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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 February, 2004, 13:07 GMT
Funeral of suicide teenager
Bernard Cairns, 18, was found hanged in a church
Hundreds of mourners have attended the funeral of a north Belfast teenager who is believed to have taken his own life just hours after his best friend was buried.

The body of Bernard Cairns, 18, was found in the grounds of Holy Cross Church in Ardoyne, hours after the funeral of another teenager who is also thought to have killed himself.

In the past six weeks, 13 young men have taken their own lives in the area.

St Patrick's Church in Belfast was packed on Tuesday for Bernard's funeral Mass and dozens of others - many of them teenagers - stood outside the church.

The Ardoyne Association and PIPS - a group working to help people contemplating suicide and self-harm - handed out 2,000 leaflets to people attending the Mass.

Philip McTaggart said they were also setting up a 24-hour helpline.

"What we want is for young people to turn round and say: 'I need someone to talk to'. They mightn't be able to talk to their parents, and their parents also might be able to direct them towards us.

"This is gonna be open 24/7 for the next seven days."

The leaflets will also be left in shops in the area.

The association will meet again later on Tuesday to decide what other action needs to be taken.

On Monday, community workers and officials from the local health board met to discuss the alarming rise in suicides among young people.

There will be a number of people contactable should young people feel the need to speak to somebody confidentially
Father Aidan Troy

Republican paramilitaries are being linked to the increase as some of the young people took their own lives after being attacked.

Ardoyne parish priest Father Aidan Troy said the counselling service would be established immediately.

"There will be a number of people contactable should young people feel the need to speak to somebody confidentially," he said.

Bernard's body was removed from scaffolding at the church by a priest on Saturday afternoon. His best friend Anthony O'Neill, also 18, died last week and his funeral Mass was held at the church earlier that day.

Last year, Anthony O'Neill was kidnapped, stripped, beaten up and forced into a manhole. His family blame the INLA.

His mother Audrey said: "I think it just got too much for him. He left me a note to say he loved me and that he wanted to be with his daddy in heaven," she said.

Anthony O'Neill, 18, died last week
Anthony O'Neill, 18, died last week
"They have broke my heart - they have broken me in two. They couldn't hurt me any more than this. He had everything in front of him - he was my baby, my youngest of nine."

Father Troy said the feeling in the area was that the Irish National Liberation Army was responsible for a growing number of paramilitary attacks on young people in the area.

The paramilitary group declared itself to be on ceasefire in August 1998.

However, Paul Little, of the IRSP, which is the political wing of the INLA, said it was wrong to blame the paramilitaries.

Mr Little told the BBC: "If you're asking the question directly, do I believe that the INLA is directly responsible for these young men deaths, I'm telling you I don't believe that they are."

The BBC's Denis Murray
"These areas are among the most deprived and divided in Belfast"

BBC NI's Tara Mills
speaks to teenagers in Ardoyne

Urgent action call on suicides
16 Feb 04  |  Northern Ireland


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