Sat, Apr
20 New Articles

Our son never came home

Anne and John Higgins
Anne and John Higgins are pictured at home in Ballina, holding a photograph of their 19-year-old son, David, who took his own life on March 13 last. John is of the opinion that the availability of cheap alcohol is causing all sorts of problems for families all around the country.?Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Our son never came home

Father says culture of drunken house parties and cheap alcohol contributed to his son’s death

Anton McNulty

The father of a 19-year-old Ballina man who committed suicide by jumping into the River Moy has said the culture of cheap alcohol and house parties contributed to his son’s death.
David Higgins drowned in the early hours of March 13 last. He was last seen walking along the Lower Bridge in Ballina at approximately 6.30am. His body was discovered 14 days later after an extensive search of the river. The inquest into his death recorded a verdict of death by suicide, with alcohol a contributory factor.
The inquest heard that Mr Higgins of 21 Shanahee Heights, Ballina had attended a house party where large amounts of alcohol were consumed, and that he had apparently been upset after being asked to leave.

Plague on society
In an emotional address to the inquest David’s father John Higgins said that while many factors played a part in his son’s death, alcohol played a large part. He said alcohol could be now purchased for ‘pocket money’, and the availability of cheap alcohol, which encourages house parties, has become a ‘plague in Irish society’.
“The combination of cheap alcohol and all-night house parties presents a danger for young people.” he said, pointing out that young people often consume ‘abnormally high levels’ of alcohol at these parties, without the presence of a responsible person to say ‘You have had enough’.
“Thousands of boys and girls go out every weekend and wake up not knowing how they get home. They are the lucky ones … they wake up.”

Cider ‘as cheap as coke’
Speaking to The Mayo News following the inquest, Mr Higgins said the since last March the family has been paralysed by the grief of losing their only son and brother. He described the inquest as a ‘big step’ in trying to get over their grief, but he is calling for tighter regulation in relation to the cost of alcohol in supermarkets and off-licences.
“Without a doubt, if David had come home after the pub he would have been fine,” he explained. “If you go into any supermarket there are alcohol aisles … and its price and availability are well within youngsters reach.” Mr Higgins said he would like to see ‘a minimum price on drink’, because if drink was more expensive, it would prevent people from ‘stacking up’ and having house parties after the pubs close. “If you pay €4 a can for cider you are not going to invite 20 around to drink it. But you can buy cider for €1.20 a can, which is as cheap as a can of coke – that is crazy.”
While welcoming the recent announcement by Minister of State for Health, Róisín Shortall, in which she said she favours the ending of below-cost selling of alcohol, Mr Higgins feels that the government should be more forceful, that it should stand up to the multinational companies.
He also criticised the celebration of Arthur’s Day, which he feels is ‘nothing more than some brain-wave of a slick sales and marketing expert’ and has no place in Ireland’s culture.
“An era of spending a few pounds on a few drinks has been replaced by teenagers spending a significant portion of their income on drinking for pure escapism. God only knows how it will be controlled. I doubt anything will be done until at least very many more lives have been scarred, and many more avoidable deaths have occurred.”

David’s last night
Mr Higgins told the inquest that he was always concerned about his son’s drinking, and he was worried for him on the night.
“As a parent I can say that I have often lain awake at night waiting for my children to arrive safely home … only falling asleep when I hear them arriving safely in and closing the door behind them.”
On the night of his son’s death, Mr Higgins recalled phoning David at 3am to see where he was. David said he was going to a house party. At 5am his mother, Anne, again spoke to him on the phone.
Later in the night, Mr Higgins tried to call his son once again. “I was in bed dozing, but at 6am I sensed something was wrong and hopped out of bed and put my clothes on,” he explained. John phoned David and while he did not speak on the phone, John sensed he was upset and told him to wait where he was. Mr Higgins and his wife then went out in their car searching for David, and Mrs Higgins again phoned David on his mobile.
David answered but did not speak. Then Anne let out a scream. David had left the phone down by the bridge, and while Ann was on the phone she heard somebody in the background shout ‘he is in the river’.

A parent’s nightmare
The River Moy was at high tide on the night and the current was running fast, and despite two passing gardaí noticing somebody in the river, they could not reach him. Garda Michael McGrath said the person was in the middle of the river and he tried to throw a life ring to him but it could not reach him.
“The river was flowing at full speed, as fast as I have ever seen it,” he told the inquest. “His head and shoulders were above the water but I could not see his arms. I called and shouted at him but there was no response and he didn’t appear to look at us.”
Soon after the gardaí lost sight of him. A major search of the river was conducted, involving the Garda Sub Aqua unit, the Grainne Uaile Sub Aqua unit, the coastguard, the Irish Navy, fishermen and scores of local volunteers. During the search a double tragedy befell the family when Johns’ friend Tommy Helly tragically drowned while searching the river bank.
The body of David Higgins was eventually found in four metres of water 14 days later, on March 27, by the Garda Sub Aqua unit. John Higgins has expressed his sincere thanks to everyone who took part in the rescue, and described the discovery of David’s body as a great relief for the family.
“Every morning until evening we were down there searching, and I tell you it is not a pleasant feeling when you go home at night and have to tell your wife there was no luck. It was a great relief when the body was found. I was happy, if you can call it happy … at least we have a grave to visit.”

Elsewhere on mayonews.ie
Victim’s father rejects partygoers’ evidence
Drinking linked to teenage suicide
Drug and Alcohol Awareness Week highlights Mayo’s plight, aims to tackle issue

2803 EU GIF