Wednesday 22 January 2020

Don't rush to judge, says tragic Erin's headmaster

School principal urges caution as fears over online bullying increase

NIAMH HORAN Exclusive

THE principal at the school where tragic Erin Gallagher was a pupil has urged the public to be cautious in rushing to judgement over the circumstances surrounding her suicide.

The 13-year-old was found dead in her home in Co Donegal yesterday week, only 24 hours after warning online bullies that she would end her life.

Before taking her own life, the pupil posted the following on ask.fm: "You think you are funny bullying me over ask.fm. Yeah you probably think it was funny when [I] f**king put a rope round my neck."

Speaking this weekend, Frank Dooley, principal of Finn Valley college, told the Sunday Independent: "The person who actually wrote those words was extremely stressed. Extremely hurt. So hurt that they were about to actually kill themselves.

"And the person who wrote those words was a 13-year-old child, soon to be 14.

"Now how reliable are those words? As in they are actually the views of a person. And they are the views of a child who is under severe trauma. And I'm saying, well, how truthful is that? Can anybody go back and say that they

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are true in their meaning? I'm just saying that it's a very big step to make, is to say that this is the truthful situation, the last words of a child."

He added: "These are the last words of a child that died by suicide and anybody who dies by suicide, quite clearly they are in a severe state of stress and quite clearly our clear understanding is that most people that take their own lives are not in a logical frame of mind.

"But you're putting an awful lot of logic to the words on that website."

While he described Erin's interactions with a group of girls as "ongoing negative relations" and "unhelpful interactions" he stopped short of saying she was bullied.

He said: "Bullying is defined as incessant and one-way, while when people have an argument it is a two-way conversation. Some people are better at arguing than others.

Asked if Erin had been bullied, he said: "The answer is I don't know. Clearly that was her belief. I know Erin had her fragilities and I know we supported her as much as we could."

Describing it as a "complex" case, Mr Dooley also stressed that "there are always two sides to every story" and that he had concerns for the pupils left behind.

He said: "I have been trying to be very careful and very fair to everybody because I know that actually there are a lot of people who are being unfair to a lot of children in my school community at the moment. And my concern is for these children who are living. And the child who is dead, quite clearly. But my concern is for the people who are living -- and they are children."

"I don't know all of both sides. That's the whole thing," he said. "I am trying to explain to people. I know what has happened inside of her school here. I know actually when we interviewed the children what was going on. But the thing is I don't know what is going on in the children's lives outside of that. But I do know one thing -- there are certainly other things going on in the children's lives that may be stressful to them."

Mr Dooley was speaking only two days after the teenager, who would have celebrated her 14th birthday this Thursday, was buried.

At her funeral Fr John Joe Duffy said the Government needed national policies to prevent suicides and tackle bullying, particularly online.

"I am asking all agencies of the State responsible for the care of children to formulate a comprehensive policy of prevention and support," he said.

"There must be a policy of helping individuals so that this day will never have to dawn on another family in this country.

"This is the challenge we as a society now face. We are only here today because society has failed Erin Gallagher."

Sunday Independent

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