Irish President Mary McAleese today called for a national change in attitudes to end the bullying of gay people in Ireland.

Addressing world experts at the International Association of Suicide Prevention Conference in Killarney, the President said the link between sexual identity and suicide had to be addressed.

She also warned gay people encounter a hurtful undercurrent of bias and hostility.

“Ireland is making considerable progress in developing a culture of genuine equality, recognition and acceptance of gay men and women,” she said, according to breakingnews.ie.

“But there is still an undercurrent of both bias and hostility which young gay people must find deeply hurtful and inhibiting.”

The President also said Ireland’s alarming suicide rate of 500 a year could be reduced by decommissioning the culture of binge drinking and the tolerance of alcohol and drug abuse.

But she said there appeared to be an attitude which encouraged bullying of all sorts and the deeply hurtful abuse of gay people.

She added: “Homosexuality is a discovery, not a decision and for many it is a discovery which is made against a backdrop where, within their immediate circle of family and friends as well as the wider society, they have long encountered anti-gay attitudes which will do little to help them deal openly and healthily with their own sexuality.”

Ireland’s suicide toll is around 500 every year.

Young men make up 40% of these and elderly men comprise the second highest at risk group.

The President said the dangers of alcohol and cannabis on young people’s psychological well-being had been well documented along with the effect of bullying.

But she said more discussion was needed on the link between sexual identity and suicide.

The President said Ireland had to go through an attitude change and develop a sensitive culture in dealing with people affected by mental problems in order to combat suicide.

“Suicide is an issue which affects every element of our society,” she told the conference.

“In particular, the frequent clustering of suicides leaves not just individuals bereaved – families, friends, neighbours and colleagues – but also devastates entire communities, leaving a legacy of hurt, confusion, insecurity and fear.”