Banks 'put lives at risk', says charity
BUSINESSMAN Noel Smyth, the founder of charity 3Ts (Turn The Tide of Suicide), has accused banks of putting vulnerable people's lives at risk with their "punitive" approach to collecting debt.
"The value of human life in Ireland is diminishing by the fact that we've now decided it's reasonable to be punitive with people who haven't been able to pay their debts," he told the Sunday Independent.
"If that ends up with that person taking their own life, that's a consequence of being in the system. That to me is the biggest failure we are facing going into 2013. The one thing we are losing is our value for life. You cannot get blood from a stone. It doesn't exist.
"In the normal course of events, you would not put someone at risk by pursuing them if they are vulnerable."
Renewing his call for the establishment of a national suicide prevention authority, he questioned whether those tasked with collecting debts on behalf of Ireland's financial institutions had been given any professional training in how to deal with potential suicides.
"I would ask how many banks have anybody trained in the 'Assist' programme, which teaches you how to deal with somebody who tells you, 'Look, if you keep on at me, I'm going to kill myself'? Now the banks will say, 'It's not our business. Our business is to get the money from you'," he said.
The Sunday Independent has learned separately of a number of instances in which businessmen have died by suicide following prolonged periods of sustained pressure to repay debt amassed during the boom which became unsustainable following the economic downturn.
With Christmas being an especially difficult time for many because of financial and other pressures, Mr Smyth urged people to be on the lookout for family and friends.
"We have a 24-hour helpline for people directly feeling the effects of the whole issue of suicide, or they're worried about a family member or a close friend," he said.
"If you call our subsidiary helpline, 1Life, on 1800 24 7 100 you're immediately through to a professional counsellor.
"They will direct you. If a person is on the brink of dying by suicide or thinking or talking about it, you have to talk to that person and explain to them that they are needed."
Returning to the issue of the banks' aggressive pursuit of customers in debt, Mr Smyth said: "We're going to have the situation where somebody actually takes a case to court and says, 'That bank was responsible for my husband's or son's or daughter's death'.
"If you went out on to the road and knocked somebody down, people can see that's what's happened. If in a phone call you basically drive somebody to leave their home and die by suicide, there's no difference.
"But how many times have you seen someone take a case in court because of mental torture and distress caused by taking nine or 10 phone calls a day and being unable to tell anybody about it? That leads to suicide.
"A suicide prevention authority could basically set out the fact that if a bank or an institution or anybody else put so much pressure on an individual that it leads identifiably to taking that person's life, then that is a crime."