President’s concern over suicide in farming community

Survey finds more than half of all farmers have been directly affected by suicide

 President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina Higgins at  the National Ploughing Championships at Ratheniska , Co Laois. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina Higgins at the National Ploughing Championships at Ratheniska , Co Laois. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

President Michael D Higgins has expressed concern at a survey which found that more than half of all farmers have been directly affected by suicide in their immediate family or community.

Mr Higgins said he “could not but be concerned” at the findings published yesterday in an ICMSA/Irish Examiner survey.

“The suicide rate, for example, where one in five of those between 35 and 44 had a near, immediate experience in their families or in their extended families,” he said.

“Or that over half of farming families are some way or other affected by the impact of suicide in their communities. These are issues that are issues of not just my concern, but must be the issues of all of us.”

Incomes vary

“Of course, this average glosses over very different realities between various sectors and regions of Ireland, but it remains a revealing indicator of the difficult financial situation in which too many Irish farmers find themselves.”

The President was speaking as he opened the 83rd National Ploughing Championships at Ratheniska, near Stradbally, Co Laois.

It was undeniably “the most beloved rendezvous in Ireland’s rural calendar” he said, noting that National Geographic had singled out the event as one of the top 10 events and festivals to visit on the island of Ireland.

Mr Higgins said that all members of society benefited from “the balance that a viable family farming sector provides, and they are entitled to our support in ensuring that viability in any way that we can”.

But he also warned the farming community to ensure that the fruit yielded by new agri-food opportunities was shared by the many “and not just divided among the biggest.”

“Indeed, I believe that it is equally important to build up Irish agriculture’s capacity to expand into new markets globally as it is to foster a thriving family farming sector, allowing as many who wish so as possible to make a viable living out of farming.”

Rural support

John Comer

Mr Comer said opportunities for everyday neighbourly encounters were disappearing as rural areas lost services.

“The creameries went a generation ago. But now the post office might be gone and the postman uses a post-box at the top of the passage, so you never see him or her anymore.”

Garda stations, banks, district veterinary offices and banks had also closed, he said. “And maybe the local school is going to be closed and amalgamated with a few others into a new super-school.”

Small town plan

Minister of State for Rural Affairs Ann Phelan launched the plan, saying many small towns found themselves trying to compete “with large out-of- town retail parks in an already challenging market. To level the playing field, we need to encourage a rural revival”.

Some 82,000 attended the opening day of the National Ploughing Championships. Last year’s overall attendance figure of 228,000 is expected to be matched, if not exceeded.