Dan Connolly, chairperson of the group Tipperary's Fight for Mental Health Services
The campaign for the restoration of mental health services in Tipperary will be stepped up this Saturday afternoon, with a major rally and march planned for Clonmel's town centre.
The event is being organised by the recently-formed Tipperary's Fight for Mental Health Services group to tackle what it claims is a crisis situation in the county.
"There are 161,000 people in Tipperary and yet there's not a single bed for patients suffering with mental health difficulties", says the group's chairperson Dan Connolly.
"That's a crazy situation and it's not at all acceptable.
"Lives are being lost because of the absence of mental health services", he says.
The group is lobbying for the re-opening of St. Michael's psychiatric hospital unit in Clonmel, which closed in 2011.
If that doesn't happen, they say services could be provided at Our Lady's Hospital in Cashel, while services for younger people could be made available at St. Joseph's in Ferryhouse, Clonmel.
"Half of the beds in paediatric units are occupied by young people with mental health difficulties", says Dan Connolly, who lost his 18 year-old son Christopher to suicide ten years ago.
The group is also campaigning for a dedicated room at the ED department of South Tipperary General Hospital, where people with suicidal feelings or those presenting with a psychotic episode or other mental health problems could be treated without delay, and without having to sit in the waiting room.
"We're looking for that to be made available immediately".
Mr. Connolly says that if you're living in South Tipperary and need mental health services you must travel to Kilkenny, and if you're in North Tipperary you must travel to Ennis.
"But when St. Michael's closed seven years ago, St. Luke's Hospital in Kilkenny was already running at over 115% capacity, and then South Tipperary was added to that".
Tipperary's Fight for Mental Health Services held a very well-attended and successful meeting at the Clonmel Park Hotel at the beginning of May, when 200 pairs of shoes were displayed on the stage to signify the 200 lives lost to suicide in Tipperary since 2012.
"These people don't have a voice, but we have a voice and action is better than words", says Dan Connolly.
At that meeting, people claimed their loved ones who had died by suicide would still be here if mental health services were available in the county, he says.
Mr. Connolly is now appealing for businesses, organisations, groups, sporting clubs and people across the community to come out in force and support Saturday's march.
"The more people that come on board the better. They'll have to listen to us", he says.
Marchers will gather at the Main Guard at 2.30 and proceed down Sarsfield Street, westwards along the Quay, into Joyce's Lane, Irishtown, Cantwell Street, Western Road and O'Neill Street, before returning to the Main Guard via Lower Irishtown and O'Connell Street.
A rally will be held at the Main Guard, where the speakers will include psychiatrist Dr. Alan Moore.
Dan Connolly also runs Taxi Watch in Clonmel, a suicide prevention scheme among taxi drivers that he says has prevented 38 people from taking their own lives since its establishment in 2015.
He says that Tipperary's Fight for Mental Health Services is a non-political group, because "this issue is bigger than any party".
However it's grateful for the support offered by Tipperary Dail Deputies Seamus Healy, Mattie McGrath and Jackie Cahill, and by Garret Ahearn and Ciara McCormack, who will be candidates in the next General Election.