300 people in Northern Ireland take their lives each year

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About 300 people a year are taking their own lives in Northern Ireland, the health minister has said.

Edwin Poots said it was almost six times the rate of death due to road traffic accidents.

The minister presented the figures during a statement on a NI suicide prevention strategy and action plan called 'Protect Life: A Shared Vision'.

He said since the strategy was published in 2006, a Lifeline crisis response service has been established.

Mr Poots said local research and suicide prevention training had also been undertaken.

However, he said the Northern Ireland suicide rate remained stubbornly high and continued to be a "major challenge".

As a result, the strategy was being extended until the 2013/14 financial year.

Health committee deputy chairman Jim Wells asked if the action plan would deal with the "worrying" role of the internet.

Mr Poots said it would seek to clamp down "on episodes where it is being used inappropriately" and would seek to prevent any "copy-cat" incidents.

The SDLP's Conall McDevitt questioned the minister on what support the strategy would offer to vulnerable men and women in prison.

On Monday, a prisoner was found hanged in his cell at Maghaberry prison in County Antrim.

Mr Poots said many of the issues those people experienced stemmed from problems in their childhood and said these needed to be addressed at the earliest stage.

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