A browse on social media can all too often be a rude awakening sometimes heart breaking. A few days ago I came across a photo of a young woman signing a letter in support of detoxification facilities for the north-west. The woman stopped to sign the letter whilst searching the Foyle river bank for the remains of her brother Gary Campbell. Gary Campbell recently completed suicide just hours after he had been rescued from an earlier attempt. When looking at the photo I could see a young woman in turmoil, another family member searching for closure. Sadly over the last few years these searches have become a common occurrence in Derry.
In spite of what you read in the local press and in election literature Derry remains in social and economic decline. The UK City of Culture was to bring great things to the city yet it came and went offering no long-term economic benefits, just memories.
Derry has the highest rate of unemployment in the north of Ireland and not surprisingly it has the highest rate of suicide. The suicide rate in Derry is 38% higher than in other areas of Ireland. These figures corroborate the direct link between unemployment and suicide.
Last year I covered the issue of Hurt and Foyle Search and Rescue who at that point had been refused £220,000 of funding from the Social Investment Fund. This funding was to create a counselling facility for people found in distress around the River Foyle. When you consider the many young lives that have been taken by the Foyle, over one year on this refusal beggars belief.
A friend has recently referred to our young as the “lost generation” which is quite apt. They are lost in that more focus remains on the period referred to as the 'troubles' than on the new troubles our young people continually battle. This is supported by how more people have lost their lives to suicide from the signing of the GFA than those lost during the course of the NI conflict.
Too many young people continue to slip through the net in terms of opportunity and services which is a poor reflection on our society and proof that our young have benefited little from the so called peace dividend. Now verging on crisis point we in the north-west need a united front if we are to achieve the services that are urgently needed as well as more education, training and employment opportunities. In unity we must demand that our politicians put forward a tangible economic strategy which to be successful also involves upgrading our poor infrastructure.
The following facts form a strong argument for the above needs:
The District Super Council of Derry and Strabane has the highest rate of unemployment in the North of Ireland. In August last year it was found that 7816 people claimed Job Seeker’s Allowance, which represents 8.1 per cent of the working age population. These figures do not include the high numbers of people in workfare type schemes. These schemes also assist with providing free labour to corporate companies and manipulating the unemployment figures.
In a report published in 2013 it was found that the suicide rate in Derry was 38 per cent higher than anywhere else in the Western area. The report by the Men’s Health Forum Ireland (MHFI) found suicide to be a principal cause of death in Ireland amongst men aged between 15-34.
In a recent report from the Prince's Trust research showed that unemployed young people risk becoming "socially isolated" and that half of unemployed young people "always" or "often" feel down or depressed. 36% of the young people surveyed said anxiety had stopped them from looking after their health, and 38% said it prevented them eating properly.
In a report into an increase in the number of people using anti-depressants doctors advised of the growing number of young people being prescribed anti-depressants. The findings of the report suggest that many people still suffer the effects of the troubles but equally that we now have growing numbers of young people with their own new set of troubles.
Derry is home to the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Nobel peace prize winner John Hume, President of the NI Assembly Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Mitchel McLaughlin, Member of the European Parliament Martina Anderson, Westminster MP Mark Durkan and six MLA's. With this level of representation we must question why Derry still faces the issues raised by the Civil Rights Movement over four decades ago. University courses are being redirected as are employment opportunities. We still have a lack of housing and in addition to this we remain in dire need of services to help vulnerable people.
Forget your endless peace process where is the peace progress?
Our politicians have failed to stand up for Derry despite their claims, which is why we the ordinary people must make a stand similar to the that of the Civil Rights Movement, the intended target and 15th victim of the Bloody Sunday massacre.
In closing I would like to take this opportunity to offer my sincere condolences to the Campbell family, Creggan.