Samaritans Ireland has launched a new free to call number – 116 123 – for people who are struggling to cope. The number will make it possible for people to access the service round the clock, every single day of the year, free of charge. The new free to call number has been made possible by a partnership between Samaritans and the telecommunications industry.

Marking the launch of the number, Catherine Brogan, Executive Director of Samaritans Ireland, said: “It’s a really positive step to see the industry coming together be able to help vulnerable people in this way. We hope that knowing the call is free of charge will encourage more people who need us to contact Samaritans, in particular some of the most vulnerable groups in society.

“eircom has always generously supported Samaritans’ lo-call helpline. The fact that the five other largest telecoms providers have joined with eircom to support our new free to call number is groundbreaking.”

The six largest telecoms providers – BT Ireland, eircom Group, O2, Three, UPC and Vodafone Ireland – have committed to a two-year funding programme for the number.

In 2007, the European Commission decided to reserve numbers beginning with 116 for services of social value that would be common across all EU member states. The number 116123 has been given for all 24 hour emotional support helplines. ComReg awarded Samaritans the 116123 number as it is the only organisation in Ireland already meeting and exceeding all of the minimum standards for these services.

Speaking at the launch of the free to call number, Torlach Denihan, Director of Ibec’s Telecommunications and Internet Federation (TIF) said that the industry was very pleased to assist Samaritans in its vital work.

“There is a very unique relationship between Samaritans and our sector and this partnership is a further development that recognises this decades old link. It is also a good example of corporate social responsibility.

Our industry is back to where it was in 2005 in terms of sales. Against this difficult economic climate we are particularly pleased that the six largest telecoms providers have decided to support this initiative by Samaritans.  It is indicative of the high regard we hold Samaritans’ work.”

Pat Rabbitte T.D., Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, welcomed the new number. “The partnership between Samaritans and the telecommunications industry is a great example of collaboration between the voluntary and commercial sectors and Government. The financial support of the industry is demonstration of their commitment to this service. The assistance of the industry in ensuring that the cost of calls is free of charge to the end user and the dedication of the 2,000 Samaritans volunteers across the country means that support is available to anyone who needs it.”

Also speaking at the launch, Kathleen Lynch TD, Minister of State with responsibility for mental health, said:  “In this day and age, we all know someone who is finding it difficult to cope and we know that it’s important that people speak about the issues that are getting them down. The fact that the Samaritans answer over 380,000 calls per year is indicative of the importance of this service. Few services operate around the clock like Samaritans, which makes it vital in the area of suicide prevention.”