Trinity students to end protest after college agrees plans to divest from Israeli companies

Protest led to shutdown of city centre campus, including Book of Kells, since last Friday

Students taking part in an encampment protest over the Gaza conflict on the grounds of Trinity College in Dublin. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Student protesters are to end their encampment at Trinity College Dublin over the institution’s ties to Israel following talks with university management.

The campus in Dublin city centre, which hosts the Book of Kells, has been closed to the public since Friday night when students erected tents near the tourist attraction in protest against the universities ties to Israel.

Trinity College Dublin said on Wednesday evening that plans were being put in place to return to normal university business for staff, students, and members of the public.

As part of a deal with students, the university has confirmed plans announced last week to fully divest from three Israeli companies in which it held investments as part of its endowment funds.

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In addition, Trinity said it will “endeavour to divest from investments in other Israeli companies”, which will be considered by a newly taskforce which will include student and staff representatives.

Trinity’s senior dean Prof Eoin O’ Sullivan, who led the talks for Trinity, said: “We are glad that this agreement has been reached and are committed to further constructive engagement on the issues raised. We thank the students for their engagement.”

Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) president said László Molnárfi said the college’s statement was a “testament to grassroots student-staff power”.

Protesters, including members of Trinity College Students’ Union and the college branch of the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, had been in talks with university management over recent days.

Among the protesters’ demands were that the university remove Israeli companies – which feature on a UN Human Rights Council list of firms linked to illegal Israeli settlements – from its endowment fund investments and begin divesting from other Israeli institutions linked to the occupied territories.

They also called for a review of academic ties to Israeli institutions and support for Palestinian students via scholarships.

Students encamped in TCD in protest at the university’s ties with Israel will stay “indefinitely, until our demands are met”, a spokesman for the group said.

The university has committed to set up a taskforce to review Trinity’s student exchanges with Israel. This new group will have an external chair and will include student and staff representatives.

It also confirmed that it has identified eight places for Gazan scholars to study at the college, eight scholars – six postgraduate and two undergraduates.

The university said it has been working since January with local and international stakeholders to facilitate access to Trinity for students from Gaza seeking to continue their education.

The shutdown of the campus – which has lasted for five day so far – is understood to carry steep costs for the university.

The Book of Kells is estimated to generate a weekly income somewhere in the region of about €350,000 a week for the college during the busy summer period.

Trinity’s provost Dr Linda Doyle said in a recent message to students last week that the university could not survive solely on Government funding and had to find other sources of income.

Trinity College Dublin protest: What links does the Irish university have to Israel?Opens in new window ]

“It would be great if that were not the case, but this is our reality. The income from the Book of Kells is therefore not ‘nice to have’ additional income,” she said.

“It is the income that keeps the university going and it supports initiatives such as the student hardship fund. Any loss of income at the Book of Kells directly affects our ability to deliver services for our students, not to mention our legal obligation to financially balance the books.”

She added that while management had no problem with protest, the rules of the university stated that protest was not permitted to disrupt the normal operation of activities in college.

It led to management handing a €214,000 fine to TCSDU last week, mentioning five dates on which protests were cited for partial losses of college income.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent