Hundreds of Irish students have been forced to accept free food boxes because they cannot afford to eat, it has emerged.
An estimated 150 students at Athlone Institute of Technology in the midlands have had to rely on charity food after their grant payments were delayed. Students in Galway have also been provided with food boxes.
A government failure to pay student grants has been blamed for chronic poverty among students across the 26 Counties. Over 10,000 students are believed to be still waiting on their first grant payment of the year from the centralised Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) body.
Lengthy and bureacratic new application procedures have apparently been designed with the goal of reducing the number of students availing of grant entitlements.
SUSI has insisted any decision to stop grants has been a result of the students’ failure to provide the right documentation.
The Student Union President at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology said students had been gong hungry.
“They were basically saying that they had come in to college that morning at 8.30am after a light breakfast or a bowl of cereal at home and literally did not have anything to eat until maybe 6pm or 7pm that evening because they financially just couldn’t afford it,” said Joe O’Connor.
He said several local food outlets had helped to supply produce for the boxes. He also warned that some students may receive no grant payment before the end of the academic year.
“There’s a certain degree of progress but it’s almost too late in the day to save the situation this year,” he said.
Meanwhile, President of NUI Galway Students’ Union Paul Curley said students at the university had been seeking support from St Vincent de Paul services in the city.
“By definition of qualifying for financial support, it means that no other support is available,” he said. “Their families don’t have the means to support them and part time jobs are few and far between. It really is at crisis point and it will result in more students dropping out of college.”
The student grant system has been one of the chief targets for cuts by the Labour/Fine Gael government as part of the EU-mandated national austerity drive.
A battery of cutbacks were announced last month in the government’s annual budget, and are now beginning to be implemented.
Among the cuts to be introduced in the last few days are the removal of health services, nursing and disability services from tens of thousands needing care across the country. It was announced that from this week, up to 40,000 medical cards will be cancelled, and that cuts to services for the disabled and older people will be up to four times that previously envisaged.
Meanwhile, emigration remains at so-called ‘famine levels’ of around 200 per day, while scandals over profound inequality in the 26 County state have continued.
In a survey, more than 40 per cent of charities have admitted that their chief executives appropriate over 100,000 euro ($132,000) for themselves in salary payments every year.
It was also confirmed that the retiring chief executive of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), which represents Irish doctors and consultants, is to receive an extraordinary lump sum payment in excess of 1.5 million euro, as well as a multi-million-euro pension fund.
In other news, salaries for new nurses and midwives have been cut by 20% relative to their peers.
Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald said pay inequity in healthcare was “rife”, and that the Labour Party had now abandoned any notion of equal pay for equal work.
“Those at the top of the service continue to be paid substantially more than European counterparts, including hospital consultants and senior administrators,” she said.
“If the HSE or any other government department or agency are serious about reducing pay and pension expenditure, significant savings can be found by addressing excessive pay at the top. Instead the Tanaiste has chosen to protect high rollers and target those at the very bottom of the public sector pay grades.
“To be blunt it is incomprehensible that a Labour party leader would not only deepen pay inequity in the public sector, but would also robustly defend such a decision.”