North Belfast Assembly election candidates Ken Boyle and Lesley Carroll have called on the Northern Ireland Executive to take steps to ensure the Forum for Action on Substance Abuse (FASA) does not close.
The Belfast-based charity, which has been offering help to vulnerable people for over 20 years, announced this week that it is facing “the prospect of immediate and terminal financial insolvency”. The issue is being investigated by the Charity Commission.
Mr Boyle, who represents UKIP, said he was “deeply saddened” to learn that FASA had suspended its vital services, and called on the Executive to intervene to save the charity from closure.
“Many vulnerable people in crisis who are feeling suicidal, have self-harmed or have had other serious mental health problems have been helped by FASA over a number years,” the Rathcoole man said. “I have personally worked with FASA and attended a number of training courses with them. They are a fantastic service that is greatly needed here. Their hard-working and dedicated volunteers and staff really care about local communities and helping those most in need.”
He added: “At a time when suicide rates and self-harm rates have risen locally, and the misuse of alcohol and drugs has also been a major issue, organisations like FASA are vital resources in our community.
“The Executive need to treat this as a crisis and they need come in quickly and offer help. I have put in an urgent request to meet with the Health Minister, Simon Hamilton and have asked my party leader, David McNarry MLA to attend the meeting.
“I am calling on the Executive and the government to look seriously at this as a matter of urgency. Losing mental health services is the very last thing that’s needed here at this time.”
Rev Carroll, the UUP candidate for North Belfast, warned that the loss of an essential resource like FASA could result in the loss of life.
“I am deeply saddened to hear of the dire financial situation facing FASA. It is an essential service providing personnel on the ground who are professional, committed and very effective. It is a resource for others working in communities facing the daily challenges of suicide and drug abuse. The loss of this resource could result in loss of life.
“I would ask the Health Minister, Simon Hamilton and the DSD Minister, Lord Morrow, to give urgent consideration to an emergency intervention to keep this essential resource up and running, whilst at the same time instigating a review of its structures and management.
“The big story is people and their lives. Every avenue must be explored to retain this service.”
Thousands of people have already signed an online petition aimed at keeping FASA services open. It can be accessed at www.change.org/p/nigel-dodds-stop-the-closing-of-fasa-services