25 September, 2019 - Minister Mitchell O’Connor establishes Rapid Response Group on Drug and Substance Abuse in Higher Education

Expert group tasked with developing action plan includes senior academics, Gardaí, students, parents and first responders within institutions

The Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D. today (25th September 2019) named the members of her Rapid Response Group that she has tasked with devising an action plan to deal with drug and substance abuse within the country’s higher education institutions. This work is in line with our Government’s National Drugs Strategy, ‘Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery’.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor said: “I have spent a huge amount of time meeting students, their parents and the people working at all levels in our higher education institutions. From all these discussions, it became clear to me that while some good work is being done at institution level, we were not doing enough in a planned and joined up way across the sector to counteract the negative impact of drug and substance abuse. Some students are suffering serious harm. Some are dying and lives are shattered. We all have a responsibility to protect and educate students and parents.”

The Minister continued, “I am taking a two strand approach to this issue. Initially I am setting up a group of experts, including academics, Gardaí, students and first responders within institutions, who are going to consider what the key issues that are facing us are, and what the solutions will be. They are going to report back to me within eight weeks.   I have also convened an extensive data gathering exercise for all higher education institutions which will be led by Dr Michael Byrne in UCC.   Currently statistics on drug use among students are anecdotal and I want a clear and accurate account as to what we are dealing with.

“It is my intention that this response will be embedded within the Healthy Ireland Healthy Campus initiative which is being rolled out within all our higher education institutions by the Department of Health later this year.”

The Minister concluded: “The work I have done to date within the Department has been to ensure there is a broader focus on the wellbeing of students, not just in terms of their educational progress. The Department of Education and Skills’ new strategy relates to fostering and promoting wellbeing of learners, not just to support success in learning but to support success in life.  This ethos has under-pinned my ministry and I am incredibly proud of the work I have accomplished to date on a consent framework for students and in promoting female academics and now in this challenging area.

“The completed roadmap and data gathering will give us the opportunity to build a sustainable strategy on how we message our young students around drug taking.  I want our initiative to also help us to drive home the message of responsible bystander intervention – always ‘step in’ when there is any indication that a friend or fellow student is at risk after consuming drugs by calling the emergency services. The messaging is important, but it is also critical that we work in partnership with institutions and groups to ensure the success of the final action plan.”   


Notes to Editors

Photos will issue direct to picture desks from Jason Clarke Photography following this event at 2pm.

The participants in the Minister’s Rapid Response Group.

Chairperson - Dr Andrew Power, Registrar and the Vice President of Equality and Diversity, The Institute of Art Design and Technology


  • Dr Michael Byrne, Head of Student Health Department, UCC
  • Dr Eamon Keenan, National Clinical Lead-Addiction Services, National Social Inclusion Office, HSE
  • Paul Moriarty, Director of Student Experience, UCC
  • Mai Fanning, President, National Parents Council Post Primary
  • John Hannon, Director of Student Services, NUI Galway
  • Fr Ben Hughes, Chaplin, NUI Galway
  • Róisín O’Donovan, Vice President Welfare Officer, USI
  • Jimmy McGovern, Seas Suas Programme Manager, NUI Galway
  • John O’Driscoll, Assistant Commissioner, Special Crime Operations, Gardai
  • Orla McPartlin, Assistant Commissioner, Community Engagement & Public Safety
  • Roisin O’ Connell, Head of Communications, THEA
  • Lia O’Sullivan, Head of Communications, IUA
  • Dr Jo-Hanna Ivers, Assistant Professor in Addiction, TCD
  • Professor Mary Cannon, Psychiatrist, RCSI
  • Terry Twomey, VP Academic Affairs & Registrar, LIT
  • Meabh McGuinness, Education Project Manager,  HSE (Healthy Ireland)
  • Gertie Raftery, Chairperson, Psychological Counsellors in Higher Education Ireland
  • Nicki Killeen, Development Worker, National Social Inclusion Office HSE



National Drugs Strategy – Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery

This work is in line with our Government’s National Drugs Strategy, ‘Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery’. This Strategy acknowledges the risks associated with drug use among young people, including the student population, and recognises the importance of high quality drug and alcohol education. It recommends that substance use education should be provided alongside wellbeing programmes, information campaigns and other preventative measures. Together these harm reduction, education and prevention measures provide young people with the tools to make informed choices to safeguard and improve their health and wellbeing.