I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. It is encouraging that a debate on suicide prevention is getting priority in the new Dail, with contributions from so many Members in recent weeks. I offer my congratulations to the new Minister of State with special responsibility for mental health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch and wish her well in her new role. I also acknowledge the years of work my colleague, Deputy Dan Neville, has put into the subject of suicide.

The tragic growth in the number of people taking their own lives is disturbing. The 2009 statistics show that 527 people died by suicide, but experts believe the numbers were much higher. There is little doubt there is a direct correlation between the increased number of people taking their own lives and the economic situation the country is facing. The modern day pressures created by an economic situation with job opportunities hard to come by and increasing personal debt, in particular credit card debt and mortgage debt, are placing an enormous strain on people and, tragically, in some instances people are taking their own lives. There is now a well documented crisis in the number of suicides in Ireland each year. In reality the rate of suicide has been rising for many years prior to the economic downturn but the added pressures placed on individuals in recent years does not help.

People presenting with depression and anxiety must be seen in a prompt and timely manner with proper access to relevant medical and psychological treatments where required. There is not a town or village that has not been impacted by suicide. It is a classless and seemingly non-age specific affliction that leaves more questions than it gives answers. In some cases we do not know why people decide to take their own lives. The most striking figure is the shocking number of young men who take their own lives. Why is this the case and what strategy can be introduced to address this growing problem?

It is clear that when it comes to suicide, young males are the most vulnerable section of society and policy on suicide prevention must reflect this fact. In the second quarter of 2010, there were 127 recorded deaths by suicide in Ireland. Of these 102 were male, which reflected a slight increase in the same period in the previous year. In 2009, some 527 people took their own lives, which is significantly higher then the number of people killed on our roads in the same period. We must divert the same level of resources and political action to the issue of suicide as is currently given to tackling road deaths. We also need to try to understand why so many Irish people, particularly males, take their own lives.

I commend a recent RTE television programme on the issue and I also commend Carl O’Brien of The Irish Times who wrote a series of articles on suicide. He dealt with it very sensitively and candidly, and did a good job in raising awareness of suicide. Creating awareness and highlighting the terrible emotional legacy it leaves are important for society. We know that links between alcohol and drug abuse and suicide is quite high, and further studies of the area are needed to get a more comprehensive picture. For too long issues such as suicide in Ireland have been taboo, to be contained within private grief and not for national discourse. We need to change that in a sensitive way.

I compliment the work of organisations such as the Samaritans and Living Links, which do tremendous work. Support groups also play a very important role in offering vital counselling services to those who have been bereaved by suicide. One such group, Solas, is based in Ennis in my constituency. This group was established in 2005 and does very valuable work.

If we are to make a dramatic reduction in the number of people we lose through suicide each year, the solution must lie in a community-led approach. Local community groups, youth clubs, the GAA, soccer clubs and other organisations can play a key role. Some of these clubs and organisations are already doing this in that they are rolling out different programmes. There are outstanding people who are active members of these clubs and want to play a part in preventing suicide. These clubs need resources and supports.

The issue of suicide awareness and prevention is a complex and difficult one. If a community-led approach to suicide prevention is to work, clubs will need help and encouragement to establish suicide awareness and prevention programmes that can be delivered through their clubs. Funding for mental health issues needs to be protected and channelled through primary mental health care and communities. Understanding suicidal behaviour is not enough if we as a society do not change and look at the issues behind suicide and in doing so develop the skills needed to deal with them.

I wish the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, well in her new role and I hope she takes on board some of the positive proposals made my Members on all sides of the House during this very worthwhile debate. I concur with Deputy Costello who proposed that we should have a debate on the issue every year and get an update from the Minister of State as to progress on the measures she hopes to introduce to reduce the number of people who die through suicide.