Rain did not dampen the spirits of the few hundred gathered to protest the diversion of €12 million from the mental health budget outside the Kildare entrance of Dáil Éireann today. The Union of Students in Ireland along with local SUs had encouraged students to make their voices heard on an issue that hugely effects young people.
The proposed budget decision follows in the shadow of a supposed €35 million put aside for new developments in mental health in the last government budget.
Kevin O’ Donoghue, President of the USI, was the first to address the vast crowd. He spoke about riling up the general population to advance the mental health case. He encouraged them to “talk to their TDS and get (their) mums to talk to (their) TDs too.”
O’ Donoghue spoke to Trinity News afterwards highlighting the “consistent underfunding of mental health services.” He went on to point out the two things that the USI and Mental Health Reform were looking for, “give us the money back (and) treat mental health the way it should be treated.”
Conor Clancy, current welfare officer of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union lead chants and spoke strongly on the issue. “Today is important because it’s not being recognised at the top level, because the grassroots movements is going to change that”, he said.
“We’re going to be the people who are going to show the Dáil that mental health needs to be a priority for the health budget.” He highlighted how the proposed reverted funds are “a step in the wrong direction.”
Clancy finished, stating that “I am here today because there are thousands of people around the country who can’t make it today, we will stand up for your mental health services, your classmates, your families, your children, everyone who needs this care, everyone who will be affected by it.”
Aoibhinn Loughlin, TCDSU welfare officer-elect expressed how vital governmental support for mental health is for work done by the students’ unions. “At the end of the day if we don’t have the support outside of the one-on-one casework that we do in the students’ union office then a lot of people will suffer”, she said.
TCDSU president-elect Kieran McNulty referenced the #IAmAReason campaign and other past efforts by the USI and other students’ unions, stating “we need to show them the individual reasons…we’ve put a lot of work into making sure it is a priority over the last few years so this is really disgraceful and undercutting of lot of the work that we have done.”
Many high profile advocates for social change were in attendance at the protest today to show their support, including Colm O’ Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland and Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald.
Social media had been awash with outrage from the student community over the past week with many students taking to the #IAmAReason campaign which involves the addition of a twibbon over their profile pictures.
The strength of the ‘IAmAReason campaign is yet to reach its peak and is certainly contesting with the marriage equality campaign which engaged younger voters like no political issue has ever before.
In light of a recent RSCI study on mental health, it was found that 75% of mental health difficulties arise before the age of 25 and with 1 in 7 adults in Ireland experiencing a mental health difficulty last year, the proposed cut of €12 million is as contentious an issue as ever.
Photograph by Una Harty