Foyle Search & Rescue have pulled 11 people alive from the River Foyle over the past month, just five fewer than for the whole of 2017.
The shocking rise in incidents was revealed by the charity during what is believed to have been one its busiest periods on record, with 22 further incidents of people being taken from the railings or river’s edge last month.
Worryingly, the charity dealt with a total of 60 incidents in the 31 days of July, sparking calls last night for those in a position of influence to translate their concern into action.
“Eleven people were rescued from the river with 22 brought back from the railings or river’s edge and 26 people, who were in distress, were dealt with and immediately taken to a place of safety. Our volunteers also completed the sad task of a body recovery,” the charity added.
During the whole of 2017, Foyle Search and Rescue attended 338 incidents over the year, up 45 per cent on 2016. This included 17 people who were rescued directly from the river throughout the year.
Derry man and former Foyle Search & Rescue volunteer, Frankie McMenamin, who lost his brother Michael to the river back in the 1980s, said action was needed to tackle the root causes of suicide locally, including mental health issues, poverty, hopelessness and many suffering from post-traumatic stress as a result of the ‘Troubles,’ warning that failure to do so would lead to more deaths and more devastation for the families left behind.
“There has been an horrendous number of people who have lost their lives to the River Foyle,” he noted.
“This has been especially over the past four years and also more widely in terms of people dying by suicide.
“I would go so far as to say that this is linked to unemployment; people feeling there is no hope of any real future; taking people off DLA and other benefits issues; addiction; severe depression and other mental health issues and there are people out there suffering from post-traumatic stress, some of them spending their whole lives in bars. There are people right across our community who have been through horrendous situations.
“There needs to be more than words and the action from our politicians needs to be real action. They also need to be pressing the British Government to get more help for people.”
While praising the “absolutely vital” work of Foyle Search & Rescue since its inception in 1993, Mr McMenamin also welcomed recent calls for a suicide prevention task force to be set up to tackle the issues head on.
SDLP Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan has written to Richard Pengelly, the permanent secretary at the Department of Health, calling for this and warning that “urgent action” is needed in the Foyle constituency.
Both Foyle Sinn Fein MP Elisha McCallion and Mr Durkan have also backed the ‘Our Future Foyle’ riverine project, which includes a major art installation proposal for the Foyle Bridge, which would also double as a safety barrier.
Mr McMenamin said this too is to be welcomed, but he said much more was needed to tackle the root causes as well, as he pointed to a recent Health Inequalities report which showed people in poorer areas of Derry were far more likely to die prematurely, with avoidable deaths also much more likely in these areas.
He also said that it was important to ensure people realised the devastation brought about by suicide on those left behind as he urged anyone in need of help to reach out. Mr. McMenamin, who has used the Samaritans himself in the past, said: “When someone dies by suicide it has a horrendous impact on a person’s family and no matter what you are going through it will pass if you talk to someone about it.”
*The Lifeline helpline can be contacted for free on 0808 808 8000 in confidence.
*The Samaritans can be contacted on 02871 265511 or Freephone 116 123 in confidence.
*Children can contact Childline 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on 0800 1111 for any issue or by visiting www.childline.org.uk in confidence.