A lost decade: 'Lest we forget'
Ten years ago last week, a French bank blocked withdrawals from hedge funds that specialised in US mortgage debt. So began a credit crisis that caused the investment bank Lehman Brothers to collapse a year later. That was the seismic event which brought about the period now referred to as the Great Recession. This country bore the brunt of these events more than most others worldwide with few exceptions. In many ways, it still does. A full decade later - what is now called Ireland's lost decade - sees almost 7,000 people classified as homeless, a headline figure which includes 896 families. It gets worse than that: 756 children aged between 0 and four are the largest single age group experiencing homelessness. This is a matter which should be of grave concern to all policymakers and to every citizen in Ireland.
In this newspaper today, our leading writers look back at the events which led to, and the outcomes which currently are a result of, Ireland's lost decade. Most tragically of all, we examine the official statistics which relate to death by suicide throughout most of the period concerned. In this period, almost 5,000 people in this country died by their own will. This is a truly shocking figure. To put it in some form of perspective, that is around the same number of people as the entire population of Listowel, Co Kerry, or of Tipperary town, or of Ardee, Co Louth. Of course, all of these tragedies can not be directly linked to the Great Recession.
What is beyond doubt, however, is that the rate of suicide and self-harm had been falling significantly throughout the Celtic Tiger period until a decade ago, when the numbers started to rise again and at an alarming rate. Thankfully, those numbers began to decrease in 2012 when this country technically emerged from the recession. But there is compelling evidence that the profound economic recession from which this country has emerged did lead to increased suicide mortality, particularly among men and increased non-fatal suicidal behaviour among men and women.
In years to come, the shocking rate of suicide in this period will turn out to be the enduring legacy of the Great Recession. For all the admirable breaking down of stigma, suicide remains unspoken. Even if there were no recession, the rate of self-harm is still extraordinarily high and, notwithstanding great efforts in recent years, is still a challenge to policymakers, mental health services and society in general.
Five years on from Ireland's technical emergence from the Great Recession, it has become commonplace to again speak optimistically of the future. And yes, this country still has a great future and in the round, it is always better to be optimistic and to look forward. We here look forward with great optimism. But this week we do not think of the future - it will come soon enough. We think of the past and the present, of those who have borne and continue to bear the afflictions of what was a most terrible time in all of our lives. In the words of the poet, Rudyard Kipling: 'Lest we forget'.