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The decision was originally made by incoming Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar, who was replaced last week by Simon Harris as Minister for Health.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.