Friday 23 March 2018

Priest demands action at funeral of Shannon Gallagher

Lesley-Anne McKeown

SOCIETY is failing to protect the most fragile and vulnerable children, a priest at the funeral of a teenage suicide victim warned today.

Fr John Joe Duffy said the Government must take urgent action to prevent further tragedies.

He was speaking at a Mass for 15-year-old Shannon Gallagher from Co Donegal who took her own life less than two months after her 13-year-old sister Erin died by suicide.

Fr Duffy said: "Society has failed two children, two sisters within two months and that is a most damning indictment for any society evidenced by the second white coffin that is before this altar within two short months, 45 days ago to be exact.

"My heart is devastated. My heart is shattered at how poorly we understand the issues concerning youth mental health and mental health issues in the general population in Ireland. And the terrible consequences we see occurring and re occurring on a regular basis though out the country."

The Gallagher family, from Ballybofey were said to be completely distressed by the double tragedy.

This morning hundreds of people packed into St Mary's Church in neighbouring Stranorlar to pay their last respects to the schoolgirl. It was the same church many of the mourners had filled for Erin's funeral in October.

Fr Duffy said the community had been left stunned by the sisters' deaths.

He said: "None of us wanted and none of us expected to find ourselves back in this church today to be once again praying this Mass for a 15-year-old child Shannon so soon after the death of 13-year-old sister Erin.

"We are numb and in such a state of shock and unrealness, total disbelief that for the second time within two months that Lorraine and the Gallagher family are having to face the desperate pain and deep anguish of losing such a beautiful child in the most tragic of circumstances."

It is understood Shannon's lifeless body was found by foster carers she had been placed with, hours after telling them that she was going to bed.

Gardai said she was discovered in the house in Stranamuck, near Castlefin, several miles from where her mother Lorraine lives in Ballybofey.

It was not clear how long Shannon had been in foster care.

Fr Duffy said: "The systems and methodologies in place and used by the HSE (Health Service Executive) and other agencies and professionals dealing with these cases simply does not work. We are failing to protect the most fragile and most vulnerable children in our society.

"We are failing to bring in the children, young people and most vulnerable adults on the margins of our society to the safety of the centre where they ought to find support, comfort, and safety.

"Hiding behind professionalism and qualifications or the inertia of being able to change rules, legislation or regulations is simply not acceptable, when so many lives getting younger have being tragically and needlessly lost.

"I am now calling upon someone in Government to take a hands on role and to do what it takes. The time for talking is over. For the sake of all people on the margins or in similar circumstances, for the love of God let some one person in Government take leadership and reform what is clearly a broken system."

Both sisters were students at Finn Valley College in Stranorlar where Shannon was a fourth-year pupil.

A spokeswoman for Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said he was "deeply shocked and saddened to learn of Shannon's death".

At the time of Erin's death on Saturday October 27, allegations circulated that she had been the victim of cyber bullying.

The teenager had referred to it on the networking website and hours before her death posted online comments about other teenagers taunting her.

Incidents of vandalism and intimidation in the Ballybofey/Stranorlar areas have been reported to gardai in the wake of Erin's death, with concerns over tensions among local teens.

Gardai have been investigating claims of cyber bullying and it is understood a number of teenagers have been interviewed by officers.

The girl's grandfather, James Gallagher, described Erin as an amazing girl and her suicide "a waste of a life" in the weeks after her death.

He said Shannon had been missing her younger sister.

A death notice said Shannon would be sadly missed by mother Lorraine, brother Sean James (aged four), grandfather, uncles, aunts, relatives and school friends.

The schoolgirl's remains were taken to Castlefin cemetery for burial.

Press Association

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