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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 5 May 1993

Vol. 430 No. 3

Criminal Law (Suicide) (No. 2) Bill 1993. - Criminal Law (Suicide) (No. 2) Bill 1993: Second and Subsequent Stages.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".

At the outset I would like, as I am sure would all Members of the House, to extend sympathy to the relations and friends of those who died in such tragic circumstances last week. Those tragic events serve to remind us of the turmoil and torture to which some people, outwardly leading normal lives, can be subject and of the consequences of their actions for others.

The purpose of this Bill, the Criminal Law (Suicide) (No. 2) Bill, 1993, is to abolish the crime of suicide and thereby remove the stigma of criminality from those who feel that the taking of their own lives is their only solution.

Although no person has been prosecuted in connection with a suicide or an attempted suicide in the recent past, the possibility still exists under the common law system inherited from England that a person could be prosecuted for attempted suicide and receive a sentence of life imprisonment.

Suicide itself is not a statutory offence but it is a felony at common law. Similarly, attempted suicide is not a statutory offence. However, under the common law any attempt to commit an indictable offence — and suicide would be classed as an indictable offence — is itself an indictable offence. Because attempted suicide is a common law offence and as there is no statutory provision limiting the penalty which may be imposed, a court may impose whatever fine or term of imprisonment it considers appropriate, up to and including life imprisonment, on a person convicted of attemped suicide.

There is one statutory provision dealing with attempted suicide but its sole purpose is to provide summary jurisdiction to deal, in certain limited circumstances, with a person who confesses to attempted suicide. The statutory provision does not affect the substantive law on suicide or attempted suicide when prosecuted on indictment. The statutory provision I refer to is section 9 of the Summary Jurisdiction (Ireland) Act, 1871, which was amended by section 85 of the Courts of Justice Act, 1936.

As I have explained, suicide is a felony and as such, any person who is an accessory before the fact to a suicide or who counsels, procures or commands a person to commit suicide may be tried, convicted and punished in all respects as if he were a principal felon. Attempted suicide is a misdemeanor and a person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the commission of any misdemenour is liable to be tried, indicted and punished as the principal offender. The provisions governing these matters are set out in the Accessories and Abettors Act, 1861.

Having given the House a brief outline of the existing law on suicide I must confess that I cannot provide a satisfactory answer to the question as to why suicide was made a criminal offence in the first place. The common law's approach to suicide reflects the attitude of a more brutal age. Indeed, the attitude to suicide up to the 19th century could be described as almost vindictive. One would think that a person who has killed himself would be beyond any sanction of the law. However, this was not the case. Up to 1870 the property of a person who committed suicide was forfeit to the State and it was only in 1882 that the British Parliament outlawed the practice of interring the remains of a person who had committed suicide in a public highway with a stake driven through the body. Nonsensical though it may seem, it was the practice at one time to hang people who had unsuccessfully attempted suicide.

The criminal law serves no purpose in dealing with the human tragedy of suicide. It does not prevent people committing suicide, it does not deter attempts at suicide and there is certainly no justification for treating people with suicidal tendencies as if they were criminals. Suicide is the ultimate cry of despair. An attempt at suicide may well be a plea for help but it certainly should not be classed as a criminal activity. What these people need is assistance and they should be given every encouragement to seek it. They should not be afraid to disclose their problems for fear of criminal prosecution. What is needed is compassion, sympathy and sound medical help, not criminal sanctions. I am sure I will have the support of this House in decriminalising suicide.

I turn now to the Bill itself. It has long been accepted that suicide should be decriminalised and it was intended to include measures to abolish the felony of suicide in a comprehensive Bill which would reform and update various aspects of the criminal law which derive from the common law. Unfortunately for reasons which I will not go into now, publication of that Bill has had to be delayed. When I took office as Minister for Justice earlier this year I decided that there should be no further delay in putting forward the Government's proposal on decriminalising suicide. I arranged for a separate Bill dealing solely with this issue to be brought forward and this has now been published and is before the House.

The Bill itself is extremely short, only three sections. The main provision is section 2 (1) states clearly and concisely that "suicide shall cease to be a crime". Abolishing the offence of suicide also automatically abolishes the offence of attempting to commit suicide. A similar situation arises in the case of the offence committed by a person who is an accessory to suicide or attempted suicide. The abolition of the offence of suicide means that it will no longer be an offence under the common law to be an accomplice to suicide or attempted suicide.

The abolition of the existing offence of being an accomplice to suicide gives rise to certain dangers. The sanctity of human life must be respected and the law cannot condone a person who wilfully encourages or assists the taking of a human life even if the actual act is self-inflicted. For this reason section 2 (2) of the Bill makes it an offence for a person to aid, abet, counsel or procure the suicide or an attempt at suicide of another person.

The subsection provides that a person convicted of such an offence shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years. This is less than the existing penalty of life imprisonment but it still marks out the offence as being serious. The reason that a severe penalty is being provided for is to cover situations where a person deliberately procures the suicide of another for his own motives. For example a dominant personality, rather than committing murder, might induce his intended victim to commit suicide. A depressed person with suicidal tendancies if caught in a moment of despair would be easy prey for a manipulative person who had anything to gain from his death.

Subsection (3) of section 2 in effect provides for a verdict of complicity in suicide as an alternative verdict in cases where a person is charged with murder or manslaughter. If the facts support it, the jury may return a verdict that the accused aided, abetted, counselled or procured the suicide of another person as an alternative to a verdict of murder or a verdict of manslaughter. This type of scenario is most likely to arise in the case of a suicide pact where one person survives. The jury will have to decide on the basis of the evidence whether the accused killed the other person and is therefore guilty of murder or whether the accused was merely an accomplice to the suicide of the other person and therefore guilty of an offence under subsection (2).

Subsection (4) is a technical provision which means prosecutions can only be taken by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions. Because of the nature of the offence of complicity in suicide it is considered right that there should be some central control on the initiation of prosecutions under the new offence created by subsection (2).

Section 3 is a straightforward repeal of section 9 of the Summary Jurisdiction (Ireland) Amendment, Act, 1871, which was amended by section 85 of the Courts of Justice Act, 1936. The section provides that where a person is charged with and confesses to attempted suicide before a judge of the District Court he may be convicted and imprisoned for any period not exceeding three months unless he does not consent to having his case heard by the District Court or unless the judge is of opinion that the charge is fit to be made the subject of prosecution by indictment rather than to be disposed of summarily.

This provision will be superfluous when the offence of suicide is abolished. Indeed, if the provision was not to be repealed it might cause confusion as to the abolition of the offence of attempted suicide.

As its short title suggests the Bill purports to deal only with the criminal law aspects of suicide. I am well aware that the question of suicide raises a significant number of issues outside the scope of the criminal law. It is horrifying to think that in 1990 and 1991 there were more than 300 suicides per annum or nearly one suicide per day in Ireland. This is not an issue about which we can be complacent. The complexity of the problem has been highlighted by a number of studies and reports. One of the better known studies was undertaken by Dr. Michael Kelleher and Ms. Maura Daly (a consultant psychiatrist) on suicide in Cork and Ireland and was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in 1990. They highlighted the many factors which in their opinion probably contribute to an individual act of suicide. These include physical and mental illness, alcoholism, personality structure and social isolation.

A statement made by the Psychological Society of Ireland in May 1992 also pointed out that suicide is a complex problem with sociological and environmental influences, medical and neurochemical influences and psychological influences. They remarked that suicide is everybody's business and should be dealt with in the public forum. The schools, the health boards' community care programme and the media were identified as important mediums of primary intervention in the area.

The society in their statement called for suicide to be decriminalised and this is now being done.

I have made the point that suicide raises many issues outside the scope of the criminal law but I do not wish to stray too far from the object of the Bill. However, as well as being responsible for criminal law reform I am also responsible for the operation of the prisons and suicide has important implications in this area. I would like to touch upon the question of suicides by persons in custody.

The number is running at between three and five a year. This has been a matter of concern to me and to my predecessors and I should, for the information of the House say that the strategy for dealing with suicides in prisons is as recommended in the report of the advisory group on prison deaths published in August 1991. The report has 57 recommendations and so far 50 of them have been or are being implemented. They include 24 hour medical orderly cover in eight closed institutions which was made possible by the appointment of 43 additional trained staff at a cost of £500,000 a year; an increase in the number of clinical psychologists which will shortly go up from three to six and will include a female psychologist to work in the women's prison; professional counselling of both prisoners and staff after a suicide is discovered; the installation of a cell-call system in all institutions to enable a prisoner in distress to call for help; introduction of a service by the Samaritans in seven places of detention which will shortly be extended to the remaining five places; provision of a dedicated phoneline to the Samaritans for prisoners' use which is now available in three places and which is to be extended to the remaining places as soon as possible; training for staff in suicide awareness; setting up a suicide prevention group in each place of detention to monitor developments in relation to suicide prevention and to take precautionary action on the spot; improvement in GP services; improvement in the arrangements for special observation of prisoners at risk; revision of the Rules for the Government of Prisons, 1947; improvements in committal arrangements; training with resuscitation equipment; provision of in-cell sanitation (a seven year programme).

The remaining seven recommendations are long-term in nature and will be taken into account as the prison system develops. They include the provision of a committal assessment centre, a new female prison, a new open centre for women prisoners and a special unit to cater for psychiatrically disturbed violent prisoners. The advisory group itself recognised the long-term implications of these recommendations.

While no effort is being spared in pursuing a planned programme of action in suicide prevention, it has to be said, regrettably, that no prevention programme can guarantee complete success. This is a fact which the advisory group acknowledged when they said: "if a person is sufficiently determined to commit suicide, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to prevent him doing so". Constant and unremitting supervision of a prisoner at risk might be successful but again the report cautions that this could be "an obstacle to a person recovering from a trauma or crisis that puts him in the risk category in that the supervision itself would be oppressive." The group made the further comment that "whereas many people who commit suicide in prison are or have been regarded as at risk, suicides occur among inmates in respect of whom there is no indication whatever that they are at risk".

It will be clear that in the prisons, as in society at large, we are dealing with a highly complex phenomenon for which there are no easy remedies. In relation to prisons, I hope it is clear that all practicable steps are being taken to anticipate and prevent suicides. I wish I could confirm that these efforts will be fully effective but, given the complexities involved, I would prefer to confine myself to the hope that prison suicides will be kept to the absolute minimum.

I am grateful to you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, for allowing me to stray slightly from the scope of the Bill in addressing the question of suicides in prisons and would like to conclude by saying that I believe this measure will have the support of the House and express the hope that the decriminalisation of suicide, long overdue, might help in some small way to encourage those who might feel unable to seek professional help because of the criminal stigma attached to seeking such help.

I commend this Bill to the House.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Cuirim fáilte romhat, a Aire. Ó toghadh mé don Dáil chuir sé iontas orm go bhfuil reachtaíocht ann nach bhfuil, agus nach raibh cuí fiú amháin nuair a reachtaíodh na dlíthe fadó. Tá sampla againn de dhlí mar sin, a bhaineann le féinmharú, nach bhfacthas do Rialtais i ndiaidh Rialtais cé chomh hamaideach agus a bhí sé. Tá áthas orm go bhfuil tús curtha inniu chun an reachtaíocht seo a chealú mar beidh dearcadh níos sláintiúla ann amach anseo dá bharr.

I welcome this Bill and compliment my colleague in the Seanad, Senator Neville, who introduced a Private Members' Bill in 1991 to decriminalise suicide. Because of our system of Government the then Minister suggested he would introduce a suicide Bill within a month but that did not happen. In October 1992 Fine Gael introduced its Bill. Now the Government is introducing a suicide Bill. If we had a little more common sense much more efficient work would be carried out in this House. Having a Bill introduced by the Government just for the sake of having it done in that fashion is not helpful to the expedient passing of legislation. This Bill is basically the same as that introduced by my colleague, Senator Neville.

We could debate the suicide Bill at length. It is important that we have at long last grasped the nettle, seen common sense and agreed it is no longer tolerable to regard somebody who commits or attempts to commit suicide as being a criminal. Those people deserve our sympathy, not our condemnation. Their families deserve our sympathy also. Removing the stigma attached to suicide is the first step to helping those people. We often look back with nostalgia to the good old days. St. Augustine, who had many skills and talents, spoke out strongly about the evil of suicide. The Church regarded suicide as a very serious offence. The good old days were probably not as good as we thought they were.

France decriminalised suicide in 1898 and Great Britain did this in 1960. Now that we are a member of the EC it is desirable that we keep pace with legislation in other member states.

Unfortunately, the suicide rate has risen steadily here. The recorded suicide rate in 1990 was 60 compared with 319 in 1991. The recorded number may not be an accurate figure. Because of the complexities of the Coroners Act, 1992, deaths by suicide were often not recorded as such. Rather than dwell on the number of deaths by suicide that were not recorded we should look to the future and consider why there are so many suicides.

Suicides tend to follow a pattern. When a person commits suicide others may follow that example. In the future we must investigate what help may be given people suffering from stress. Today many people suffer from stress. Unemployment, financial problems and the abuse of alcohol may all contribute to a person's attempting to commit suicide. It is difficult to understand why somebody takes this action. We could spend our time discussing the reasons that people commit suicide but we should plan to help people who may be considering this action.

Counselling should be made available to families who are grieving for a member of their family who has committed suicide. It is a very traumatic time for them. It is difficult enough for a family when a member dies from natural causes but when a family member dies by taking his or her life it is an added trauma for the family involved. Recognised and readily available counselling should be provided for those families and, in particular, for people who attempt suicide. It is very important that their worries are taken into account and that they receive proper counselling.

Very often young people panic over simple matters. It is sad to hear of young people committing suicide in the run up to examination time. One often thinks that if those people could have been caught in time and discussed their problems, suicide might have been prevented. People often panic. They may not be able to see the wood for the trees and can see no solution to their problems. It is important that those who have survived suicide attempts be counselled and reassured that their problems are not as serious as they feared. I hope such counselling services will be available.

The Bill is short and to the point. It decriminalises suicide and section 3 provides for that in a brief paragraph. I welcome also the fact that section 4 will provide against some misguided individual encouraging another person to commit suicide. Such people may be detained for 14 years for this crime. We must ensure that the vulnerable are not taken advantage of by anyone for financial or any other gain. This provision covers the case of a friend suggesting suicide to another friend. I do not see much point in talking about the background to the Bill. I welcome the Bill and I hope it will go through the House in 15 minutes.

If this Bill is to go through the House in 15 minutes I have about 15 seconds to make my contribution.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): After the Deputy has finished.

I welcome this Bill. Change in the law in this area is long overdue. This law was changed in the United Kingdom in 1961. Having criticised the Minister this morning in her absence, I wish to compliment her now in bringing forward this legislation. I consider this a good Bill and I do not intend to put down any amendments to it. I hope I am not being negligent in that regard. Having sought advice, I am told it is an appropriate Bill to deal with the law in this area.

It is a sad reality that suicide is on the increase. Deputy Browne referred to the official statistics which I have before me. They indicate for 1991, the last year for which the Library has official statistics, that 318 people committed suicide, 252 males and 66 females. Sixty per cent of those who committed suicide were between the ages of 15 and 35. For the first three quarters of 1992 the number of people who committed suicide is 240 — an alarming figure. Unfortunately, many experts in the social field of psychology and psychiatry advise that the figures grossly underestimate the scale of the problem. It has been suggested that the figure could be closer to 1,000 people than 300. Personally, I know of three families who have experienced the trauma of suicide in the last two weeks and that is an absolute tragedy. Together with the Minister I extend sympathy to those families.

Unfortunately, the media are not present for this debate but I am sure they are watching the monitors. I would appeal to the media to be more cautious and more respectful of the tragedy that families suffer and the privacy they require when reporting on such cases. I am not suggesting the media should not inform the public or that they should not do their job but perhaps they could consider, in some cases, not revealing the identity of the people involved and not going into the gruesome details which cause such heartbreak to the family, relatives and friends involved. I make that appeal having met many of the families of suicide victims in recent times.

As the Minister stated, suicide is not a statutory offence. It is an offence at common law. Suicide is a felony and attempted suicide is a misdemeanour. I am not a lawyer but I look forward to the day when there will be an end to the distinction between felonies and misdemeanours. I recall a commitment in the Programme for Government to end that distinction and it is long overdue.

I would say to the Minister, who is not a lawyer but whom I know to be a practical person, that the closer our law can be to using everyday language the better. In the course of preparing for Bills in this House in relation to justice, I have had an opportunity to study American legislation. That legislation is very understandable but the Irish or British legislation is virtually impossible to comprehend. One would almost require a senior counsel to go through the legislation line by line. I would ask the Minister to encourage her Department when reforming the criminal law, which is now the only area left to the Department of Justic, civil law having moved to the new Department, to simplify the wording of the law. That would make it easier for the ordinary citizen and, indeed, for the practitioner. It would probably save thousands of pounds in legal actions on foot of the jargon in respect of which lawyers use dictionaries and take court cases. Such language may mean one thing today and something else next year. If the Minister could deal with this matter she would be providing a great service.

The Minister referred to how suicide was dealt with in the past. Although it was a criminal offence, obviously, the perpetrator who committed suicide could not be apprehended. There was a very brutal way of dealing with suicide victims. Their estate was forfeited, they were buried at the crossroads with a stake through their heart and it was not until 1882 that they could obtain religious rites for the burial. Society at that time had a very brutal way of dealing with the victims of suicide.

I am delighted that this Bill not alone decriminalises suicide but also decriminalises attempted suicide. I believe a person who attempts suicide is crying out for help. Like so many areas of our law, some laws in this area are so archaic and inhuman in many respects that they are rightly not enforced. Laws which are not enforced are laws which are not respected and are unnecessary. I am delighted that attempted suicide will no longer be regarded as a criminal offence.

Obviously aiding and abetting a person to commit suicide has to be a serious offence. I ask the Minister to comment on a suggestion made to me. This suggestion was also made in an article by Peter Charlton in The Irish Criminal Law Series — Offences Against the Person published by The Round Hall Press during the last 12 to 18 months, in which he stated:

It is arguable that a person who accidentally kills another in the course of attempted suicide lacks the moral culpability ordinarily associated with murder, and is more appropriately to be convicted of manslaughter by criminal negligence.

Is that what will happen as a result of this Bill, or will it be manslaughter in a different sense rather than manslaughter through criminal negligence? This is not referred to in the Bill.

I presume it will be very difficult to prove that a person aided and abetted another person to commit suicide. As the person who has committed suicide is dead, obviously one will not have much evidence. We have read about cases where a person supplied the poison and where one of the people who got into the car lived while the other died. Those are very graphic situations and I wonder how realistic it is to expect that a person will ever be prosecuted for aiding and abetting someone to commit suicide. I ask the Minister to tell the House whether anyone in this jurisdiction has ben prosecuted in recent years for aiding and abetting another person to commit suicide. How likely is it that this provision will be enforced?

Under the Coroners Act, 1962, a coroner cannot return a verdict of suicide as he is prohibited from making anyone civilly or criminally liable consequent on death. I presume that changing the law in this area will allow a coroner to return a verdict of suicide. This will probably give a more realistic figure of the number of deaths from suicide than the official figures we have at present.

I welcome the fact that 50 of the 57 recommendations made by the Prison Advisory Group have been implemented. The last time I read about this issue, I think 33 recommendations had been implemented. Obviously, the Minister has implemented 17 recommendations in recent times. I compliment her on this. It is important that these recommendations are implemented because, as the Prison Advisory Group said, people in prison were 16 times more liable to die than the general population at large. That is a frightening statistic. I ask the Minister, if she has any figures at her disposal, to tell me the nature of the offences committed by prisoners who committed suicide. Were they serving long sentences? What were they in prison for? Some research in this area would give us more insight into this issue.

I wish to refer to the general issue of suicide. I am not going to pretend that I am an expert on this issue as I certainly am not. However, I have spoken with a number of people who work in the general social work-psychology area. Contrary to the perception many people may have, they have told me that people who commit suicide do not immediately beforehand manifest any signs of depression. Very often the reverse may be the case. Immediately before they commit suicide, people who are inclined to be depressed may appear to be very happy go lucky. This makes it extremely difficult for families and those who may be concerned about their loved ones to seek help. The family, friends and close associates of a person who commits suicide are devastated by the death. They feel responsible and guilty and believe that they should have got help for the person. Yet experts have told me that in many cases the person who commits suicide shows no obvious signs that they are about to do so. I have also been told that women are more inclined to attempt suicide crying out for help, while men will commit suicide rather than attempt it. If that is the case, it is very interesting.

Many people say that people commit suicide because of the pressures caused by unemployment, the breakdown of a relationship, the loss of a loved one and financial difficulties. I do not accept that this is the case. All of these factors may accelerate a problem and trigger off the suicide, but I do not think they could be considered to be the entire cause of the suicide. Most people have to deal with many of these difficulties during their lifetime; many people have to deal with enormous pressures, time and time again. Obviously, people who commit suicide feel they cannot cope and cannot go on, that death is preferable to living.

We need to provide a mechanism in our society to help people who feel so down that they think there is no way out of their difficulties. The Victims Support Group administered on a voluntary basis by Ann Meade — Derek Nally was one of the founders of this group — does not get the kind of assistance it deserves. When I raised this issue by way of parliamentary question I was told that it got virtually what it asked for by way of grant aid, an increase of 20 per cent from £15,000 to £18,000. While this is true, the reason this group asked for so little aid is that it has found it extremely difficult to get any aid whatsoever in the past number of years. In fact, the group has acknowledged that it has set its sights very low. I know that the Minister is very supportive of this group and I think in the next week or two she will formally open its counselling room in the Four Courts where the victims of crime can be counselled.

Much more needs to be done in this area. In a recent case a person telephoned the Victims Support Group approximately half an hour before they committed suicide. They left a meassage on the answering machine but because the group does not have any paid help — it cannot afford it — the call was only received after the weekend. I do not want to say the time it was received as that would indicate who the person was, which would not be fair. When I heard about this case yesterday I thought that if someone had been there to receive the call — I am not saying that someone should be there 24 hours a day — and more help was given, this group could provide a much more comprehensive service. I ask the Minister to do what she can to give additional resources to the Victims Support Group, an extremely professional body which deals in a very caring and understanding way with the victims of crime. Crime seems to be a contributory factor to suicide and we should help the victims of crime to the greatest possible extent.

The Samaritans provide an outstanding service. I think they have opened in Newbridge their ninth centre where they have a voluntary staff of approximately 90. They provide an outstanding service and if it were not for them there would be many more suicide victims. I am delighted that a phone line to the Samaritans has been provided in three detention centres. I hope that this phone line will be provided in all detention centres as soon as possible.

I am talking about voluntary services. There is much goodwill in our community and much work can be done on a voluntary basis. While we need not necessarily always have paid work, we need to have more respect and provide more assistance for the voluntary sector. Much of the work done in the areas of social services and health services and by the Victims Support Group is done by women. The very good voluntary work done in our society saves the taxpayer enormous amounts of money and takes a burden off the Exchequer. The more we can do in terms of giving voluntary groups the back-up and financial assistance they require the better.

In relation to pressure on young people and so on, while recognising that this is not directly the responsibility of the Minister for Justice but is a responsibility of Government and of the Oireachtas generally, many of the cases referred to earlier were of very young people, as young as 15 or 16, many attending school, facing examinations. I contend the overall pressure within our educational system toward achievement is leading many young people to feel they just cannot cope, to a sense of hopelessness about the position in which they find themselves, with pressure being exerted at home and by society to attend college, to gain X number of points and so on. I really believe that our educational system is largely responsible — I am not saying for causing suicides — for exerting pressure that, thankfully, does not always manifest itself in suicide but places an awful pressure on so many young people at a very early stage and is a huge drain on them as people.

I wonder whether there is any way through the schools system we can reduce that pressure. I know that changing the examination structure is a matter for the continuing discussion on the Green Paper and proposed White Paper on education. I wonder whether there is any way through the schools system we could introduce some crisis help for young people being subjected to this awful pressure, perhaps constituting an informal part of the schools curriculum or whatever; perhaps a visit on the part of somebody from the Victims Support Group, I do not know. But there must be a way of being able through the schools system to help the many young people who feel so pressurised. Thankfully, this pressure does not always manifest itself in suicide. Much of it manifests itself in drugs dependency, alcoholism and so on. Certainly, we need to detect such pressure at a very early stage and provide the type of support required.

While recognising that the Minister said she was dealing only with the criminal or legal aspects of suicide, I should say that in the course of our discussions generally other problems in regard to suicide have been drawn to my attention. It is in relation to the insurance implications for wives spouses in relation to the home, as I understand that the procedure varies from one insurance company to another. I think some insurance companies will honour a mortgage protection policy in circumstances where the mortgager has been a suicide victim. However, I am informed that there are other cases where that is not the case and that a wife whose husband, the bread winner, committed suicide, could find she does not have the benefit of the proceeds of the mortgage protection policy. That is not a matter for the criminal law. The Minister knows that, but it is something we need to be understanding and sympathetic of in our society, particularly in relation to the home. I am not necessarily advocating that all loans and outstanding debts should be covered or that somebody contemplating suicide would not decide to take out a loan of £500,000 or whatever to ensure their wife/spouse would be looked after. But, as the retention of the home is essential to the protection and welfare of any family, I should like to think that that would be covered in all cases. Probably the Minister has more information at her disposal than I have in this respect.

I very much welcome this Bill, as does my party. Once and for all it will remove the stigma of criminality from suicide, rendering the trauma somewhat easier for the families of suicide victims. It is an issue not spoken about in our society. Nobody wants to admit that a member of their family has committed suicide and not just because of the criminality element. In any event I think a stigma will remain, but so far as we as legislators can remove or help to remove that stigma, I believe we have an obligation to do so. The provisions of this Bill will play their part but we need to do an awful lot more. Certainly, we need to do very much more by way of research into why it is that so many people in our society, particularly so many young people, commit or attempt to commit suicide, and in the case of attempts sometimes they will be so numerous that eventually the person will commit suicide. The attempt is somebody crying out for help. I hope that there is no place in our society where such help is not forthcoming.

I should like the Minister to clarify questions in relation to the interpretation of manslaughter in the Coroners Act, 1962. I know it is deemed to be death by negligence. I want to make sure there is no distinction between manslaughter and what is referred to here as manslaughter by criminal negligence; or am I to assume that manslaughter is always as a result of criminal negligence and that I am stating the unnecessary? I should like the Minister to clarify that point.

It is right that this Bill should be passed and that we should not delay it by unnecessarily tabling amendments for the sake of doing so. What we have here is a very good appropriate Bill to deal with this problem.

Like all other Members of this House, I welcome this Bill, which is long overdue. I want to take this opportunity of publicly recognising the Minister's initiative in introducing this Bill today.

The last prosecution for attempted suicide was in 1967. Proposals going back since then to abolish the offence have remained proposals only. Today we have a Bill introduced to decriminalise suicide. I am glad to be able to take part in this debate. The Bill demonstrates an attitudinal change in society, recognising that such laws are not deterrents to someone contemplating suicide.

We might well pose the question: why has society decided to date that suicide is a crime? One explanation may be found perhaps in the religious approach to suicide, which has been to condemn it absolutely, culminating in the denial of a Christian burial to its victims. This led to the common law regarding suicide as self-murder. The confiscation of goods of suicide victims was abolished by the general abolition of the forfeiture of goods for felony by the Forfeiture Act of 1870. The Internments Act, 1882, also made some attempt to understand the act of suicide. The only effect of criminalisation of suicide is to compound the distress and pain of bereaved relatives and friends. Surely relatives, in dealing with feelings of doubt, self-blame, rejection and anger, should not have these emotions compounded by an unrealistic, inhumane law?

The reasons a person may take his own life are complex. Every suicide is idiosyncratic but not random. Dr. Schneidman outlines ten commonalities. First, the purpose of those who wish to commit suicide is to seek a solution; second, the goal is the cessation of consciousness; third, the stimulus is intolerable psychological pain; fourth, the stress is frustrated psychological needs; fifth, the emotion is hopelessness, contrary to what some people believe to be depression, a distinction quite rightly drawn by Deputy Harney. Sixth, the internal attitude of the individual contemplating suicide is ambivalent, the subject seeing the dark world of the self and the brighter world of others; seventh, his or her cognitive state is one of constriction, that is, he or she is unable to generate options for solution of the problems facing him or her except through suicide; eighth, the belief that his or her action will lead to escape from problems is one of the common reasons for committing suicide. Ninth, Dr. Schneidman contends that suicide is an interpersonal act, contending that there is always communication with other; tenth, that there is a consistency among subjects with regard to their lifelong coping patterns.

It is interesting to note one statistic, that 55 to 70 per cent of suicide victims have clearly stated their interest in so doing and 80 per cent have made direct or indirect statements of their intent.

Anne O'Donnell of St. John of God's Hospital, Stillorgan, who is a psychologist there, has said that suicide rates are higher in the elderly and is higher in the case of men of all ages. She contends that the antecedent factors are psychological — for example, hopelessness, schizophrenia, chronic physical illness, and social reasons such as loneliness can also abound. She contends that those people most at risk are the bereaved. It is interesting to note here that men have higher suicide rates in the first years after bereavement. Those living in isolated areas — and I do not mean in a geographical sense — are also most at risk, as are those who suffer from chronic physical illness, those who are depressed and particularly those suffering from alcoholism. Of course, the one great indicator of those likely to commit suicide are those who have already made previous attempts.

As a society we must strive for greater awareness of and education on the issue of suicide. We must now begin to pull back the veil of silence on this issue. According to Michael J. Kelleher, in an article published in the Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine in February 1993, “suicide is a significant public health problem which has increased in magnitude in Ireland over the past three decades”. He also says that it is a problem that is wider than medicine and that the changes in frequency are likely to reflect social and attitudinal changes rather than changes in illness pattern.

Ireland is one among a few countries where suicide and attempted suicide remain on the Statute Book as criminal offences. Section 2 (1) of the Bill abolishes the offence of suicide, which is a felony under common law. Subsection (2) will make it an offence to aid, abet, counsel or procure the suicide of another. The purpose of this is to protect persons with suicidal tendencies from others who, for whatever motives, might encourage or assist them to commit suicide. To assist someone in the act of suicide will remain subject to the criminal law. A penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment is proposed for aiding and abetting suicide.

Regarding the issue of assisted suicide and euthanasia, Dr. Kelleher in the same article said that most of those who take their lives are ambivalent right up to the time of their death. If those entrusted with the responsibility of preventing such deaths are also ambivalent this attitude could communicate itself to suicidal patients and those appointed to look after them. Hence, the Bill must give a clear line in this regard. This is done in section 2 (2) and (3) of the Bill. Section 3 states that attempted suicide will no longer be an offence and for this reason section 9 of the 1871 Act is being repealed.

It is my hope, given our knowledge of the difficulties which young people in particular face, that a more enlightened approach will be adopted to the question of suicide. There is a need for greater understanding of the issue. Indeed, the statistics which are available do not mirror the true situation accurately. This can be put down to a number of reasons, including social reasons and the legal position pertaining to suicide and attempted suicide. If a more humane approach was adopted some of the distress experienced by relatives would be alleviated. We, as a society must try to understand and press for funding to enable the professionals to continue to provide the much needed counselling and medical care in this area. As Deputy Harney said, voluntary groups continue to carry out tremendous work in this regard. This work and the assistance they provide on a daily basis is not always recognised. We, as public representatives, should avail of the opportunity presented by this debate today to thank them for the tremendous work they continue to do and their commitment.

I now want to refer to another issue which Deputy Harney raised and that is the importance of the psychological services within schools. The Government has given a commitment in the Programme for Government to provide extra funding in this regard and it must be commended for this. However, I hope this service will not be confined to the national school system but, as soon as funding is made available, extended to second level schools also.

Earlier this afternoon I listened to the proceedings at question time on the monitor when I heard some disparaging remarks from the Opposition benches about those who work in the psychological service. This indicates a lack of understanding and knowledge of the difficulties which young people face and of the tremendous work being done by psychologists, teachers and all others in the education system.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): On a point of order, I would like to clarify what I said.

The Deputy was misquoted on the monitor.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): I referred to the advice which psychologists give to teachers on how to control classes.

There is a clear need for psychological services. It is also obvious that the Deputy is not fully aware of what a psychologist does within the education system.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): I taught for 30 years.

They are there to tackle the difficult emotional problems which individuals face in the classroom. They are professionals with specific skills and they work in tandem with other professionals, namely, teachers. They provide assistance to teachers who have been looking for such a psychological service within the system for a long time. If they did not believe that such a service was necessary they would not be looking for it.

It is important we realise at all times that young and old face many problems and difficulties. As Deputy Harney said, if we are to alleviate the problems which young people in particular face, such facilities must be made available at the earliest possible moment. The Government has given a commitment in the programme for Government to provide facilities in the education system.

I am only too happy to welcome the Bill, which, as I said at the outset, is long overdue. I am sure it will receive support from all sides of the House.

Like other speakers, I welcome the Bill as it is long past time that we decriminalise suicide. There is no harm in reminding ourselves that suicide is a felony under the law which we inherited from the British when the State was founded. It is highly unlikely that suicide would have been criminalised back in 1921 if it has not been a crime on the Statute Book when the State was founded. Indeed, the Minister outlined just how barbaric the law was in the latter half of the last century.

By far and away the biggest advantage to be gained in decriminalising suicide is that the stigma will be removed while the burden on the families of those who commit suicide will be eased. We will also ensure that better statistics are available on the incidence of suicide in our society, because as has been pointed out, we cannot be certain that we have the true figures for the numbers of people who commit suicide. This has always been a problem. Indeed, reference has been made to the difficulty that coroners face in the coroner's court.

The increase in the number of suicides not only in this country but throughout Europe must be the source of concern. It appears that young people, especially men, are more at risk than other groups in society. This is true right across Europe. What is the reason people commit suicide? If the answer was simple we would have the answer and be able to prevent it. Depression is a major factor. This can take the form of a disease or be brought about as a result of social circumstances. In this regard, given that it is difficult to understand why this should be the case at the end of the 20th century when living conditions are better than they were 50 to 70 years ago, there is a necessity to carry out much more research to see exactly what part the social environment plays in relation to the incidence of suicide.

There is absolutely no doubt that alcohol is a factor in a number of cases, as it is in so many other aspects of Irish life. We need to look at the role of alcohol in terms of its being a precipitating factor in suicide and also the risks of people committing suicide when under the influence. We need to formulate a national policy on alcohol because there is no doubt that its abuse contributes to many of the problems in our society. We have to change our attitude to alcohol at an individual and community level and the Government has an important role to play in this regard, first in bringing forward a national policy on alcohol and in ensuring that our young people have every opportunity to learn about alcohol abuse and how to use alcohol properly. They have to be able to make up their own minds so that when they are 18 they can decide for themselves whether they want to use alcohol appropriately.

In many cases those who commit suicide may have been crying out for help. For example, somebody may take an overdose of tablets to draw attention to their problems but unfortunately they may take more than necessary and as a result may die. Suicide occurs among the general population as well as among those attending the psychiatric services. This begs the question as to how we improve the services in order to ensure we reduce the incidence of suicide. Would a further improvement of the psychiatric services reduce the number of persons who commit suicide? We cannot predict who is likely to commit suicide; therefore it is important that we see what can be done to improve the psychiatric services.

Over the years there has been a dramatic change in the way the psychiatric services are delivered. I am sure everybody in this House welcomes the change whereby many more people can be treated in the community. In 1958 there were over 22,000 people in our psychiatric hospitals. Today there are fewer than 8,000. That is to be welcomed. I welcome the development of community psychiatry. Perhaps the number of suicides may decrease if everybody who requires psychiatric care was locked up but no one would want to see that. A way we can develop the psychiatric services is by trying to reduce the incidence of suicide.

Apart from patients attending the psychiatric services many people in the community, who never attended psychiatric services, commit suicide. We must consider why they do it and what we could do to help them. It is recognised that very many of those who have not been attending the psychiatric services attend their general practitioner in the two to three months before their suicide. This begs the question as to how we might improve the service of the general practitioner to ensure that these people might be identified and that there would be early intervention so that the number of suicides would be reduced.

Deputies may be interested to learn that they established suicide prevention centres in the United States. These are drop-in centres where people can walk in, but views are mixed as to whether they have been successful and as to what contribution they have made. We in Ireland can appreciate the contribution the Samaritans have made to helping people who are under stress. In Britain they recently brought out a new policy document Mental Health of the Nation in which the stated hope is to reduce the incidence of suicide in the community by 15 per cent and to reduce the incidence among patients in the psychiatric hospitals by 33 per cent. They hope to do this by developing community psychiatric services.

I agree with Deputies Harney and de Valera on the need for improved psychological services for young people. Many young people are not able to cope and whatever support they need should be put in place, not alone to prevent suicide but to promote their general health when they are young and later in life.

A number of areas need to be looked at. I suppose some of them are the responsibility of the Minister for Justice and others the responsibility of other Ministers. One area is the sale of drugs. The very common drugs like panadol and asprin have been used by those attempting to commit suicide and by some who have committed suicide. That brings into focus the question of the control of drugs and the responsibility on the professionals, the medics and the pharmacists, to ensure that people do not have too many drugs and that they are not circulating too freely.

Another product has been used to commit suicide is gramoxone. I would like to see the sale of gramoxone banned until such time as there is an antidote to it. It has been used by many people committing suicide and it causes them a very painful death. It should be banned until there is some form of treatment to prevent death in that way.

The sale of firearms is not a problem in this country but it is in other countries, particularly the United States. It is not necessary to bring in legislation to control firearms.

I welcome the Bill as it is very clear in what it sets out to do, which is to decriminalise suicide. I welcome also the section in the Bill that will ensure that aiding and abetting anybody commiting suicide remains a serious crime in the laws of this State. I support the Bill.

I am glad this Bill has been brought forward. Suicide is increasing in our community. At present the records indicate that the number is 250 suicides per year but I think this is an under statement and recent reports and investigations show it to be of the order of 1,000 per year. This is a high number and means that about three suicides are committed every day. This has to be looked at. The number of attempted suicides is increasing also. Under the present system, people who attempt suicide could be prosecuted. I am glad that legislation to deal with this matter has been introduced. Attempted suicide is a cry for help. In Glasgow one hospital ward is occupied each weekend by people who attempted suicide. As Deputy O'Hanlon said, there are different methods of committing suicide, the taking of tablets being the most common among females. The availability of tablets in supermarkets and shops will have to be considered. Many chemists believe that tablets should be available solely from pharmacies. In most cases tablets are sold in containers which are easily opened. If they were contained in sachets from which each one has to be pushed out individually people might be deterred from committing suicide in this way.

Attempted suicide is part of life in certain areas, in many cases it is a call for help. Young people see it as a way of getting attention or of blackmailing their parents into allowing them to go to dances or to go out with boyfriends. These people should receive assistance from psychiatrists or psychologists and should not be prosecuted — I am glad that has not been the practice here. In France people who attempt suicide are prosecuted.

About 80 per cent of suicides are caused by depression. Anti-depressants are used as the principal treatment for depression, with counselling. I am glad there is an increasing number of psychologists available for counselling. The Minister for Education is at present considering the provision of psychologist services in schools. The number of suicides among alcoholics is very high, even years after they have been treated.

Recently people have taken their lives due to social factors, the main one being marital difficulties because people realise there is no way out. I am glad divorce legislation is being considered as it will provide an opportunity for people to get out of broken marriages and perhaps they will not feel such a loss of pride when their marriage breaks up. Another cause of suicide is lack of employment — recently there was much talk about the two young people in Limerick who committed suicide because they could not find employment. The medical profession is considering the question of unemployment and other social factors that may cause suicide. Another cause of suicide is lack of housing, and I am glad Deputy Stagg is trying to solve the housing problem. There is a link between psychiatry and politics — perhaps that is why I went forward for election.

I hope there is not a link between suicide and politics.

I think there is a link there also which I will deal with later.

Has the Deputy carried out a study of this matter since coming into the House?

I have been looking around and have compiled notes on everybody.

I am glad the Deputy is still looking.

By saying certain things in this House or taking a stand on certain issues, some of which will be dealt with very soon by the new Government, one could be committing political suicide.

Suicide can be an impulsive act. People may feel suicidal for a couple of minutes or even for a couple of hours. Sometimes it helps for these people to talk to the Samaritans who are available 24 hours a day. I advise people who come to me with problems to ring the Samaritans who are trained to take their calls. There is a perception that suicide is not common in rural areas. Suicide was once a phenomenon in towns but it is now on the increase in rural areas. The reasons for this relate to farming difficulties, emigration and loneliness. In Ennis the number of calls to the Samaritans has increased since I started training there, from 300 to 4,000 or 5,000 a year. The Samaritans receive 10,000 to 20,000 calls a year from Galway. Dublin is the second busiest city in the world in terms of Samaritan calls — I may not be accurate in my figures but on average one call is received every 30 seconds. Berlin, which was once a divided city, had one of the highest numbers of suicides in the world — I do not know the present postion.

I am glad that under this legislation the Attorney General will consider each case brought for prosecution. After an emotional event people tend to go to doctors and priests for help and some people may attempt suicide even after receiving advice. At present a priest is being prosecuted in America for giving advice which resulted in suicide. It is not acceptable that those who try to help depressed people are prosecuted. I am glad this matter is dealt with in the Bill because some protection is necessary in this area.

The Catholic Church has progressed in the last few years in its attitude to suicide. There was a time, even in the Muslim religion, when people who committed suicide were not buried in sacred burial grounds, but that practice has changed and these people are now buried with their families. I welcome the changes in this area.

Last week there was a political suicide in Sri Lanka. In Cork Mary Sweeney committed suicide. It may also be used as a political weapon, sometimes by hunger strikers. Gandhi also used it fruitfully in India. I am glad this Bill has been introduced. There is much more I would like to say but, as other speakers wish to contribute, I will conclude.

Like other Deputies I welcome the Minister's decision to bring forward this Bill which proposes to decriminalise suicide. It was interesting to listen to people who have dealt in a professional capacity with suicide and its effect on families. In the last couple of years I have heard of a number of suicides in my county. Deputy Bhamjee referred to the figures available regarding the number of suicides. It is generally accepted that there has been a major increase in suicides. Indeed there were three suicides in my county last week. If that is an indication of the situation in the rest of the country, there must be at least 2,000 to 3,000 suicides here each year. This Bill will focus our minds on why people commit suicide. People commit suicide due to depression, loneliness, alcoholism and financial difficulties. We should reconsider the powers conferred on the Revenue, particularly on the sheriff, as these powers have resulted in a number of suicides. When a measure produced from this House can result in suicide, we must think again.

I join with speakers in thanking the voluntary groups for their tremendous work. Without many resources people have voluntarily given their time to cope with the threat of suicide and with the families of suicide victims. Often all that is needed for a person in difficulties is a listening ear. People in difficulties want someone to listen and to share their burden, whether depression, loneliness, marital or other difficulties. The Samaritans and other groups are providing a great service and we should not take it for granted. We should assist them to continue with their great work.

Deputy O'Hanlon referred to the necessity to improve the psychiatric services and I agree with him. In our hospitals we can see people who have attempted suicide. An attempted suicide is a public cry for help. We should try to tackle this problem and understand why people are driven to suicide. We must all have a greater understanding and tolerance for people.

There has been a big increase in the number of suicides. It really comes home to one only when friends and associates are involved. The health boards should play a bigger role in providing back-up counselling for the families of suicide victims. I have been involved with a couple of such families in the recent past and I have no doubt that it is a traumatic experience for the families.

As Deputy Bhamjee said earlier, the Catholic Church has changed slightly with regard to suicide, as evidenced by the way they bury victims; but there is still a lot of progress to be made towards a better understanding of the problem.

I attended a function in Naas last week at which I met a number of young people who had made a study of stress among young people. Their findings showed that everyone undergoes a certain amount of stress. Stress in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but when stress turns to distress that is where we have the major problem and where action is needed. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to determine the turning point and the consequent results.

I thank the Minister for introducing this Bill, which has been welcomed from all sides. I have listened with interest to contributions and I look forward with interest to hearing some more.

I welcome the publication of this Bill, the fact that it is before the House and the general welcome provided for it here. It is safe to predict that it will get a safe passage.

I welcome the Government's decision to decriminalise suicide. It will help the families and friends of people who have committed suicide to cope with the grief, trauma and, often, the guilt.

I am concerned about section 2 of the Bill, which I hope the Minister will deal with when replying. Section 2 makes it an offence to aid, abet, counsel or procure the suicide of another, or an attempt by another to commit suicide. Such a person would be liable to conviction and to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 14 years. This section might give rise to some difficulties in the future. Following a suicide, would a spouse, partner or member of the family of the victim be subjected to investigation to establish whether or not he had aided, abetted or procured the suicide? If a person committed suicide with another person's gun and it was not obvious how the person obtained the gun, would it lead to the investigation of the relative who owned the gun after the suicide? In the case of a suicide pact where two people agreed to commit suicide together, if one person survived would that person be prosecuted for aiding and abetting the commission of the suicide of the other person?

There is a very complex area in relation to medicine, for instance, with regard to people being sustained on life support machines and the decision at some point to remove the person from the life support machine. Would this Bill affect that situation? A recent widely publicised case involved a Dr. Cox in the United Kingdom who was charged with murder when he aided and abetted a person to terminate her own life in a case where there was considerable suffering. That case has given rise to considerable debate regarding ethics in circumstances like that, but it is a debate that has not been entered into in this country. I would like clarification on the section of the Bill that refers to aiding and abetting the commission of suicide. Can the Minister clarify whether that section might be used at some stage against a member of the medical profession who might pursue a certain course of action in regard to a patient? It might be used by a member of the family or, as is now beginning to be the case, some fundamentalist group who are seeking out members of the medical profession whom they suspect of aiding and abetting people to take their own lives.

This legislation will decriminalise suicide. Other speakers have addressed the question of the causes of suicide and what steps might be taken to try to reduce the incidence of suicide. Anybody who has experienced the loss of a member of their family or a friend through suicide knows how difficult it is to come to terms with the fact, often in cases where it did not appear that the person concerned was suffering any trauma or personal distress. We have to look at the many varied circumstances which cause the kinds of personal depression which gives rise to suicide and see to what extent they can be minimised. The first and obvious area we have to look at is unemployment.

A recent ESRI survey published in 1991 referred to the extent to which unemployment is causing stress among individuals and families. The authors of the ESRI survey, Dr. Whelan, Professor Hannon and Mr. Creighton, state that unemployed people are five times more likely to suffer high levels of psychological stress than those who are at work. They went on to refer to the many ways in which unemployment impacts on the mental health of people. Over a period it lowers their self-esteem, causes personal distress, distress within the family and ultimately financial strain, which in turn leads to other pressures being brought to bear on the families concerned.

In a society where 20 per cent of the labour force are out of work we have to look at unemployment as a social and economic cause of suicide and of the stress and tension which leads to it in the first place. Allied to that is the whole question of financial stress. Some years ago the Dublin county coroner referred to what he called the caring banks and contrasted the way in which financial institutions advertise themselves as caring institutions when they are at the point of lending people money but show a different approach to the same people when they want to get the money back. The Dublin county coroner has had considerable experience of the problem of suicide and has spoken publicly on the issue on many occasions. It is significant that he should have identified the financial institutions and the stress and pressure which they bring to bear on individuals as a possible cause of suicide.

In her contribution the Minister referred to the problem of suicide by people who are in the care of the State, for example, those in prison. I found her comments in that regard less than encouraging. She referred to the recommendations of the advisory group and spoke generally about efforts that would have to be made to implement those recommendations. She went on to point out that even if the recommendations were implemented there would still be some suicides in prisons. I accept that point. I would have thought that on an occasion such as this she would have given the House an indication of the specific measures she plans to take to give effect to those recommendations rather than simply to put them on the record of the House and talk about them in a general way.

A number of Deputies referred to the caring organisations, in particular, to the Samaritans. I would like to add my congratulations and thanks to bodies such as the Samaritans for the work they are doing in saving people from suicide and in helping them to cope with the difficulties of life. It is fair to say that many suicide attempts are by people who do not approach the Samaritans or anybody else and feel they have nowhere to turn for help. A greater effort will have to be made to bring to everybody's attention — particularly the marginalised in society — the means of access to bodies and people who can provide them with counselling or help at times of distress. A very simple method might be to include in various pension books, cards and documents issued by the Department of Social Welfare or other Departments three or four emergency telephone numbers of the Garda Síochána, the Samaritans and so on for the assistance of somebody in distress. Somebody who is alone, lonely and in despair who does not know where to turn for help and does not have the telephone number of the Samaritans, should know where there is access to a helpline.

The attitude in our society is very important. In some ways it can be good and in other ways it can be very damaging. I was struck by recent comments by a former Taoiseach, Dr. FitzGerald, in which he spoke about the desirability of people being, perhaps, more nosey. I understand his point but therein lies part of the problem with regard to suicide. It is clear that many people are driven to suicide — or at least suffer depression — because of the pressure they feel is put on them by their peers and society generally. Perhaps that pressure is not there, there may be a far more compassionate approach in society than is often thought.

A person under stress, say, a business person with a certain reputation who finds himself under financial pressure may feel that his whole world is collapsing, worries about what his peers will think, how it will look in the community and so on, may feel under a lot of pressure. Often the natural inquisitiveness of people inquiring about the welfare of others contributes to stress and pressure. Perhaps that needs to be addressed generally in society. We should not try to find out why somebody has committed an act perceived as scandalous and hound them all the way to Mexico to account for themselves. There should be genuine sympathy and support for people in trouble. A change of attitude is needed so that people under stress do not feel people are watching them and will think less of them because they are in financial or personal difficulty. Such an approach generally in society might help to reduce some of the causes that give rise to suicide. I welcome this Bill and look forward to it being enacted.

I also welcome the Bill. It is timely for us as legislators to reflect on the increased incidence of suicide. The number of people resorting to suicide is increasing at an alarming rate. It is time we reflected on society and how we address the fact that more and more people are resorting to what they see as the only way out for them.

I would identify a number of problems. We are not as caring a society as we would like to think. With the development of our society we have become impersonal. We have become akin to the larger cities throughout the world where everybody goes about their own business and nobody takes the time to relate to their peers as they did some years ago.

Many years ago the rate of suicide was attributed to inter-marriage and other problems along the western seaboard, but in the last few years it has increased alarmingly. The most unlikely people have committed suicide. We must, therefore, spend considerable resources on research into this with a view to determining the causes and how we can deal with a problem affecting more an more families.

I am told that similar trends exist in other countries. Let us look at the categories of people involved. This problem covers the age structure from teenagers to old age. One only has to look at the kind of pressure put on children at school to succeed, if they are not top of the class they feel that they are second class citizens and failures. Mine is not a professional opinion but one I have formed from listening to my constituents and looking at society as it develops. During the run up to examinations or the end of term report such emphasis is placed on success that the fear of failure or of coming anywhere other than first escalates. Our attitude does not lead children to believe that to be second or third, fourth, fifth or even tenth is acceptable, that everybody has a niche in society, a role to play. Not everybody can become a neurosurgeon or a nuclear physicist. Unfortunately the standards we now lay down for young people are extremely intimidating and a cause of problems leading to suicide.

It was suggested to me by a constituent recently that perhaps there is a dietary element to this problem that we have not identified. The Department of Health should pay particular attention to examining dietary changes in the past number of years to try to identify whether there is anything in our diet nowadays that contributes to the trend towards suicide which did not exist some years ago.

The last speaker mentioned anxiety, loneliness and despair. What must it be like for a person in despair? I have never known it myself. Although I am quite sure that all of us have seen times when we were close to it, I do not think we have ever experienced the type of despair which causes people to commit suicide. What brings about a situation where an individual is in despair and the only way they see out is suicide? It can be financial or social pressures, and the result is a decision on the part of the person concerned that he is unable or incapable of achieving the targets that society sets. The result is that they are in despair. The person who was previously successful and a pillar of society may find it very difficult to accept what may happen in the event of their missing a step on the ladder they are ascending. That was brought home to me some years ago by a person who had worked conscientiously in a middle management position all his life and suddenly found himself out of a job. He had a big mortgage, but found it extremely difficult to go to the local health centre for assistance even though he was entitled to it. That person told me that he sat week after week in a queue in his local health centre but did not have the courage to meet the community welfare officer. He recognised that he had a problem and that it was getting worse, but he did not have the courage to climb down, as he saw it. It was only after lengthy discussion that he recognised it was possible to live again, that there was a life thereafter and that it was possible to climb to the top of the ladder again.

When a person is unsuccessful or involved in a scandal of some sort society tends to say: "Thou last committed a sin and thou shall pay the price". Nobody should be condemned to the extent that they may never raise their head again. Any of us could be in a similar position. That type of condemnation is not for us to make. It is not a matter for us as legislators or as a society. We should be compassionate and recognise that nobody is perfect. The only perfect person who walked the face of this earth was crucified. To judge people on the basis of modern trends and standards and say that somebody has fallen from grace and shall never rise again is a sad approach which is incompatible with a compassionate and caring society. A culture has developed over the past number of years, whereby only the best is acceptable, anything less in regarded as a failure and those who fail are to be condemned. That can apply in schools, the church, politics and elsewhere. Everybody is entitled to a second chance.

The prison and institutional suicides, to which other speakers referred, are particularly distressing. That matter is within the control of the system; we should at least be able to reduce dramatically the incidence of such suicides.

Another area which must be referred to is that of bureaucracy. We should consider the individuals at the receiving end of the amorphous mass of bureaucracy that exists not only here but worldwide. I am not being critical of the public service in this regard; bureaucracy has become a way of life. A person in dire straits waiting for some kind of inspiration or assistance in regard to a problem they see as insuperable may suddenly receive a bureaucratic letter which can be positive or negative. One can chill the blood or free the heart of an unfortunate victim by the manner in which a message is given. All of us in public life should be aware of that. I will never understand why people do not think before sending such letters.

I recall some years ago meeting a person who was under a great deal of pressure. He had just had a family bereavement, was in severe financial difficulties and at the same time received a letter stating that his electricity supply was to be cut off. That may not seem a huge problem to many of us, but we should put ourselves in that person's position and consider what it must have been like to receive such information at a time when he was most vulnerable. His electricity was cut off and he subsequently telephoned his local public representative, as is usual in such circumstances. The public representative told him that it was not the end of the world and that the problem could be solved. In fairness to public servants, generally speaking they are willing to help and respond but in situations of deprivation, where it is known that families are under severe financial pressure, public servants should be a little compassionate. I accept that a matter cannot be allowed to drag on indefinitely and we cannot allow people to renege on their commitments, while others are expected to deliver on time. However, there could be a compassionate and caring approach in such cases which would at least mean that people are not driven over the top. That is important both for us as public representatives and for our institutions.

There are many pressures on people nowadays, the main one being mortgage repayments. That is a first priority. The money must be paid every month whether we like it or not. The wealthy, the not so wealthy and the poor pay either rent or a mortgage. Depending on people's standard of living, their mortgage is big, medium or small but in each case it can have an equal impact on the family in such a way as to destabilise them.

Whenever there is a likelihood of financial difficulty people tend to despair. We should use all the resources available to the Departments of Justice and Health to evaluate the contributory factors in suicides. We would do this country and society in general a great service if we could identify some of the causes of suicide. I would ask the Minister to convey that message to her colleague and endeavour to do something about it. Over the past number of years my colleagues and I have continually raised this question, particularly the upward trend, in the hope that some information may emerge which will be of benefit to families in the future.

I wish to refer to the relatives of those who commit suicide, who are also victims in this regard. There is nothing as sad as meeting the relatives of a suicide. It is my hope that the Department of Health would show compassion in dealing with the families of those who have committed suicide in relation to requests for services such as the free telephone service where there may be difficulties in regard to the determination of eligibility. Some of these cases would be most deserving on compassionate grounds alone. I would like the Department of Health to remember that the trauma of suicide does not end with the suicide; it remains with the relatives of the suicide victim for many years. Our society could in some way make recompense to those families for the trauma they have experienced by showing more compassion in the determination of eligibility for certain services. I am not suggesting for a moment that we in society are to blame for this but we must examine the causes for the increased incidence of suicide here. If we do not address the problem of the increasing numbers of suicide we are failing to help these people.

I wish to pay tribute to the caring agencies such as the Samaritans — I am sure the Minister would regard her Department as a caring agency also — for being available to those who feel disposed towards committing suicide. I hope the resources required to allow that agency and other similar agencies to continue their work will be made available to them.

Like my colleague, Deputy Durkan, I cannot claim to have any expertise or professional know-how on the question of suicide. Nevertheless, I have 20 years experience of being a public representative and in that time one can learn a great deal by meeting people in one's advice centres and meeting people generally. People do not come to these advice centres to wish you well. They are usually people with problems, many of them psychiatric problems or nervous disorders. A high percentage of those who avail of our clinics suffer from some form of emotional or mental trauma or disorder. I wish to say in passing that my colleague, Deputy Bhamjee, made a compassionate and professional contribution to the debate. This was very useful and perhaps other Members of the House who have a medical background would contribute to the debate also.

Deputy Durkan referred to the Samaritans. I received a telephone call from a member of the Samaritans this morning. Naturally, I thought he was telephoning me concerning this Bill, but in fact he was concerned about the proposals to increase domestic telephone charges in an effort to reduce the cost of overseas calls. He made the point that much of the time and work of the Samaritans is taken up with talking to people on the telephone, people who are often in despair. Fortunately for Deputy Durkan, he has never experienced such despair; but not everyone would be so lucky. This member of the Samaritans told me that in the early hours of the night when we are all asleep, they spend long periods of time talking to suicidal people, people suffering from loneliness and those with nervous disorders. Increasing telephone charges will pose problems and additional costs for the Samaritans. He asked me to consider that and to do what I could as a Member of this House.

I welcome the Bill. It is good that we are facing the problem at last. The Bill is overdue. Even though we often give the impression today that we are a smug society, as though we have some corner on Christianity, in reality we sweep our problems under the carpet. There is much hypocrisy in society today and this Bill is an attempt to confront that.

In recent years I had the unenviable experience of people coming to see me in my office one day and committing suicide the following day. Two of those people drowned themselves and the other woman took an overdose of tablets. That is a very sobering thought for anyone involved in public life. It is a most unpleasant aspect of our work to hear that people who had come for advice had taken their own lives. One of the cases involved a simple matter. A man whose wife was working was seeking unemployment assistance. The marriage has broken down and they had separated. He had worked most of his life, but found that he was unable to claim unemployment assistance while his wife had a permanent job and a weekly income. In order to receive any income he had to take out a court order against his wife for maintenance. He found that distasteful and rather than take that court action he jumped into the River Shannon. This happened the day after he came to see me with the problem.

Another case was that a nice woman from a good background whose son had got into difficulty with the Garda. I tried to convince her that to us in public life it was a trivial matter, but she was upset about her name appearing in the newspapers. It was the first time a member of her family ever appeared in court. Her son had stolen a small item, but rather than face this unpleasantness and the comments of her neighbours she too committed suicide by throwing herself in the River Shannon. She was a young married woman and I found that a very sad experience also. Another woman who had lost her job came to see me at my clinic. She had an unhappy childhood, having been brought up in an institution. Rather than facing up to the task of finding another job she took an overdose of tablets which had fatal consequences. Those are three people known to me who have committed suicide.

Limerick has the highest suicide rate of any city and county in Ireland. Deputy Gilmore referred to a recent tragic case where two young men made a suicide pact and followed it through. That was also a most harrowing experience. This is a reflection on our society. It is an indictment of our society that so many people of all age groups take their own lives. This not only involves poor people because I read that Graham Greene, the famous writer, while a student at college, engaged in the pastime of Russian roulette with a loaded revolver. I find it difficult to understand how somebody with such intelligence and ability could play such a dangerous game. All types of people commit suicide and we in society should not be afraid to address this problem. This Bill is attempting to do that.

I am not in favour of people using hunger strike as a means of applying political pressure on Governments. I believe it is a form of moral blackmail. Too many people on this island and on our neighbouring island have taken their own lives using this method. It is not a legitimate political weapon and I regret that so many people have taken this type of action. I hope we have seen the end of hunger strikes in our society. To starve oneself to death is a most harrowing way to die.

Many reasons have been given for people ending their lives in our society. The obvious reasons are depression, alienation, loneliness, drug abuse, alcoholism, physical illness and mental disorders. Others take a deliberate, well thought-out action to end their lives simply because they feel life has no more to offer them. There is also the question of economic insecurity. I have known people to end their lives because they lost their jobs, could not meet their mortgage repayments and could not face up to the social stigma of being unemployed.

It is unfortunate that this attitude exists in relation to people who have lost their jobs. They are no longer considered as part of the first division but as second class citizens. In this Bill it is easy to provide for the decriminalisation of suicide, but it is not easy to change social attitudes. It is not easy to take away the stigma of suicide which has permeated our society for a long time. It is time we changed our attitude in regard to the loss of life in this way. It is no longer acceptable that there should be a stigma attached to the family of a suicide victim. I hope there will be a more enlightened, caring and compassionate response to suicide from society in the future.

Many people have worked hard to bring this Bill before the House today. It would be invidious of me to mention their names but I will mention the name of one person, Senator Neville. He is not a member of my party, but he has been a pioneering voice on this issue in the Seanad before it became part and parcel of the mainstream policies of all parties in this House. I do not pay tribute to Senator Neville's work because he is a colleague and comes from west Limerick.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): They are all good men down there.

They are sticking.

That is not the reason. Local chauvenism or parochialism would not be part of my political make-up. I give credit where it is due and I wish to put the Senator's name on the record for the good work he did in the Seanad by raising this issue at a time when it was not to the forefront. I would give two cheers to Senator Neville in that respect.

The Bill also reflects changing attitudes in our society and, as Deputy Bhamjee stated, changing attitudes in the Roman Catholic Church. That is desirable. Death is never easy and suicide is traumatic and painful for the victim's family, relatives and friends; but the Bill is an attempt to respond in a practical and humane way to the question of suicide. It is welcome that the Government took the initiative in this regard. Governments should not wait for incidents to happen; it is important that a framework be provided in which people can live their lives. It is the role of Government and public representatives to provide people with a framework of compassionate laws, regulations and standards by which they can live their lives. The Government cannot do everything. It cannot take away people's rights in this area, but it can enable people to live in a humane society.

Deputy Gilmore highlighted one aspect of the Bill about which I am concerned — the question of aiding and abetting. That area is not adequately covered. It is open to cranks who look for loopholes in laws and regulations. Regardless of how well intentioned the proposals in this legislation are, there are people who will distort or attempt to put a different meaning on what is meant by aiding and abetting. The medical profession may be concerned with this aspect. Deputy Gilmore has given some examples of what might happen in this area. I know that such aiding and abetting is not the intention of this Bill, but perhaps this area could be reviewed to ensure that the legislation is tightened to avoid exploitation for mischievious reasons.

I am concerned that the Minister has not given full consideration to the reasons people commit suicide in prison. People may be unhappy in prisons and reach depths of despair, but it is not good enough to say suicide in prisons is an occupational hazard. It is important to have a civilised code of conduct, back up services and contacts in the prison system. Recently I spoke to a class of students in prison about local history. I would add, to allay the Minister's fears, that I was not trying to influence the prisoners by talking about politics. Like the Irish saying, mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí, it is important to praise people in society, to give them hope and to help rehabilitate them. That might sound naive, but I do not intend it to be so. It is important to tell people who are in prison for some time that when they are released they will have a second chance at life. They should not be written off, as it were, out of sight, out of mind. Indeed, that is one of the reasons people commit suicide in prison — they feel life has nothing more to offer them. They consider they have disgraced themselves, that there will be a stigma attached to them when they leave prison and that they will have no hope of a second chance of obtaining employment. This is an area the Minister might consider again. I welcome the Bill. It is long overdue, but it is better late than never. I commend the Minister for bringing this Bill before the House.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. The French decriminalised suicide in the last century, Britain did likewise in 1960 and I welcome the proposals in the Bill to decriminalise it here.

The number of suicides here has increased significantly in recent years. The number has increased almost sixfold since 1970. It is vital that suicide should be decriminalised and the reason for its increase should be investigated. The pressures of modern life are taking their toll on our people of all ages and backgrounds. In my constituency a child of 17 years, having completed part of her exams, threw herself into the river on her way home from school. The financial institutions of this country are great when it comes to handing out mortgages; but when people lose their jobs, get into difficulty and are unable to make their repayments, those institutions apply pressure. The sheriff calls to their door and demands money from those people, who sometimes cannot afford to eat. Some of them at times may consider that suicide is only one way out and may take the lives of members of their families as well. That has happened on a number of occasions. My wife died approximately five years ago. I was lucky in that when I felt depressed I could make a telephone call at 2 o'clock or 3 o'clock in the morning and speak to somebody. There are many old people who do not have access to telephones. They live alone and when depressed because a partner may have died, suicide is the easy option for them. They may ask grandchildren to live with them or stay overnight, but such action causes them to lose their social welfare benefits — for example, free telephone rental, free fuel and so on. This area must be addressed by the appropriate Minister.

I would like to congratulate the Samaritans and those who work with people who threaten to commit suicide. The Government must provide services to help people who are depressed. We have a serious drug problem here also. People on drugs may unknowingly take their lives. We have a serious problem in regard to alcohol abuse here. Alcoholism may affect every member of a family. When alcoholics have no money for drink, sometimes they may attack members of their families. When they realise what they have done they may commit suicide, as has happened recently.

I welcome this Bill to decriminalise suicide and remove the stigma from the families of the suicide victims.

Ba mhaith liom ar dtús mo bhuíochas a ghlacadh leis na Teachtaí ar fad a ghlac páirt sa díospóireacht agus ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le chuile pháirtí sa Teach as ucht comhoib-riú agus tacaíocht a thabhairt don Bhille seo mar creidim gur reachtaíocht thábh-achtach í. Tá áthas orm go raibh an oiread sin suime ag an oiread sin Teachtaí teacht isteach sa Teach agus labhairt faoi.

I would like to thank all Members of the House who participated in the debate. It has been a very worthwhile, informative and friendly debate. I support Deputy Harney's appeal that this issue should receive sensitive media treatment. The primary reason is that the parents and friends of the person who has committed suicide are trying desperately to cope with their loss and understand the reasons for it. In addition, they may be desperately trying to get over a huge guilt complex.

Deputy Harney called for a simplification of the language of the law. As a non-lawyer, I too would be delighted if this could be achieved. I think the officials in my Department would also be delighted if this were the case as it would enable us to get more Bills through the office of the parliamentary draftsman and bring them before the House much more frequently than is the case at present.

I am glad no Member of the House has raised objections to the provisions in the Bill. It has long been accepted by the Government that suicide should be decriminalised, and I am glad that no objections have been raised by any quarter, either politically or elsewhere to the provisions in the Bill. While the Bill will take suicide out of the criminal law area, as everyone acknowledged in the debate suicide will not go away.

I have already given the House a detailed account of the measures being taken by my Department to tackle the problem of suicide in prisons. I thank all those Members who referred to this problem in their contributions. Suicide in prisons, as in society, is a hugely complex problem; suicide is a complex phenomenon and there are no easy remedies, regardless of the provisions made within the prison system and how we react to the various proposals. As I stated in my opening remarks, 50 of the 57 recommendations made to me by the Prison Advisory Group have been implemented in the prison system and the other seven recommendations will be implemented as soon as possible. Regardless of what we do, no Minister or prison system can guarantee that there will not be further suicides. All we can do is to be prepared and ensure that the staff in prisons, whether they are prison officers or those involved in the probation and welfare service and education system within the prisons are prepared and that prisoners who are distressed get all the help they need.

Suicide is a tragedy that affects all strata of society. A number of Deputies raised issues which are outside my control, for example, education and health issues. My colleagues, the Minister for Health and the Minister for Education, are very conscious of the wider aspects of suicide and the role they and their Departments must play in educating people on this issue and ensuring that information and help is available throughout the health services.

I think all Deputies agreed that the causes of suicide are complex. Changes in the cohesiveness of society, depression, alcohol abuse, drug addiction, the erosion of traditional values, a lack of employment opportunities and social isolation are only some of the issues referred to by Deputies in their contributions. All of these factors can, either individually or collectively, contribute to distress. In response to the problem of suicide, the health services provide support to those immediately identifiable as distressed. A large number of suicides are associated with a recognisable mental disorder, most commonly a treatable mental illness. Health boards are involved in a number of ways in promoting better coping skills through parenting programmes, pre-school playgroups, life skills education in schools, alcohol and drug awareness programmes and social support for elderly people living alone. A number of speakers referred to the role the education system in general can play in this area. I will bring this point to the attention of the Minister for Education who, I know, is aware of and understands these problems. The Minister and her Department are involved in providing the support necessary from an educational point of view.

Deputy Harney referred specifically to the underestimation of suicide statistics. This point was also referred to by a number of other speakers. The Central Statistics Office has co-operated in some detailed studies and has come to the conclusion that the official data probably understates the actual number of suicides by perhaps 15 per cent to 20 per cent. Both Deputy Durkan and Deputy Power will be interested to know that a team of researchers concluded that the suicide rate in County Kildare, based on a clinical assessment of coroners' records over the ten-year period 1978-87, was very close to the Central Statistics Office figure. Their best estimate of clinical suicide was 68 deaths compared to the CSO statistic of 65 deaths. Dublin city and county coroners provided the same team of researchers with their estimates of suicide deaths over the five-year period 1977-81. The official data were less than 20 per cent below those estimates. The Central Statistics Office has also been cooperating with two doctors researching into suicide in Cork. A case by case examination of cases returned by five coroners as possible suicides suggests that the official data may have underestimated suicides in the Southern Health Board area by 15 per cent to 20 per cent.

Deputy Harney referred to a case where a person who, while attempting suicide, accidentally kills another person. I think Deputy Gilmore and another Deputy also raised this point. Deputy Harney asked if this would be regarded as murder or manslaughter. It would be regarded as murder under the present law as suicide is regarded as self-murder. However, if suicide is no longer an offence there is a strong possibility that the accidental killing of another person by a person attempting suicide would be manslaughter and not murder. Of course, in the final analysis it would be a matter for the courts to decide.

Deputy Harney referred to life assurance policies taken out by people who have committed suicide. As she acknowledged, this matter is outside the scope of this Bill and my function as Minister for Justice. I will bring this matter to the attention of the Minister for Enterprise and Employment who has responsibility in this area. I share Deputy Harney's concerns about the spouses who are left behind in these difficult circumstances.

The existing prohibition on returning a verdict of suicide arises because such a finding involves investigation and consideration of the criminal liability of the deceased person for his own death and is, therefore, not allowed under section 30. This was decided in the 1985 High Court case of the State (McKeown) v. Scully — 1986, ILRM 133. An inquest can return a verdict of self-inflicted killing but cannot look into the mental capacity of the person at the time of his death as that would necessarily involve an investigation of criminal liability — Green v. McLoughlin, the High Court December 1989. Once the offence of suicide is abolished a finding of suicide does not attribute criminal liability to any person. Complicity in suicide will be an offence, but provided the inquest does not investigate or consider who aided and abetted the suicide there should be no conflict with section 30. The High Court in Green v. McLoughlin stated, and I quote:

The mere finding by a Jury (at an inquest) that someone has died as a result of murder, infanticide or manslaughter does not fix any person with criminal or civil liability in respect of that particular occurrence, therefore, it is possible for such verdicts to be brought in by a Jury.

The same reasoning should be applicable to a verdict of suicide once the offence of suicide has been abolished as the verdict itself will not attribute criminal liability to a specific person as an accomplice or attribute civil liability. In simple terms, this means that once the Bill is passed a coroner can return a verdict of suicide.

Deputy Gilmore raised a number of questions regarding section 2 (2) as it relates to suicide pacts, assisting suicide and life support machines. These problems were raised by a number of Deputies. As with all such matters, if the Garda Síochána believes that a crime has been committed it will investigate the matter. The question of whether a prosecution will ensure is a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions. Reference was made to a suicidal pact. If one person survives a suicide pact, there will most certainly be a criminal investigation.

For example, there have been instances where two people enter into a suicide pact whereby one person will shoot the other and then shoot himself. If the person who did the act which caused the death survives, he is guilty of murder. Certainly I would expect such a person to be investigated. If the survivor did not cause the death of the other person, nonetheless he may have encouraged the other person to join in the suicide pact on the understanding that both were to die. If that were the case he would have committed an offence and would be liable, quite rightly in my view, to prosecution.

The question was raised also of life support machines. The turning off of a life support machine without lawful authority under our law would be murder. The question of suicide would not arise. Therefore, that issue is not of relevance to this Bill.

In summary then, if in the course of taking statements for a coroner's inquest, or indeed investigating the circumstances of a death, the Garda form the view that an offence has been committed under the provisions of this Bill, they would be obliged to report the facts to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Again, it would be a matter for him to decide whether or not to institute proceedings.

I want to talk for a few minutes in relation to victims, in this case the surviving family or friends of the person who committed suicide. As Deputy Harney acknowledged, I am a great supporter of the Irish Association for Victim Support. In fact, I discovered recently when I attended their annual conference that I was the first Minister for Justice ever to have done so. For very many years in this country we have talked about the perpetrators of crimes, how we treat them, how we should treat them, look after them and care for them. Of course, that is right and proper. But it is time for us to have a criminal justice system here which is victim-orientated. Certainly that has been my view since I became Minister for Justice. Indeed, a number of Bills which have been introduced in the House since have proceeded in that direction.

Voluntary bodies such as the Samaritans, the IAVS and others need more support, as Deputy Harney called for. It is important that they receive our support. They do a tremendous amount of invaluable work. Indeed, last evening in Killarney at the Garda Representative Association Conference I had the opportunity of speaking again with Derek Nally, who was instrumental in setting up the association and who, with Anne Meade and others, has done so much extraordinary work to counsel those who have been the victims of crime. I should also like to acknowledge the tremendous work done by victims themselves — and many of them are well known victims — who give of their time voluntarily to help the Irish Association for Victim Support.

I have covered most of the points made. Many Members talked about examination pressure on young people. I know all about it. I have two teenagers myself who at various times in their school careers, like, I am sure, the children of other Members, have been under extreme examination pressure. We all know how sensitive are such young adults, how difficult it is for them to cope sometimes and how they need our support, care and attention at such times. I think now of all the students studying for their Junior or Leaving Certificate who need tremendous help and support from their parents, families and friends. The type of help and support called for by Deputy Harney and others is something of which I know the Minister for Education is keenly aware and anxious to provide in whatever way she can.

Once again, I thank all of the Members who took such an interest in the Bill, which is long overdue. I should like to reiterate my thanks to all Members of the House and all political parties in assisting me in having all of its Stages passed this evening.

Question put and agreed to.