North Belfast News , 20 February 2004

Community fights back

North Belfast advice workers on round

North Belfast is today emerging from a nightmare as Ardoyne gets back on its feet to combat the terrible legacy of death and suicide. Ardoyne has witnessed an outpouring of grief in front of the world’s media as the community fights back to address the unacceptably high rates of unemployment, deprivation and isolation among the young.

Heartache as suicide claims another North Belfast teen

Thousands of people turned up on Tuesday to attend the funeral of 18-year-old Bernard ‘Barney’ Cairns.

The day began with hundreds waiting outside his home in North Queen Street to follow his funeral cortege to the short distance to St Patrick’s Church in Donegall Street for the final farewell.

Walking behind the coffin hundreds of young boys and girls in school uniforms formed in the cortege.

Barney Cairns took his own life last weekend in the grounds of Holy Cross Church, just hours after he had attended the funeral of his best friend Anthony O’Neill.

Anthony ‘Cheetah’ O’Neill took his own life on Wednesday February 11. Three days later Barney took his own life and was removed from scaffolding by Fr Aidan Troy and others. They were both 18 and both victims of INLA punishment attacks.

The total lives lost through suicide since Christmas according to the Prevention of Suicide and Prevention of Self Harm project [Pips] stands at 12. Speaking at Tuesday’s funeral Fr McGee said that the teenager had been depressed for quite some time and that he had been in a despairing state. Bernard leaves behind his mother Angela, father Geordie and brothers and sisters Tambo, Francine, Bernie, John, Anthony, Liam, George, Micky and Bessie. Phil McTaggart of the Pips Project said that he found the day extremely emotional.

“The funeral of young Bernard Cairns was a scene that is becoming all too familiar for people in North Belfast,” he said. “We at Pips would like to offer our condolences to the Cairns family and offer our help to them at this terrible time. “For me I found the whole day very upsetting, but even more so at the city cemetery where Bernard was laid to rest. “Because not only was I looking down at Bernard’s grave, but that of my son Pip’s, and that of young Pearse Doherty who died in a car accident just over a month ago, and beside that was the grave of a young girl who took her own life on Christmas Day.

“I know that there has been a lot of media attention this week on Ardoyne but I think that it’s a pity it took so many lives to be lost before anyone paid attention.

“It has to be said, I know we do have a problem in the area, but there is a lot of good work going on behind the scenes. “Not everyone knows about it, but it’s there I can tell you. Not all kids are drinkers or using drugs every night of the week. “Not all of them are bad and brandished a tearaway. “There are activities there for people, and what we need now is for resources to back this good work up and put in place services for young adults in North Belfast.”

SDLP North Belfast Cllr Pat Convery said he shocked and dismayed at the recent spate of suicides in the area.

“All my thoughts and prayers are with the families of the young men who have taken their own lives. “Young people are under too much pressure in North Belfast. Paramilitary violence, drugs, unemployment and a growing lack of housing has pushed too many of us to despair. “That is why we need a multi-agency approach to deal with the problems that face this area today. “There is an urgent need for a task group to be set up by Direct Rule ministers to look at the situation in North Belfast.”

Journalist:: Staff Reporter