Fianna Fáil TD delivers emotional Dáil speech on suicide

Lisa Chambers recalls impact of death of 21-year-old Ben Garrett on his friends

A TD became emotional in the Dáil as she spoke about a 21-year-old man who died by suicide in Galway last year.

Fianna Fáil TD Lisa Chambers was speaking in a debate on legislation to strengthen the rights of people when they are in hospital for mental health care.

The private member's legislation, the Mental Health (Amendment) (No 2) Bill, introduced by Fianna Fail TD for Wexford James Browne, also strengthens the rights of inpatients to make decisions about their own treatment.

During a wide-ranging debate on mental health and services Ms Chambers spoke about the impact of a death by suicide on that person’s wider circle of friends.


The Mayo TD recalled Defence Forces Private Ben Garrett from Castlebar, who was a close friend of her brother and sister and involved with them in the local boxing club.

Ms Chambers who is her party’s defence spokeswoman, said it affected the defence community as well. He took his own life in Co Galway where he was based, a death that also received widespread media attention.

“I recall the search effort that went on for in excess of a month,” Ms Chambers said. “The boxing club were involved and all his schoolfriends were involved. They were walking along the edge of the river Corrib searching for his belongings and searching for Ben.”

The Mayo TD was talking about the impact on his friends when she became emotional and halted her speech briefly.

She said “The impact. . . the impact that that had on. . . those younger people, my brother in particular and my sister.

“I recall Ben’s mother took them aside and told them ‘remember the impact this has on families. Talk to somebody. Tell us about the difficulties you’re having and for God’s sake stay away from drugs and alcohol.’”

TDs had spoken about not recognising the signs of someone in difficulty.

Ms Chambers said “Ben gave off the impression of confidence, of happiness of things going very well. But clearly underneath he was in a lot of trouble and if only we had taken more time to talk about it.”

But she said the stigma around mental health difficulties was being removed and “we’re getting to a stage where it’s okay to talk about it”.

His group of friends in the boxing club recently held the Ben Garrett memorial cup competition and they were talking about it, she said.

Independent TD Catherine Connolly noted that TDs were "speaking with heartfelt emotion" but she said "I can't help feeling a certain frustration. The time for talking for Governments is over."

She said that “each and every government has utterly failed to deal with this”.

Ms Connolly, a former psychologist, said all of the problems in addressing mental health issues were recognised in a 1984 health report.

Twenty years later they had the 2004 Vision for Change which set out a 10-year plan from 2006 on what needed to be done.

But, she said, nobody believed the government would implement the vision and an independent implementation body was set up. She said they monitored and did some good work.

She said the debate should be about why have successive governments failed. She said previous governments had failed but she told Fine Gael “you’re on the rack now” and she called for the Government to explain why it had not put in the investment and the services that everyone knew were needed.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times