Prof Patrica Casey: More research on murder-suicides is needed in Ireland

It comes in the wake of the inquest into the deaths of members of the Hawe family


The scene in Cavan where the Hawe family were found dead. Picture by: Philip Fitzpatrick/PA Archive/PA Images

10:50 20 Dec 2017 Stephen McNeice 10:50 Wednesday 20 December 2017

A mental health expert says we need more research into so-called 'murder-suicides' in Ireland.

The inquest into the deaths of members of the Hawe family in Cavan yesterday returned a verdict of unlawful killing.

Clodagh Hawe and her three sons Liam, Niall and Ryan were killed by their father Alan Hawe last year, before he took his own life.

A verdict of suicide was returned for Alan Hawe at the inquest.

There has been around around a dozen murder-suicides in this country over the last decade.

Professor of Psychiatry, Patricia Casey, says it's crucial we study these cases.

Speaking on the Pat Kenny Show, she explained: "There is some studies in other countries which suggest that people who engage in this sort of behaviour - where sadly families lose their lives... it usually does occur in the context of mental illness. Not always, but it usually does.

"We've had a number of these cases in Ireland in the last decade or so. I believe we need to have some system whereby they can be formally investigated, so as to give us this kind of information that is lacking from Ireland."

She stressed: "It would be wrong for anybody listening to this show to assume that everybody who is depressed is a) psychotic and b) poses a risk to others or even to themselves. Because they don't - most people don't."


Professor Casey said the lack of Irish research into cases of murder-suicide means we need "more concrete information" to begin identifying any common traits between such cases.

She also said that while the late former justice minister Brian Lenihan had expressed interest in pursuing such research, she has since seen little interest from officials.

Professor Casey noted that familicide, which is the term used when whole families or most family members sadly lose their lives, is rare - "probably no more than .01 per million people" - and extremely difficult to predict as a result.

She told Pat: "I think if people have a known mental illness and are attending the psychiatric services and receiving treatment... particularly if they've got severe depression and maybe psychotic (and by that I mean having lost contact with reality)... then family members need to be involved in that & need to be aware if they're at risk."

"We know it's rare for people to harm themselves, and it's even rarer for them to harm others. So predicting who will engage in those behaviours is impossible. But when we do know definitively that someone poses a risk - because they have told us, and we know from their behaviour perhaps that they have been under the influence of their delusions - well then we have a duty to warn those people they may be at risk."

Anyone affected by the issues in this article can call The Samaritans on 116 123 or Women's Aid on 1800 341 900 

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The inquest is looking into the deaths of Clodagh Hawe and her three sons