The grief stricken father of a 19-year-old man who took his life by jumping into the River Moy has urged parents in Donegal to guard their children against the dangers of the culture of cheap alcohol which he believes contributed to his son’s death. David Higgins drowned in the early hours of March 13. He was last seen walking along the Lower Bridge in Ballina at approximately 6.30am. His body was found 14 days later after an extensive search.
The inquest recorded a verdict of death by suicide, with alcohol cited as a contributory factor.
Mr Higgins said: “The story starts on March 12 last year. Our son David was out in a bar and he then decided to go to a house party. I spoke to him at around 3am. He told me he was thinking of going to a party, I told him it would be better if he came home. We were always worried about David when he was out. To be honest we wouldn’t sleep,” he said.
At 5 o’clock his mother Anne rang him. “He told her that he was at the party and not to worry. I woke up around 6am and I had a bad gut feeling, call it parent’s instinct. I rang him, he pressed the answer button, he couldn’t talk for sobbing. I said to him ‘sit there, I will come and get you wherever you area. My wife and I don’t drive so my daughter came and I asked her to take me to the party in Ballina, it’s a small place,” he sadly recalls.
While he was making his way to the party with his daughter his wife continued to call David. “He was just pressing the answer button, no talking nothing, then Anne heard someone shout that he was in the river,” John said.
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 now be purchased for “pocket money”, and the availability of cheap alcohol, which encourages house parties, has become a “plague in Irish society”.
He warned that “the combination of cheap alcohol and all-night house parties presents a danger for young people,” and pointed out that young people often consume “abnormally high levels” of alcohol at 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.”
Mr Higgins would like to see “a minimum price on drink”, because if alcohol 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 twenty people 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.”
He welcomed 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, but he said the Government should stand up to the companies who make huge profits from selling cheap alcohol.
He said that he wanted people to understand that he was anti-alcohol and that his main objection was to cheap alcohol being so readily available. “There is no duty of care at house parties. Just want people to be aware of this and no-one should ever walk home alone after a night out,” he said.