Thousands rally in Dublin protest against student fees

Demonstrators warn of impact income contingent loans would have on young people

Close on 5,000 students have taken part in a USI organised national demonstration in Dublin city centre to warn the government of the impact of income contingent loans on students and young people. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

Students from across Ireland attended a protest in Dublin on Wednesday afternoon and heard calls from student leaders on the Government to increase investment in publically funded education.

The demonstration, called by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), took place with the backing of dozens of community, educational and grass-roots based organisations.

Despite conservative estimates of an attendance of 5,000 prior to the event, well over twice that figure took part in a procession which wound down O’Connell Street towards Government Buildings where protesters were addressed by a number of speakers.

Student bodies from Galway, Limerick, Cork, Sligo, Carlow and all the main Dublin colleges were represented as they heard organisers warn of the dangers of implementing an income-contingent student loan system similar to that which currently operates in the UK.

Such a scheme was mooted as a possible solution to funding problems in Ireland’s third-level sector in an expert report produced for the Government and overseen by former trade union secretary Peter Cassells earlier this year.

If approved, this option would see students asked to pay upwards of €20,000 back to the State once they reach a prescribed income threshold after graduation.

The protest was called in support of one of the three options outlined in last July’s report from the Expert Group on Future Funding for Higher Education, chaired by former union leader Peter Cassells.

The options set out in the Cassells report are: a higher education system funded by general taxation and no student contribution fee; an increase in State spending and the retention of the existing €3,000 student contribution charge; or an income-contingent loan scheme.

The USI supports the introduction of a model where the higher education system is funded by general taxation and has warned that an income-contingent loan system would create a two-tiered system of higher education, separating those who can afford education and those who cannot afford to pay for it.

Addressing demonstrators in Merrion Square, USI president Annie Hoey said access to free education is a fundamental right and accused the Government of “toying” with young people’s opportunities.

“Today we are parents, we are students, we are teachers, and we are coming together because we believe that education should be publicly funded,” she said.

“We can’t have a Government that stands up in the Dáil and proudly declares to the world that multinationals come here for our educated workforce and then have the God-damn audacity not to invest in that educated workforce.

“Imagine you were told to pay back any other public service over 30 years- pay your hospital bills over 30 years. How dare they,” added Ms Hoey, who estimated the crowd to be 15,000 strong.

Those in attendance also heard from mature student and mother-of-two Carly Bailey, who recently returned to education after losing her family home in the economic crash.

In a plea to the Government, she said: “Don’t create another policy that is detrimental to our young people. Don’t inflict debt on young people before they’ve even started. Don’t force even more of our young people to have to leave, and leave our communities dying.”

She spoke as students held aloft banners reading ‘Our future isn’t set, please don’t make it full of debt’ and ‘I can’t afford cheese, let alone fees’, and chanted of ‘No ifs, no buts, no education cuts’.

Those supporting the national demonstration included The National Parents Council PostPrimary, the National Youth Council of Ireland, ReachOut, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, ICTU Youth and Youth Work Ireland.

UCDStudents Union which is not a USI-affiliated union was also represented in the march as were students from third-level educational institutions from across the island.