M. J. KELLEHER and M. DALY
The Irish suicide rates have always been an enigma and of great epidemiological interest. Here was an island population of similar language and cultural history situated close to Britain but publicly recording a suicide rate which, in 1960, was only one- quarter of that recorded in England and Wales. This low Irish suicide rate provoked disbelief. Two studies, one carried out in the 1960s ( McCarthy and Walsh, 1975) and one in early 1980s ( Clarke Finnegan and Fahy, 1983) indicated that Irish coroners were under-recording suicide verdicts when individual cases were reassessed by the investigating authors.
The question not investigated, however, in this regard was whether Irish coroners, as a group, were more likely to underrecord suicide verdicts than coroners from Britain. Two British studies strongly suggested that unreliability between coroners was not likely to be the main explanation why national figures differed. The first of these studies was by Barraclough ( 1970), who found that there were no significant differences between two sets of coroners' districts in the rate in which suicide was recorded when, in one set, the coroner had remained the same in the two periods of study, while in the other set, the coroners had changed. The second study was by Ross and Kreitman ( 1975), who found that when the typescript of evidence in cases of possible suicide was exchanged between coroners in England and Wales on the one hand with similar officials in Scotland on the other, whereas there might be disagreement in individual cases, the overall trend remained the same. This strongly implied that the official statistics, in spite of their many shortcomings, are valid for crossnational comparison.
The strongest evidence in favour of a low Irish suicide rate