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29 property suicides leave State unmoved

Twenty-nine deaths by suicide can be directly linked to the turmoil in the construction and property sector but dozens more deaths among small investors, homeowners and construction industry workers linked to financial despair have gone unreported.

David Mellon, of the Irish Property Council believes the human misery inflicted by the collapse in the property and construction industry is incalculable and the Government is doing nothing to protect the sanctity of the family home.

He predicted that by the time the economy recovers, hundreds will have taken their own lives because they have been plunged into a financial abyss from which they can see no way out.

"We are talking about people who invested in property, people who earned their livelihood from it in many forms; builders, plasterers, plumbers, developers and large and small investors.

"They are now facing financial disaster, bankruptcy and destitution.there are teachers, gardai, lawyers all caught in the crossfire. They are in a suffocating despair."

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He says that the seven-person board of the Irish Property Council had personal knowledge and the names of 29 suicide victims that can be directly attributed to turmoil in the property and construction sector.

"I was talking to one family who lost a husband and a brother and they have been simply torn apart. It's hard for people to talk about, to go public about what has happened. They want to protect their children and some are simply too shocked. They haven't come to terms with it."

He has personal experience of the human cost of the disintegration of the construction industry. He lost a friend to suicide a year ago while another had to be talked out of taking his own life.

"There are other cases too. I was having a pint with a friend of mine and he got a text from an employee. My friend was in shock and he showed me the message. It read: 'I cannot come into work tonight. My brother killed himself today. He had no work for his trucks.' This man wasn't an investor. He wasn't a speculator. He wasn't anything other than a man trying to make a living," said Mr Mellon.

Property developer and suicide campaigner Noel Smyth has revealed that a 24-hour helpline set up by suicide charities three months ago is now receiving between 2,500 and 3,000 calls a month -- many of them from people being ruthlessly pursued for money.

"They would be classified as high-risk calls, in other words someone who already has a suicide ideation or they may have actually planned a suicide," Mr Smyth told the Sunday Independent.

"Definitely the age profile of people with suicidal thoughts is changing and that is a reflection of financial worries. Many are in difficulties with property, with bank loans, with the Revenue."

Meanwhile, a financial tsunami is heading toward thousands of first-time buyers and investors who took out "interest-only" loans at the height of the property boom.

Thousands of these loans will now revert to capital repayment loans and are on properties already deep in negative equity.

Around 14 per cent of the 158,098 mortgages approved in 2007 were for interest-only products. Many lenders offered "interest-only" holidays of two or three years.

Similarly 15 per cent of the 110,300 loans approved in 2008 were also interest only.

It means tens of thousands of people, particularly first-time buyers, will have severe difficulties meeting repayments when the interest-only period comes to an end before the end of the year.

Respond, the housing agency, told the Sunday Independent they have received calls from many distressed homeowners whose mental health is being affected.

Aoife Walsh of Respond said: "There is a crisis out there which is taking a human toll. The Irish Banking Federation have renegotiated the mortgages of 30,000 householders. We are very fearful for a lot of people out there.

"I have been receiving from [calls] people in difficulty who are at the end of their tether fearing their home will be repossessed. They are displaying worrying depressive tendencies. Their mental health is being put under pressure and there are immense pressures on families.

"It is having an impact on marriages which is not being taken into account. The social implications are enormous. The screw is being turned on marriages and the family unit and that is going to have far reaching consequences for Irish society for years to come," Ms Walsh said.

Developer Noel Smyth said he has been shocked at the huge number of calls received by a free 24-hour helpline (1800 247100) set up by his organisation Turning the Tide of Suicide in conjunction with the suicide charity Console.

"Unfortunately the people who are putting them under pressure, whether it is the banks or whatever, have no understanding, no training. When they come across an uptight client they treat them as a normal tough guy or woman -- and as a result of all that, they are unaware that they are potentially driving someone over the top," he advised.

"People caught up in this are nearly afraid to be seen complaining or to actually voice that they are in a lot of trouble.

"They fear that they are going to be told that 'It's your own fault. you were greedy, you were grabby' and that means there is no support for people out there.

"This Government is treating suicide like they treat the poor. Their view is that 'the problem will always be there so therefore we can ignore it,'" Mr Smyth added.

Sunday Independent