Clashes follow Dublin protest


Clashes between gardaí and protesters broke out today after tens of thousands of students held a march in Dublin city centre against increases in registration fees.

About 2,000 people gathered on Merrion Row close to the Department of Finance after the main 25,000-strong march on Leinster House.

Bricks, eggs and placards were thrown at the building and a group of about 20 protesters made it inside. Gardaí later ejected them.

Gardaí in riot gear drew their batons and mounted officers were deployed during clashes with the main body of protesters. A number of people suffered injuries during the violence.

Three people were arrested. One man was charged this evening with public order offences while another was charged with criminal damage. Both are in their twenties and will appear before Dublin District Court in the coming weeks. The third person was released without charge.

The clashes broke out at approximately 3pm and lasted until 3.45pm when the Garda riot squad, dog unit and mounted police forced the violent protesters, some carrying banners for the Socialist Workers Party and others linked to republican socialist group Eirigí, on to nearby Stephen’s Green.

Some protesters suffered cuts to the head and bloody noses during the scuffles.

At least three people were arrested.

Up to 25,000 students from colleges across the State had joined today's march and one section of the crowd held a sit-down protest at the gates of Leinster House on Kildare Street. The sit-down protest passed off peacefully.

The Union of Students of Ireland, which organised the protest, distanced itself from those who occupied the Department of Finance.

"USI is saddened by the actions of a small minority of people who staged a sit-in protest at the Dept of Finance, shortly after the USI protest march today. This anti-social behaviour was completely separate from USI’s demo," it said in a statement.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen today refused to be drawn on the possible reintroduction of third-level fees in next month’s budget.

Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Cowen said he was not in a position to divulge any discussions taking place in Cabinet on the various adjustments to be made. “We have to look at all of these issues,’’ he said.

Mr Cowen was challenged on the issue by Labour leader Eamon Gilmore in advance of today’s march.

Mr Gilmore said there was a commitment in the revised programme for government which said there would be no new scheme of student contribution for third-level education. He said that had been interpreted by the Green Party as meaning that fees would not be reintroduced by the backdoor by way of an increase in the student registration fee.

Last week, USI president Gary Redmond said a rise in the registration fee would have a major impact on students.

“I think we’re looking at a horrendous situation where parents and families are going to have to decide which, if any, of their children can go to college in future.”

As well as the registration fee, which currently stands at €1,500, Mr Redmond noted that individual colleges also charged an additional levy of between €150 and €350 for student centres and other facilities.

The Irish Times understands that both student grants and increases in registration fees are likely in this year’s budget as the Department of Education attempts to find ways to reduce its spending.