A few weeks ago I was going to the bus station on a Saturday morning to go to Belfast when I saw the Coastguard helicopter flying low over the river Foyle, I knew, what most people knew, that this meant that someone had gone into the river, and I prayed silently that there would be a positive outcome. The past few weeks since then have been an emotional time for the family of nineteen year old Galliagh man Andrew Quigley. Andrew had been suffering from depression as a consequence of drug and alcohol addiction and despite his mother trying everything in her power to get him the help and support he needed the services currently in place were of little help to Andrew.
It seemed so little time had passed since the city lost another young man, Tony Browne to the river in similar circumstances. And on my journey to Belfast I wondered what it was going to take and how many lives would be lost before those who have it in their gift to do something about this would act.
Two weeks before this sad turn of events Andrew's uncle, Dee Quigley had organised a rally which was then held at the Peace Bridge in Derry on Saturday 25th January to expose and oppose a decision to deny funding to two life-line services in the city.
The services refused funding are, HURT who help people with drug and alcohol related addictions and Foyle Search and Rescue who provide a search and rescue service on the river, and sadly have the grim task of recovering the bodies of those who have lost their lives. These services were refused funding from (OFMDFM) the Office of First Minister & Deputy First Minister administered 80 million pound Social Investment Fund. It would seem the social investment fund is more geared towards football pitches than it is to employment or lifesaving services.
During the rally which was massively attended Andrews distraught mother Colette who despite being consumed with grief gave a heartbreaking account of how she tried to get her son help, but in her quest found doors were being shut in her face. She then continued to express disappointment in herself in that she felt she could have done more. However the reality is you cannot access services which are not there one of which is a much needed detoxification unit.
Andrew like many others who suffer the affliction of addiction are being let down by a system that is failing to provide services essential to their well being and recovery. I remember the late Brian McFadden, who lost one of his own sons to drugs, calling time and time again for a detox unit for the city yet almost two years after Brian's passing it would seem that we are no further forward.
I would question if the ongoing failure to provide a detoxification facility could be considered a breach of human rights. Whilst the European Convention on Human Rights does not include an express right to medical treatment it could be argued that the failure to provide this essential treatment is in breach of (Article 2) right to life and/or the prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 3) of the Convention.
When I returned home from the rally on Saturday I thought about the determination of the Quigley family in their ongoing search for Andrew and their courage in continuing with the protest despite their grief. I also felt a sense of pride in the people of Derry many of whom have given their time and energy in the search for Andrew, and the hundreds who gathered on the banks of the Foyle in solidarity on such a horrendous day.
Another thing which came to mind was the proposed 2010 Parades and Public Assemblies Bill when attempts were being made by OFMDFM to introduce a bill that would stifle protest and public assembly. It was only then then I realised the reasoning behind the proposed draconian legislation at that time and how it was a manufactured attempt to save those in power from a lot of embarrassment.
The draft proposal of the 'Parades and Public Assemblies Bill' in 2010 required that organisers of gatherings of up to 50 people or more would have to apply for permission 37 days in advance. A failure to do so would have, under the proposed legislation been a criminal offence meriting a prison sentence. There was provision for cases deemed extreme emergencies. In these cases 3 days notice had to be given but there was no guarantee that permission would be granted. So had this legislation have been passed do you believe the office of OFMDFM would have given permission for people to protest at their decisions? I very much doubt it.
A consultation on behalf of The Health and Social Care Board into the need for a detox facility has just ended. If the outcome of this consultation is accepted then the only provision available will be 55 miles from Derry and will have the number of places currently available decreased from 42 to 24.
Just as we united for Andrew and his family on Saturday, we the people of Derry need to unite in opposing the reduction of services, we also need to unite in the demand for a detox unit in this city. The current proposal does not scratch the surface in terms of offering support to those in dire need of immediate life saving/changing intervention.
The right to protest is a fundamental civil right and if we are to ensure those failing to govern with humanity and compassion listen to the people they were elected to serve then we must never allow them to erode our civil liberties. As momentum grows they will have to listen to the people and not just because there is an election looming, but because for our people, our children it is simply the right thing to do