The Union of Students in Ireland hosted a photocall outside Leinster house on Monday in protest of cuts to the 2016 mental health budget, which had originally ring-fenced €35 million for the sector.
USI members acted out scenarios which highlighted the €12 million cut, with one member wearing a Leo Varadkar mask seen taking a large bag of money from the promised funds, enclosed by a white fence.
A number of students from Trinity College Dublin held signs baring the message, “prioritize mental health” as well as the campaign’s social media slogan, #IAmAReason.
The outgoing USI president, Kevin Donoghue, said the focus of the event was to show that the Government was breaking their pre-election promise by diverting the ring-fenced funds.
“I think it highlights two things. First of all, the term “ring-fenced” is now meaningless in politics and secondly, the government, from our perspective anyway, don’t take the issue of mental health seriously enough,” he said.
“At what point can we trust our politicians to spend money where they say they’re going to spend it?”
The decision was originally made by incoming Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar, who was replaced last week by Simon Harris as Minister for Health. The USI has said they will now appeal to him on the issue.
“We would be asking for him to evaluate the decision and evaluate the thought that went into that decision and ideally speaking, reverse it,” Donoghue said.
“If not, maybe we could talk about what other areas of mental health we could support with that €12 million.”
Donoghue has written to Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Micháel Martin and Simon Harris requesting a meeting to discuss the diversion of the funds, as well as the current situation regarding mental health services in Ireland.
Dublin City University has announced a €230 million capital development plan which will see infrastructural improvements and an expansion across its four campuses over the next five years.
The plans will see the student body grow by 16,000 with the development of further on-campus accommodation, a new student centre, modern digital teaching spaces and a larger capacity in research and innovation.
The Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, managed by the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) has committed long-term funding of €54m to the plan. The funds will be used to specifically target student accommodation projects.
The Fund has voiced an appetite to raise up to an additional €66m, subject to the proposed project investments meeting its dual mandate of commercial return and economic impact.
The European Investment Bank has provided a €76m loan to DCU for the project.
The investments will allow for the upgrade of facilities on the All Hallows Campus and construction of more student accommodation.
It will facilitate the construction of two new floors on the F Building on the St. Patrick’s College campus, providing additional capacity in view of the incorporation of St. Pats, Mater Dei Institute of Education and the Church of Ireland College of Education into DCU.
The Glasnevin campus is to see many structural changes in the coming years, with plans to buy-back existing campus residence and undergo construction of 560 on-campus student accommodation. This will bring the the overall on-campus accommodation capacity to 2,200.
Amongst other plans for the Glasnevin campus is the rolling out of an IT transformation and teaching equipment renewal programme, extensions to the Stokes and Lonsdale Building, providing more lecture theatres, the refurbishment of Albert College as well as a new 3,000 square meter Nano-Bioanalytical Research Facility.
While construction of a new Student Centre for students’ social, cultural, global engagement and entrepreneurial activities is to commence this summer.
DCU President Brian MacCraith said that the announcement “heralds the commencement of a massive transformation project for Dublin City University” which will see the extension of DCU’s geographical footprint in North Dublin.
“As Ireland’s fastest growing university, DCU is committed to developing an environment which will shape the critical thinkers and problem-solvers of the future,” he said.
“We can now fully embark on this ambitious programme of development which will not only advance our mission of excellence in education, research and innovation but also enhance the DCU student experience of a growing student body which will number 16,000 on completion of incorporation of St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, Mater Dei Institute of Education and the Church of Ireland College of Education in September this year,” MacCraith added.
Image Credit: Ross Kavanagh
Students and activists gathered outside Leinster House today to protest against the €12 million cuts to the “already grotesquely underfunded” mental health sector.
Over 200 people attended the demonstration, which was organized by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and Mental Health Reform. USI President, Kevin Donoghue, outlined the aims of the campaign in an address to the crowd.
“We are asking the Government to do a number of things. First of all, give us the money,” he said.
“Secondly, step up and accept the fact that even if you reverse this decision you have underfunded the mental heath sector for years and it is costing lives.”
Donoghue criticized Fine Gael’s previous inaction in the area of mental health and said the sector had reaped no benefits of the economic recovery.
“We have had the word recovery jammed down our throats for the last few months and I would have a few questions for anyone who suggests we should keep the recovery going,” he said.
Also in attendance was the Director of Mental Health Reform, Shari McDaid, who repeated Donoghue’s appeal for Government action.
“Mental health difficulties touch people of all ages and backgrounds, and Ireland’s rate of suicide is still worryingly high. Politicians need to realise that mental health is an important issue for hundreds of thousands of people in Ireland and deliver on their long-standing promises,” she said.
Several mental health activists spoke at the protest, including illusionist Shane Gillen.
“We stand today in the hope that our children won’t become statistics because of a flawed system,” he said.
Gillen also emphasized the importance of 24-hour mental health support, sentiments echoed by the mother of a mental health sufferer, Ann Ellis.
“Mental illness is not a 9-5 job, it’s everyday,” she told the crowd.
“Resource the country, resource mental health and stop the suicide epidemic.”
The €12 million cut to funding was announced at Tuesday evening’s Dáil debate, where it was widely reported that just ten TDs were in attendance.
The minutes of the meeting show that 66 TDs sat in on some part of the debate, with 33 designated speakers. This means that 41.7 per cent of TDs were in attendance on the day.
The social media campaign that arose from the controversy, #IAmAReason, was heavily referenced during the protest, with many people holding signs bearing the slogan.
Several politicians attended the demonstration today, including Mary Lou McDonald (SF), Catherine Murphy (SD) and John Lahart (FF).
Females are more likely to secure employments after graduating according to a survey conducted by the USI.
The survey found that twenty seven per cent of females were successful in securing employment after graduation compared to twenty one per cent of males.
The survey also found that the vast majority of students are worried about securing employment after graduating and many felt their degree does not properly prepare them to find future employment.
Seventy six per cent of students surveyed all over Ireland by the USI answered “yes” when asked “Are you anxious and troubled over actual or potential problems about finding employment after you graduate?”.
Only twenty six per cent of students feel their course has sufficiently prepared them for seeking employment upon finishing their degree.
Though the latest CSO figures showed a slight decrease in under twenty five’s signing on, over thirteen thousand young people are still unemployed long-term.
James Doorely, deputy director of The National Youth Council of Ireland has called for more resources to be allocated to solve the problem of long-term unemployment for young people.
“Policy measures need to focus primarily on this group, to support them into a quality education, training or work experience that leads to sustainable and decent employment”, he said.
He went on to raise concerns about the Youth Guarantee Scheme and how it needs a reboot to help deal with the issue.
“The scheme is designed to ensure that any young person unemployed for four months or more is guaranteed a quality education, training or work experience place. A renewed emphasis on this valuable scheme, and the political will to implement it fully, is urgently needed,” concluded Mr Doorley.
The USI praised Irish Muslim leaders who launched an anti-extremism declaration in Trinity College last week.
The Union of Students in Ireland, who has said that violence associated with religion has caused a negative and false stereotype to be inflicted on peaceful Muslims, applauded the Irish Muslim leaders who signed the declaration last Thursday evening.
USI President, Kevin Donoghue said, “The discrimination and stereotypes faced by foreign nationals and Muslims because of extremists is unfair, unjust and largely unfounded, as can be seen in shocking documentaries like RTE’s I Am Immigrant”.
“It is a shame that the Muslim leaders feel the need to speak out against extremism and violence, to disassociate themselves from it and to guide Muslims in a different, peaceful direction,” he added.
The declaration was first officially signed by visiting Muslim speaker Shaykh Fakhruddin Owaisi, chairmen of the Council of Sunni Imams in Cape Town, South Africa.
Both Shaykh Owaisi and Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri, chairman of the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council were speakers at the TCD seminar ‘Preventing radicalisation within the Muslim community’, which was organised by the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council, IMPIC, to coincide with the launch.
The anti-extremism declaration was drawn up by IMPIC to ensure that all visiting Islamic speakers to Ireland preach peacefully and respectably.
It says, “I believe that terrorism is never a legitimate and honourable act of war, but is always a cowardly act of indiscriminate murder. I believe that the sanctity of human life overrides the sanctity of religious laws”.