are young people, people between the ages of 15 to about 30. The reasons been are manifold relationship problems, school, pressure from society that demands they achieve these huge targets for them and these young people have no way to release this pressure. And if we could but emphasis on getting young people to talk to their elders or their friends then I think we would see a change in the next generation.

Men in particular, women are better at talking to their peers, but men bottle it up and don’t talk, but rather take a pill, take a drink which of course adds to the problem. I was talking to a psychiatric nurse yesterday and she told me about a well to do family who felt ashamed for looking for help, they eventually sought help from a doctor but it took two years from when they first saw signs that there was a problem. We all think that the stigma should be gone by this stage but it still there.

I noticed myself that kids as young as 15 taking their own lives, it’s tragic.

A: I have been to hospitals and have seen kids as young as 9! After making an attempt on their own life, the reasons can stem from bullying or even these new phenomena of cyber bulling, but it would be wrong to think that there is an age limit on this problem. The pressure of bullying can be immense on a child and we’ve seen cases of it internationally in places like America, where kids have taken their own life as a result of bullying. That’s scary that it can go that far, no other pressures just bullying can get a child to contemplate it or the actual act of it.

Have you ever had any personal experiences with suicide through people you know?

A: People quite close to me have died…when I was younger we had a lodger who stayed in the house and the reason why he was staying in the house was so my parents could keep an eye on him and regrettably he died. He had bottled up his sexuality at the time, I’m going back 40 years, it was a different era, that was the pressure. There have been different friends who have died and only recently, a young man of 25, who I knew well also died. It affects everyone in society. When you go to the funeral, when you meet the family, you think “what could have I done more?”, “why didn’t I spot it?” and some of these people you simply can’t spot it…

Another friend of mine, young man, attempted it and you would never have thought it, he was jolly and happy guy, but he attempted it and thankfully he failed. He’s open about it now and works with kids and now he is in a better place, teaching the kids and that was only last year.

What do you feel is not being done at present in preventing suicide? What changes in policy would you like to implement?

A: Every youth worker, every teacher, every parent if possible should be given the training…to help spot the signs, to make people aware, there are signs and also how they can talk to people and direct people. Generally, get people to talk about it, if you get people to talk about it it’s not as scary it does remove that stigma. Once people start talking about it, it becomes easier to deal with, as in who to send the child to, who to send the adult to. The other issue is that we don’t have the services to deal with this at present, we don’t have enough psychiatric wards…we need to put the money into this and we need to put time into this, if we don’t more and more people will die.

With both Enda Kenny during the general election and Gay Mitchell during the presidential race bringing up suicide as an issue of national importance, why do you think it’s come to the fore of Irish political discourse so much in the last year?

A: I think there is growing awareness at every level, it’s not a party political issue, it is a growing issue and unless we as a society address it, it’s not going to go away. When I got elected I said that I would keep people informed not just on local issues but I would use the Dáil to print little guides like this (Mr O Snodaigh distribute a leaflet with information regarding suicide). I printed 20 000 for this constituency and other TDs are now printing the same one, before that I published a guide for parents, a drug awareness one, on what the different drugs were, what there affects were and what to do and I hope to distribute more information on leaflets such as that. And if these pamphlets saves just one life, then it’s an exercise worth doing and worth repeating.

So do you believe other TDs will start following suit with this dispersal of information?

A: Well I know members of mine own party have looked at it and will start, hopefully, other TDs will start putting out information in their own area. Before we put out our own booklet we checked with professionals that the information given was the correct procedure, because I am not an expert in this field and I did not want to give out wrong advice. As I was saying I was talking to a psychiatric nurse last night and she read and was delighted with it as she had no easy guide to give out and she took a box of these pamphlets of me.

Would you have any recommendations that you would like to share with people who may be considering suicide as an answer to their problems at the moment?

A: The biggest information and the biggest thing anyone can do is talk to somebody, as simple as that, it can be a relative or friend or support worker like the Samaritans. The thing about all these organisations is that they are there to help, they may not be able to solve all you problems but they are there to help and show that there is an alternative. These are confidential services, you don’t have to give your name, these people are trained to help. At the end of the day there are options, suicide is not one, it doesn’t matter what the problem is, and there is something better. At the end of the day talk to somebody look for help.

Finally, Aengus is there anything you would like to say to our readers in James Street and the Dublin 8 area?

A: Well we are facing into a very tough budget by the looks of it at the moment, my view is that there is an alternative. And I would encourage people to look for an alternative, use their vote, register and challenge politicians whether it’s me or its Labour, Fine Gael or Fianna Fail, challenge us, give out to us!

Thank you Mr O’Snodaigh

Fountain News DigitalThis article was originally published in:
Fountain News Digital – December 2011 (Issue 7)

We are re-publishing all articles from our past newsletter, Fountain News Digital, and you can view all completed newsletters here. There were nine issues published in total between 2010 and 2012.

Timeline of our local news services (1994-2013)

One Response

  1. Tony Gorman says:

    It’s good to see that people speak openly about mental health problems to reassure those suffering that there’s help there when they need it.
    I think the biggest uplift is to know that somebody cares giving hope to their lives.
    I wrote my poem remembering what one of my friends told me when they were suffering from bad depression.
    My friend is a lot better today thanks to the help of some trained professionals and close friends.

    Hope of a new day 1st May 2014 by/Tony Gorman

    How deep within my soul I feel the happenings of each day
    So hurt my mind in turmoil by the things that people say
    It started long ago, so far back in the past
    I never knew what started it and the darkness that it cast

    I fear and dread what lies ahead in the shadows that I see
    Each day I pray there’ll come a day when these feelings cease to be
    Nothing to atone for being alone for a loner just like me
    And with my head held high I will laugh not sigh so everyone will see

    And a new day a new way will change me and fill my life ahead
    And the horror of dreams where my inner brain screams will vanish from my head
    And my mind be at peace when the nightmare’s cease and my body’s replenished with new zest
    And the hope that it brings like a choir when it sings with my feelings returned to their best

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