Hundreds gathered outside Leinster House on Thursday to protest the removal of €12 million from the State’s mental health budget for 2016.
Orchestrated protests were held in Dublin and Galway during Thursday afternoon to highlight the need to preserve the entire mental health budget of €35 million amid attempts to divert one-third of this funding towards other areas in the HSE.
The Kildare Street protest was organised by the Mental Health Reform advocacy group and the Union of Students in Ireland (USI).
It was attended by a number of TDs from Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin and some Independents.
Speaking to The Irish Times ahead of speeches by mental health campaigner Conor Cusack and entertainer Shane Gillen, Mental Health Reform director Shari McDaid called on the Government to reverse its decision.
“There is not spare capacity in the mental health services that can go elsewhere, there’s a huge demand for mental health supports and we think there are good ways that that money can be spent this year,” she said.
“I think the message is clear - people with mental health difficulties can’t wait until next year.The idea that we can wait around for new developments to happen doesn’t match the reality of the need on the ground.”
‘Cuts Cost Lives’
The crowds at the gates of Leinster House held signs saying “Cuts Cost Lives” and “Mental Health Can’t Wait”, while repeating a chorus of “No ifs, no buts, no mental health cuts”.
"What motivated me to come along is the amount of people I know who have mental health problems and who have committed suicide as well," said 23-year-old Ian MacGabhann from Blanchardstown.
"It disgusts me really, I think it's horrible to happen," said Michelle Bermingham (20), from Maynooth, when asked about the reallocation of the €12 million.
“Things are so bad in this country already with mental health and it’s going to make things 100 times worse,” she said.
Sinn Féin spokesman for health Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the funding diversion was “diabolical”.
“It was a raid, a plunder. It’s not unique, this has been happening year-on-year,” he said.
"That is absolutely wrong, it is diabolical, I absolutely reject it," he said, before calling on Minister for Health Leo Varadkar to protect the €35 million mental health budget in its entirety.
The demonstration also called for the next administration to make mental health a priority as government formation talks continue.