The first Samaritans branch in the Republic of Ireland opened in Dublin in 1970 in a small office in a building scheduled for demolition. The branch was supported by the Belfast branch which had opened in 1961.
A small handful of volunteers took calls on a single phone from 2.30pm to 11pm. Within five months, there were enough volunteers to open from 9am. Just eight months after the branch opened, a 24 hour service had begun.
Over, the next 44 years, Samaritans centres opened in 12 locations across Ireland as volunteers came together to provide a space for people to talk about whatever is troubling them.
Watch our video showing the journey to Freecall above.
Initially Samaritans branches rented lines and operated local numbers. In 1993, Samaritans introduced a LoCall number- 1850 60 90 90. This gave access to Samaritans for the price of a local call from any private phone in the Republic. The introduction of this single number no doubt contributed to the increase in calls. Branches continued to operate their local numbers alongside this LoCall number.
In 2005, with the support of eircom, the 1850 number became the single national number by which calls are distributed across all branches. Calls are distributed across the eircom network with hunt groups distributing calls to the next branch available.
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 116 123 has been given for emotional support helplines.
ComReg awarded Samaritans the 116123 number in 2009 as it was the only organisation in Ireland already meeting and exceeding all of the minimum standards for these services.
In 2010, Samaritans Ireland installed a national telephone system covering every branch in the Republic and distributing 1850 and local branch calls across the Republic of Ireland. This was followed by an upgrade to the system in 2012, which made call sharing agreements with partners organisation possible. This meant that other organisations can divert their calls into Samaritans when their lines are closed, meaning that there is always a place for someone in distress to get support.
The telecommunications industry, through the Telecom and Internet Federation entered into a voluntary partnership with the Samaritans to plan for the new number and to fund incoming calls for a two year period. The support of the telecommunications industry in Ireland meant that Samaritans could operate the 116 123 number at no cost to the caller and in 2014, the freecall number was launched.
The new number made it easier for people to call Samaritans and the number of calls for help increased by 50% in 2014. The volume of calls to the helpline continues to grow with Samaritans answering over a call a minute in 2015.
It became free to call Samaritans in Northern Ireland and the UK in September 2015, meaning that it is now free to call Samaritans from anywhere on the island of Ireland.
In March 2016, the telecommunications industry agree to continue to funding the helpline for another three years, meaning that Samaritans can continue to provide round the clock support at no cost for people who are struggling to cope.