Kate Fitzgerald’s parents, Tom and Sally-Ann Fitzgerald, recently met with Kevin O’Sullivan, editor of The Irish Times to try to get an explanation of the publication’s treatment of Kate’s article that was published soon after she committed suicide. Unfortunately, they did not get the answers to the questions they were asking, and they have since requested that people keep pushing for justice and respect towards Kate and her final words.
Kate was an acquaintance of mine, and a close friend of some of my own close friends. Mental health is something I feel strongly about at this moment in time: it can be anything from being stressed out to full-on depression.
And so I am doing just as Tom and Sally-Ann have requested, and I have posted a letter to Kevin O’Sullivan.
Here it is.
18 December 2011
Dear Mr O’Sullivan,
Over recent weeks The Irish Times has become increasingly involved in the affairs following the death of my acquaintance Kate Fitzgerald.
Kate placed her trust in The Irish Times – a publication which she admired and respected greatly – to send out a final message surrounding her depression and how people can have negative reactions on learning that someone they know suffers from the illness. Kate confided in Peter Murtagh who ensured her message was published anonymously. Some time after she died, Murtagh published a new article that respectfully, yet heart-breakingly, gave an account of Kate’s final days and hours during which she pushed to have her final words published.
What followed the publication of the second article was a series of disgraceful moves, such that I have lost respect for the integrity of The Irish Times under your editorship.
It was no secret that Kate worked for The Communications Clinic. Indeed, some that knew her may have already understood that she was under pressure in her job. But when this knowledge became more widespread The Irish Times then edited what was effectively Kate’s suicide letter so that it contained no reference to her employment.
One of the purposes of Kate’s letter was to raise awareness about depression in the workplace. Do you feel it was acceptable to edit this letter in such a manner that it completely changed her message?
Outrage ensued, and rightly so. Things evidently got too hot to handle for your “paper of record” and you completely blacked out Kate’s letter as a “legal retraction”. I find this strange, as an earlier explanation as to why her letter was edited stated that no legal representations were made to The Irish Times. In fact, you stated that some aspects of Kate’s letter were non-factual.
We are still waiting for an explanation as to which parts were non-factual.
Kate’s brave parents, Tom and Sally-Ann Fitzgerald, stood up for their daughter and what she said, as did her friends, acquaintances, and thousands of people all over Ireland and abroad. They held an extremely admirable level of decorum over these weeks, looking for answers to the behaviour of The Irish Times, while you and your publication seemed to simply bury your heads in the sand and hope that the issue would go away.
I find it utterly abhorrent that even when Tom and Sally-Ann met with you recently you could not give them a straight answer or explanation as to your treatment of their daughter, her words, and the disrespect you showed her family.
In one of your own articles you alluded to the fact that some people were out to get “retribution” over the matter. This is both insulting and untrue. People simply want her suicide letter to be published in full to make sure that her message is spread out and that people may take hope from it. It’s as simple as that.
Kate wanted people to open up about depression. Depression is still stigmatised in Ireland, and she wanted to help break out of that stigma. Depression is simply an illness; with treatment it can go away, without treatment it can become a big problem. The more people open up and talk about it, the more this country will be able to develop its attitudes to mental health, and the more we will realise that it’s okay to be unwell.
But you succeeded in doing the exact opposite: you just proved that it’s still not okay for people to talk about it. How many people with depression have been keeping an eye on your paper’s recent behaviour and are now simply too scared to talk about what they’re going through?
I continue to stand by Kate’s parents and her friends and I fully support their demands to have Kate’s final words published in full and to be given some answers.
Mr O’Sullivan, I was once an avid reader of The Irish Times, but I simply can no longer support your publication so long as you are at the helm. I demand that you immediately resign from your post as editor of The Irish Times, that you issue a full and unreserved apology to Kate’s family in person, and that the paper republish all relevant articles in their full and original form.
I don’t know if The Irish Times will ever regain the respect it once commanded. But by ignoring the issue it is simply doing more and more damage both to itself and to the topic of mental health in Ireland.
I would urge others who feel the same way to voice their thoughts on the matter.
This post originally held a timeline of events. Considering that this is an ongoing issue, I’ve moved the timeline to its own post which you can read here.