Five years after experts recommended the only way of preventing people attempting suicide by jumping off the Foyle Bridge was by raising safety barriers, there’s been no action because further technical exploratory work would have cost too much.
SDLP MLA Gerard Diver has now asked if lives are being lost due to a lack of financial commitment to Londonderry.
He posed the question after it emerged that a safety report on suicide prevention, completed five years ago, has effectively been shelved due to funding constraints.
The report revealed the engineering specifications at the Foyle Bridge were below those demanded by EU law. However, whilst this has been known, both to the Department for Health Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) and the Department for Regional Development (DRD) since 2011, no action has been taken as “neither are in a position to fund solutions.”
This was revealed to Mr Diver in a written response from Minister for Health, Simon Hamilton.
Mr Diver told the Sentinel: “According to EU legislation safety barriers on bridges like the Foyle Bridge should be at least 140 centimetres.
“Derry’s Foyle Bridge fails to measure up due to its height of 120 centimetres, which in of itself is not a huge differential but the inaction by both departments is a huge issue for me.
“Both departments are aware not only of the huge problem but with the seriousness it is held in by this city.
“This is an issue my predecessor Pat Ramsey was incredibly passionate about. It is an issue he worked on for some time but after five years without any changes on the ground, I think questions need to be asked.
“The work necessary is thought to cost in the region of £5million. This seems exorbitant however it should not mean improvements are shelved entirely. While I know much hard work is being done, particularly by the Public Health Agency, the City needs to see departmental inspired change not excuses.
“Will it take a compensation claim against the Department by a grieving family before action is taken?”
Responding to Mr Diver’s query Mr Hamilton explained: “The technical options report, completed in 2011, concluded that the only viable safety option, in respect of suicide prevention, was to raise the barriers on the bridge.
“The cost of this work was estimated to in the region of £4m to 5m, but would require additional technical testing to determine whether the bridge could support the extra weight.
“The Department for Regional Development agreed that the additional technical exploratory work was necessary but advised that it was not in a position to fund this work.
“The Public Health Agency, which had funded the initial testing, was also not in a position to commission further testing as this would have required taking investment away from other suicide prevention activity.
“Since then, the Public Health Agency has been working with a range of agencies to consider options to promote a positive image of the river as a place of health and social wellbeing. This approach entails using technology, culture, arts, and recreation to change public perception of the river, its banks and bridges – thereby reducing their association with suicide.”