College to investigate Ahern protest

 

NUI GALWAY (NUIG) has initiated an internal investigation into protests on campus which led to the abandonment of a public interview with former taoiseach Bertie Ahern on Monday night.

The university says it may take disciplinary action against any students involved. Both it and the college’s students’ union have also “strongly condemned” the actions of the participants.

However, the students’ union said the actions of both the Garda and a small number of protesters were “unnecessary”.

Mr Ahern, who has been relying on a crutch due to a leg injury, was visibly shaken after he was jostled en route to a lecture hall in the college concourse shortly before 8pm on Monday. He had been due to take part in a public interview and to receive the president’s medal from the college Literary and Debating Society, but a decision was taken by auditor Dan Colley to cancel the event.

However, Mr Ahern did not leave the lecture hall until gardaí and college authorities could organise his exit.

An 18-year-old man who had been arrested during the protest against the re-introduction of college fees was released without charge from Mill Street Garda station early yesterday. A file is being prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The students, who support the Free Education for Everyone campaign, said their actions aimed to be peaceful, and claimed gardaí had been rough with them during their initial demonstration at the college entrance. NUIG said in a statement it respected the right of all students to freedom of speech and to peaceful protest, but did not condone “protests that result in disorderly behaviour”.

“If protesters who behaved in a disorderly manner can be identified, and are indeed university students, disciplinary action will be taken in line with the code,” the college said.

NUIG students’ union said it believed “violent protest” was “never appropriate” and said it strongly condemned attempts to “stifle the activities of any student society on campus”.

NUIG students’ union president Muireann O’Dwyer said in a statement that the actions of both the Garda and a small number of protesters “were unnecessary”.

The incident was the third such demonstration on campus in recent months. Last December, scuffles occurred when Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe announced construction of a €50 million engineering building.

In mid-December Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Éamon Ó Cuív was caught in the middle of a protest and was accused of “manhandling” a protester. Mr Ó Cuív has been invited to participate in an NUIG Literary and Debating Society debate tomorrow on whether student protests have gone too far.

However, the society and the students’ union were meeting on the issue yesterday.

A spokeswoman for the Minister said that he was still very happy to attend the debate, and felt it was the appropriate forum to debate the issue peacefully. However, the Minister would await the outcome of that meeting, the spokeswoman said.