25,000 protest against fees increase


IN THE largest student protest for a generation, at least 25,000 voiced their opposition to increased student fees outside the Dáil yesterday.

As he surveyed the vast crowd on Merrion Street, the president of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) Gary Redmond declared: “The sleeping giant that is the student movement has been awoken.’’

For too long, he said, students had been a sitting target for the Government, but the movement had been reinvigorated and they would no longer roll over.

Pointing their fingers accusingly towards Leinster House, the students chanted “I am a Vote, I am a Vote” for several minutes. It was a powerful moment during a protest which seemed at times like a throwback to student resistance in the 1960s.

The scale of the protest, organised hurriedly after weekend reports of a threatened €3,000 student charge, appeared to take even the USI by surprise. It estimated that over 40,000 attended the event. Protesters wore yellow T-shirts bearing the slogan Education Not Emigration.

A feature of the protest was the large number of students from the Letterkenny, Tralee, Limerick and Galway/Mayo institutes of technology.

Virtually every third-level college in the State – university and institute of technology – appeared to be represented. In all, over 200 buses ferried students from campuses all over the Republic. The protest took over 90 minutes to make the short journey from Parnell Square to Merrion Street.

In his address, Mr Redmond exhorted students to return to their lecture halls and their college libraries with a new determination to face down education cuts.

Despite the clashes which would later mar the event, the main protest was notable for its good humour and bonhomie.

Needing little cajoling from the main speakers, the crowd delivered its own rendition of Oh Mary, Why Don’t You Have Some Sense? – in this case the song was directed at Minister for Education Mary Coughlan.

Behind the good humour, the placards also reflected real concern about a grim future of unemployment or emigration. One said “Pay My Fees or Pay My Dole”; another read, “BA Hons not BA to London”.

In his address, Mr Redmond said the huge attendance reflected the fear among students about further increases in college fees.

“Thousands of students are already struggling to fund their college education, and any increases in fees will force many of these students to drop out of their courses. It will also prevent thousands of potential students from entering third-level education in the future,” he said.

Students, Mr Redmond added, are “the key to Ireland’s future prosperity”. We have, he said, sent a “clear message that we will not stand idly by while being targeted in the budget”.

The USI later blamed “left-wing’’ groups for the “destructive and anti-social violence” which it said would only divert attention from its campaign against increased student fees. Mr Redmond said: “This anti-social behaviour was completely separate from USI’s protest.’’