Students march against increased fees and grant cuts

 

UP TO 20,000 students marched through Dublin city centre yesterday to deliver a warning to the Government that they would not accept increases to student charges or cuts to grants in next month’s budget.

Gardaí said the protest, organised by the Union of Students in Ireland, had passed off peacefully and resulted in no arrests. Third-level students from across the State participated in the march with buses ferrying groups to Dublin from Cork, Kerry, Donegal, Galway, Sligo and other areas.

Protesters began to gather at Parnell Square before lunchtime and departed at about 2.30pm for Government Buildings on Merrion Street, where the march culminated in a rally.

The march was led through the drizzle by four mounted gardaí and a group of drummers.

A considerable security operation was in place, with teams of gardaí and stewards blocking access to the protest route in an attempt to prevent a repeat of violence which marred a similar protest last November.

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and Taoiseach Enda Kenny were the focus of anger for many of the protesters, with placards and chants urging them to make good on pre-election promises not to increase student charges or introduce fees.

Chants of “Ruairí Quinn, keep your promise, Eamon Gilmore keep your promise, Enda Kenny keep your promise” and “No ifs, no buts, no education cuts” were repeated throughout the day.

In his address to the rally, Union of Students in Ireland president Gary Redmond accused the Coalition of falling silent on their pre-election pledges to students since entering Government.

“Time and time again we heard Fine Gael and Labour say this is a time for a new era in politics and this is time for a new Ireland,” he said. “Guess what? Nine months on and it’s the same old, same old . . . Shame on you.”

Mr Redmond questioned why it was only yesterday that it emerged from Mr Gilmore the last government had committed to “ensuring a greater student contribution towards tertiary education” in its bailout agreement with the EU-International Monetary Fund troika.

“If this is true, you would have known about it before the election. If it is true, why have you failed to mention it before now?” Mr Redmond asked. “If it is true, let’s see the proof, because we are sick of lies.”

Mr Redmond said only €1.3 billion of the €70 billion spent by the Government went to higher education, and he believed the sector delivered a strong return on the investment.

He said with student charges of €2,000, people in Ireland paid the second highest fees in the European Union, behind the UK.

However, he said, six out of 10 people in Ireland went into third-level education, but only three out of 10 did in the UK. He did not want a situation to develop here where only the “wealthy elite” would have access to higher education.

A senior garda said the operation surrounding the protest was a success, and paid tribute to organisers, participants, stewards and gardaí involved for not allowing other interests to “hijack” the protest. His sentiments were echoed by Mr Quinn.

A spokeswoman for Fine Gael said a breakaway group of protesters briefly gathered outside the party’s office on Upper Mount Street after the rally. They “sat on the ground” for a period before leaving, she said.