Yesterday, November 20th, participants from Youth Media and the Irish Presidency got together to finish out the project and see the report launched. Three YMIP-ers spoke at the event. Below is the speech I gave regarding young people and the need to invest more in them when they clearly have so much to give.
“Near the end of the street where I grew up in Cork, there is a pedestrian footbridge. The footbridge and the street it leads onto are poorly lit and poorly maintained. It features too much graffiti and illegal waste- and it plays host to gangs of teenagers and gangs of adults drinking. My mother has always favoured avoiding the bridge. It’s the sort of place that lends itself easily to accidents and easier still to menace. I have always known that.
A few weeks ago, I went back to Cork for a weekend to vote and to visit. I had an argument with myself over whether to take the short trip across the bridge to go home, or to take the long way around. It was past 10pm, I was carrying two bags, my phone was dead and I was tired. The shortcut won, and I walked onto the bridge.
What happened next will stay with me for the rest of my life; I will never, ever forget it.
It was pitch dark and he didn’t see me, but I saw him. He walked toward me, stopped and turned. I saw him pull himself up onto the railings of the bridge and I think my heart stopped. Realisation dawned pretty fast. He took a big breath and leaned forward.
I have no idea what I roared at him, but he wasn’t expecting me and I interrupted him. He reached out and grabbed the suspension wire, which was the only thing that stopped his fall onto a busy, national primary road, fifty feet below.
He was sixteen, drunk and miles from home, attempting to take his own life not two minutes from the house where I grew up.
After I got him down, once he finished crying and stopped shaking, when we were finished talking and when I knew he was going right to the front door of his mother’s house with a friend, I went home and found a charger and rang the local Garda station, which is a two minute walk, at most, from that bridge.
The Garda in the public office told me that it was really ‘a Monday morning type of issue’ because the pubs and clubs were about to start major business hours. He said I had already dealt with it, so there was no point in him taking it further. He told me to write a letter about it on Monday.
Suicide just isn’t a Monday morning issue. I wrote the letter on Monday morning- but I also wrote a piece for TheJournal and for the Evening Echo in Cork. Days later, I got a call from the Superintendent who wanted me to come in and talk to him.
When I went in, he said he felt I was unfair in my article. Last year, I might have apologised and agreed with him- but the six months of YMIP taught me to ask questions and I learned not to stop just because someone disagreed with me. Having someone disagree with you doesn’t make you wrong.
Almost 500 people died by suicide in 2010, most were young males and Cork is a county with a high rate. We have too many stories about young men taking their own lives without adding another to it. It is so easy to presume that this boy would have stopped at the last second, that he wouldn’t have jumped- but it is that exact presumption that costs us more lives each year.
Suicide doesn’t wait for convenient times or convenient people. It is not a Monday morning issue; it’s a now issue.
The Superintendent and I agreed to disagree, but he must have heard me because last week, I got a call from another Garda station in Cork. They talked to the boy I met on the bridge. He’s gay, bullied, depressed and an alcoholic. His father died last year and he just can’t cope. I want him to see the good parts of life. I want him to know that there’ll always be someone fighting in his corner. Young people shouldn’t be dealt hands like that, but they are.
YMIP gave 25 young people a chance to grab the bull by the horns and be in charge. Members of this group still use the Facebook group we set up as a support back at the start of this project. It’s a small thing, but it counts. That boy didn’t have anything to reach out for; he didn’t have this chance.
YMIP was a fantastic exception to an otherwise seemingly unbreakable rule. It was created by an organisation that elected to invest in young people when so few others do.
I think we owe that boy a minute of thought. Nobody was fighting in his corner when I met him but without YMIP, I don’t think I’d have written what I did or stuck to my guns on it afterwards.
I wanted to say this because I realise that YMIP was fighting in our corner and we were lucky. I wanted to acknowledge that, and to say thanks.”