Monageer Inquiry, May 2009

Deputy Dan Neville

I welcome the opportunity to raise this matter on the Adjournment concerning the Monageer tragedy in County Wexford. I want to raise in particular the fact that the psychiatric services were not involved in drawing up of the report. The key to the tragedy was the suicidal ideation and intention of Adrian Dunne and that of his wife. One can deduce from the report that she was heavily influenced by Mr. Dunne.

The report of the inquiry concluded that if the services had intervened with the family on the weekend of their deaths it is unlikely the tragedy would have been averted. I profoundly disagree with this assumption, however. Intervention should have taken place and the failure to complete a suicide risk assessment with Adrian Dunne had the most serious of consequences. The failure of the Government to invest in suicide prevention programmes again highlights its serious neglect in this area, which has tragic consequences for so many victims and their families through the country.

The decision of a person to take their life is complex and multifaceted. It is wrong and dangerous to attribute this terrible decision to one simple factor. A superficial suicidal risk assessment in relation to Mr. Dunne suggests a high possibility of serious suicide ideation and intention. The following issues, when combined, would lead one to such a conclusion. I wish to outline these ten issues as follows: 1. he was a young father who was making detailed plans for his funeral and that of his family. This alarmed the funeral undertaker who was so concerned that the gardaí were notified; 2. Mr. Dunne was in mourning for his brother who took his life the previous month; 3. Mr. Dunne was mourning his father who died the previous year; 4. He had recently finalised his will; 5. He and his family were socially isolated; 6. He had intellectual and physical disabilities; 7. The family had a high level of engagement with health and social services; 8. He had unmanageable debts; 9. There has been an incidence of suicide-related tragedies in the Wexford area, which introduces a copy-cat dimension; and 10. Another brother of Mr. Dunne’s died in a car accident. He made reference to this in his conversation with the funeral director. He also spoke of eight different people who had been in accidents. It is accepted that some deaths on our roads are suicides.

This superficial assessment should alert the services that there was a high level of suicide ideation and that the victim was suffering deep psychological, emotional and/or psychiatric trauma. All the services available to save his life, including the psychiatric services, should have been engaged immediately. If this had happened, he and his family could have been saved. The fact that this did not happen, demonstrates again the serious neglect of funding services for people in crisis and allocating resources to develop suicide prevention proposals.

The Minister for State says that funding of €15 million to introduce the main recommendation of the report “is an issue at the moment” demonstrates the value placed on the lives of those who are suicidal. I repeat that the decision to take one’s life is highly complex and there is no easy answer. Those who die by suicide do not intend to take their lives, but know of no other way to remove the deep psychological and sometimes physical pain which they are suffering. I am concerned that Mr. Dunne’s psychiatric condition, including a suicidal tendency and psychological mindset, was not considered deeply by the inquiry into the tragedy. A psychiatric consultant should have been on the board of the investigation because this issue was such a key one in the tragedy.

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews)

I thank Deputy Neville for raising this Adjournment matter and I welcome the opportunity to respond to it. In April 2007, the Government took the decision to convene an independent inquiry to examine the full circumstances of the tragic case of the Dunne family, whose bodies were discovered at their residence in Monageer, County Wexford. The three-member Inquiry commenced its work in January 2008.

Under its terms of reference, the inquiry was to deliver a report to the Minster for Health and Children and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform by 7 April 2008. The timeframe of the inquiry was extended on three occasions, and the report was finally submitted to both Ministers on 6 October 2008.

In establishing the inquiry, officials from the Office of the Minister of Children and Youth Affairs, OMCYA, were at all times cognisant of the need to provide the inquiry with all necessary assistance while at the same time recognising the need for the inquiry team to maintain its fundamental independence. Indeed, the independence of the inquiry team was seen as crucial in enabling it to fully carry out its task. The conduct of the inquiry was a matter for the inquiry team and the Department respected its independence in that regard.

A number of communications took place during the setting up phase of the inquiry between the chair and officials from the OMCYA to determine the requirements of the team and to ensure that these requirements were met to the fullest possible extent. A conscious decision was made at this time to allow the inquiry team to determine and specify its own requirements. No attempt was made to second guess the team’s requirements as this could have been construed as an attempt to direct or otherwise influence the direction or outcome of the report.

It was open to the inquiry team, in determining its own programme of work, at any stage of its work to seek access to assistance in any field. On every occasion when the inquiry team sought such expertise it was made available to them. The inquiry team had in its membership legal, social work and policing expertise and this was considered entirely appropriate for the work of the inquiry when the three-person team was nominated. It is worth noting that the final version of the inquiry team’s report presented to the Ministers for Health and Children and Justice, Equality and Law Reform contained no reference to any perceived lack of availability of expertise in any particular area, including mental health.

My office, in all of its dealings with the Monageer inquiry team, worked to support the inquiry through the provision of every possible assistance, while at the same time being cognisant of the team’s independence in setting its own agenda in terms of completing its task. I note that the inquiry team made reference in its report to the increased incidence and need for review of familicide nationally and internationally. I understand that the HSE in late 2008 established a group headed by Mr. Geoff Day, director of the National Office for Suicide Prevention to examine this area.