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).