24 June, 2019 - Minister Mitchell O’Connor convenes a consultative meeting on substance abuse in Third Level Education at The Writers Museum, Parnell Sq.

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills with special responsibility for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D is today (24 June) bringing together higher education representatives, students’ unions, leaders in the area of drug rehabilitation and Gardaí from the National Drugs Strategy Unit, for a consultative meeting to discuss substance abuse in higher education institutes.  Minister Mitchell O’Connor recently attended two funerals of young students and made a solemn promise to parents she would look very seriously at this issue.  Minister Mitchell O’Connor is being joined at the meeting by Minister of State for Health Promotion and the National Drugs Strategy Catherine Byrne T.D.

The Minister said that “Students’ welfare is of paramount importance to me, as the Minister Higher education institutions have a duty of care to all their students. While recently travelling to universities and institutions, I am hearing more and more stories of the consequences of students’ abuse of substances. Getting caught in a spiral of substance abuse can affect students’ health, undermines their academic engagement, inhibits their progression in higher education and sadly has resulted in serious injury, or even death. These experiences are now commonplace and it is imperative that the Department of Education and Skills in intrinsically weaved into the solution. This is an incredibly serious issue and I want to hear first-hand from the experts in the field –  students, Department of Health representatives who are developing the ‘Healthy Campus’  initiative, drug workers, chaplains and medical professionals working in our institutions – how we limit the harm and give all our students the resources to navigate this difficult terrain.  Within our higher education institutes the student must come first.”

The Department of Health has been working on the development of a national ‘Healthy Campus’ initiative with the HEIs.  It is envisaged that a formal launch of the initiative could take place in Q4 2019.

The Minister added: “If all the institutions are to integrate such developments in their college policies, then the Department of Education and Skills needs to be front and centre to the implementation. We need to be facilitating the work of other Departments such as Health and Justice.

“This problem will only be tackled effectively by everyone working together. The third level State-funded institutions have a responsibility in this area, and many have programmes running within their institutions. I have asked colleagues from both NIU Galway and UCC to give the meeting today an outline of their student-based programmes.”

The Minister concluded: “I have a strong track record in promoting student health and wellbeing and earlier this year rolled out the ‘Framework for Consent in Higher Education Institutions’. This framework has been successfully advanced because we had great partnership from across the sector, including engagement and input from students. Students must also take responsibility in this area.

“I am looking forward to discussing at this meeting, how we can further support our students’ ability to successful negotiate the challenges they face around alcohol and drug use.”