'We struggle': Community calls for greater support services after Kerry tragedy

Cath Houlihan, a first cousin of the tragic family and Norma Harrington, a neighbour, have joined forces to call for supports and also for tougher regulations when it comes to renewing firearms licences.
'We struggle': Community calls for greater support services after Kerry tragedy

Vivienne Clarke

A call for greater psychological support and counselling for bereaved communities has been made by family members and neighbours of a Kerry family who died in a suspected double murder-suicide in Co Kerry last year.

Cath Houlihan, a first cousin of the tragic family and Norma Harrington, a neighbour, have joined forces to call for supports and also for tougher regulations when it comes to renewing firearms licences.

Both women told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that the family involved in the murder-suicide had been happy, easy going people who were very involved in their community.

Neither can explain what happened to lead to such a violent outcome.

“That is what's really difficult to come to terms with,” said Cath Houlihan.

“Not in a million years would you have imagined that something like this would have happened, that Mossie would have done something like this. He was a caring, gentle man. What happened was so out of character.

“Eileen and Mossie were always there for their friends and neighbours. Nothing was any trouble,” added Norma Harrington.

Cath Houlihan is a niece of Eileen O’Sullivan and a first cousin of Jamie. Although her family moved to England when she was a child, she still considers Lixnaw as home.

Norma Harrington works in London and was home for a break when the tragedy occurred. She remained for three weeks afterwards.

Left to carry the burden

Ms Harrington pointed out that in the weeks and months following the tragedy there was no approach from any statutory agency offering counselling or support.

“We were expected to give statements. We were expected to relive what had happened, not just my family - the whole community. We didn't even receive a leaflet through the door or a number to call,” she said.

“What we really needed at that point was for services to come to our community to provide a space for the community to come to talk about what happened. That didn't happen, and I cannot understand it.”

Ms Harrington pointed out that when she returned to work in London she was offered counselling by her employer.

“Over in the UK, I have been able to receive specific trauma support, which has been amazing and helped me significantly.

“I wouldn't be standing here today, talking, feeling the strength to talk to you as I am, if it wasn't for that.

“There isn't any question from the NHS in terms of their role and responsibility, so I don't understand why our Government and the HSE aren't seeing that as their responsibility as well for the Irish people.”

Instead, the community was left to carry the burden of the loss of the O'Sullivan family alone despite guidance set out in 2011 that there should be intense support from the HSE following such events, she added.

“That was over ten years ago, and there was nothing. We didn't get a number, there wasn't awareness. We were left with that burden to carry.”

'We struggle'

Cath Houlihan described the absence of support from statutory agencies for her family and community as incredible. She said she had written twice to the Taoiseach appealing for supports to be put in place for Lixnaw and communities where such tragedies occur.

The toll the tragedy had taken on her family and on the community in Lixnaw was obvious, she said.

“It's changed us,” Ms Houlihan said.

We're no longer the people we were.

“We struggle. They're in our thoughts every day.”

Both women want to see measures put in place that might prevent further murder-suicide incidents happening in the future.

They are calling on the HSE to establish community psychological support teams, to be deployed to areas when such incidents occur.

Ms Harrington specifically called for trauma screening for communities so that people will feel supported, can talk about what has happened and to understand the signs of depression.

“I want people to be aware of what can be done if they are worried about somebody, and not feeling like that is just their burden to hold. Again, these are all very, very simple steps that can be taken.”

'Incredibly important'

Both also called for reform of gun laws, to make it mandatory for people who are applying for firearms licences, or applying to renew gun licences, to be medically examined (including a mental health assessment), so that they can be certified fit to hold a gun.

“This is incredibly important, to me personally and to my family. I don't want to see another atrocity like this. I don't want another family to go through what we have been through,” added Ms Houlihan.

Ms Harrington said the issue did not appear to be a priority for the Government and that needed to change.

“We can't wait any longer. We can't lose any more families in this way and, while we know that maybe these incidents aren't always going to be prevented, that doesn't mean that you neglect it and think nothing can be done.

“There are steps that can be taken, that should be taken and that need to be taken.”

 If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can freephone the Samaritans 24 hours a day for confidential support at 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org. 

You can also freephone the national Bereavement Support Line run by the HSE and Irish Hospice Foundation at 1800 80 70 77 (Monday-Friday 10am-1pm), and the contact information for a range of mental health supports is available at mentalhealthireland.ie/get-support/. 

In the case of an emergency, or if you or someone you know is at risk of suicide or self-harm, dial 999/112. 

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