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DIT’s introduction and reversal of Garda vetting for AFP students

DIT’s Access Foundation Programme (AFP) was mentioned in the Dáil and Seanad and over its controversial – and rapidly reversed – decision to introduce Garda vetting of future access students.

After public outcry from senators Lynn Ruane and John Dolan, as well as People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett and former access students, the decision was quashed.

DIT’s Access Programme is aimed at people from disadvantaged backgrounds and early school leavers. Its aim is to give its students the tools necessary to advance through third level education.

Unlike other access programmes, on successful completion of DIT’s AFP all successful students are offered a place in DIT”s undergraduate programmes. No other access programme in the country requires Garda vetting.

Speaking before the reversal, Boyd Barrett told the Dáil: “If you are from a disadvantaged community as a matter of course you will be Garda vetted. This is a specific form of discrimination against people from disadvantaged communities with the suggestion that somehow they are more prone to criminal behaviour.”

“Saying that one needs to have Garda clearance to go into these programmes is to start off with a stigma,” Senator Dolan said in the Seanad.

Condemnation also came from past access students of the programme. “It’s wrong, it doesn’t make sense and it’s illogical. It’s an elite access programme now,” former student Mia De Faoite said. “We can’t let it become the inaccessible programme. Not only the fact that it’s discriminatory, it undermines the values and beliefs of every lecturer who shared their mind with me and taught me how to think,”.

On successful completion of the AFP, Mia De Faoite went on to complete a degree in Philosophy and Sociology in Maynooth University. She is now studying for a Masters in Law degree (LLM) also in Maynooth.

In a letter to DIT’s President  Brian Norton, De Faoite urged the president to to reconsider implementing this new policy.   

Speaking to The Liberty, she said, “If I had seen Garda vetting on the application form I wouldn’t have filled it out because my life had been quite different back then. I had lead a very different life before hand. I found myself addicted to heroin in my early thirties. I fell into prostitution then I spent six years in the sex trade in Dublin while addicted to heroin.

“When I was taken off the streets by a social worker I spent the first nine months recovering from that medically and psychologically. I didn’t quite know what to do with my life. I wanted to rebuild my life but I didn’t know how.”

Another past student who chose not to be named said, “That programme made a huge difference in my life. I came out of prison after a fairly lengthy sentence. When I came out I was looking for some kind of direction in my life. I was looking for something positive to do.There is this mentality where I am from where we don’t go to college.

“It was a big barrier for me to overcome but the access programme gave me the confidence to go into third level education. I always wanted an education but I didn’t get the chance when I was younger. I did very well in that programme. I subsequently went on to do a degree and I graduated last year. I got a first class honours which shows I didn’t just go through the motions I actually applied myself and did very well.”

Within days of the decision being mentioned in both the Dáil and the Seanad, DIT quashed its decision. A statement issued on behalf of DIT said, “DIT Admissions has revisited an earlier decision to require Garda vetting at application stage for its Mature Student Access Foundation Programme.  The programme, which has been running since 2009, is the largest of its kind in Ireland and its graduates have gone on to further study in DIT and other higher education institutions at undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

“Taking on board feedback received, in particular from former students on the programme but also from its wider constituency, the Admissions Officer Frank Costello says there will not now be a requirement for Garda vetting at application stage.   He will be meeting with the Programme Committee to identify mechanisms to ensure that programme participants who express an interest in further study in certain areas – ie, where clinical practice, work placement, coaching or peer mentoring is a requirement – will be facilitated at an early stage to complete the vetting process to ensure their seamless transition into their degree programme of choice.”

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