Coroner Statistics Maskan Epidemic of Suicide; MOS Survey of State's 45 Coroners Reveals That in Parts of the Country a Verdict of Suicide Is Never Recorded No Matter How Clear the Evidence Is
Byline: Warren Swords
AT LEAST two of the State's coroners concede they do not always record apparent suicides as suicides, with one saying 'people may change their minds in their last moments', the Irish Mail on Sunday can reveal.
Our survey of coroners lays bare the lack of official knowledge of the suicide epidemic in Ireland.
In the survey of all 45 coroners in the State, a number say that they do not record a verdict of suicide in cases of suicide for a variety of reasons - including, according to one coroner, local tradition.
Clare's coroner declined to be drawn on media reports that there were eight deaths by hanging in Co. Clare in 2012 - but that only one suicide was recorded in the county for the same period.
An expert who has studied the issue told the MoS he was aware of cases where open verdicts had been recorded even when a suicide note had been found.
Over 40% of coroners failed to respond to the MoS, and only eight of the 45 were in a position to supply official differentiated figures. In Donegal, for example, one coroner conceded he never recorded a verdict of suicide even if it was a clear case of suicide. This could affect the official Central Statistics Office figures. Instead, he returns a 'narrative verdict', where the circumstances of the death are described but no cause is attributed. For example, the coroner might record that a person 'died by hanging' without saying that he hanged himself.
It is then left to gardai to report the case as a suicide to the CSO. However, it is not clear whether this occurs in all appropriate cases.
Research published this week by the 3Ts suicide charity (the name derives from the fact that three times more people in Ireland die by suicide than die in road accidents) found that 'the total number of definite and probable suicide deaths in Ireland for 2009 was 722' rather than the official figure of 510 - a difference of 41%.
One coroner, a leading campaigner on the issue, contacted by the MoS believes that the true number is higher still - double that recorded in official figures, or more than 1,000 deaths a year.
The CSO officially records the number of suicides in Ireland using data sent to it by the coroner and gardai.
Once an inquest is completed, a coroner's certificate is sent to the CSO. In addition, gardai are required to fill out Form 104, detailing the outcome of the case.
In a case where the coroner does not issue a verdict of suicide, gardai can still state that it was suicide on Form 104 if there is a basis for this in the coroner's file.
However, it is not clear how often gardai do this.
The Garda Press Office referred the MoS to the individual coroners - and even experts are unable to say how often it happens.
The CSO then codes the death accordingly, be it accidental, suicide, misadventure, etc, based on the details supplied by the coroners and the gardai. But a CSO spokesman said that if the reports did not state the death was suicide, then they could not count the death in the end-of-year suicide statistics.
'If there is no indication of suicide from the coroner or from the gardai then there would not always be sufficient information for us to code as suicide,' he said.
Kerry South East coroner Terence Casey told the MoS: 'You could look at the official figures for suicides and you could double it. That's the kind of figure we are really talking about. It is a national crisis.
'There are definitely still some of the older-generation coroners around the country who will bring back accidental death or misadventure rather than suicide for the benefit of the families. It used to happen a lot, especially when suicide was a criminal offence.' Donegal North East coroner John Madden said he preferred not to include suicide in his verdicts.
'My understanding is that gardai send in a report to Dublin and so even if an open verdict is given and the evidence points to a suicide, the gardai will report that to Dublin. …