Thousands of students hold Dublin protest over fees


Up to 20,000 students have marched through the streets of Dublin today in protest at the prospect of a hike student fees in the forthcoming Budget.

The “Stop Fees” protest march, organised by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), left Parnell Square shortly before 2.30pm.

Students marched down O'Connell Street and around College Green before the demonstration culminated in a rally outside Government Buildings on Merrion Street which ended at about 4.30pm.

Chanting "no ifs, no buts, no education cuts", marchers held placards and posters accusing the Government of breaking its pre-election pledge not to raise fees.

Many also voiced opposition at reports that the Coalition was considering a major scaling back of student grants and supports.

Gardaí said the march passed off peacefully and paid tribute to both participants and orgainsers. A considerable security operation was in place after some violent scenes marred a similar protest last year.

The Labour Party and Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore were the focus of much of the criticism coming from students.

Both Mr Quinn and Mr Gilmore said prior to the election that they would not stand over increases in students fees or charges if in Government and the crowd repeatedly urged both to "keep their promise". Student leaders said similar claims were made in the Fine Gael manifesto.

In his speech at the rally, Union of Students in Ireland president Gary Redmond told the crowd that both parties had gone into hiding when it came to the subject of fees since coming to power.

He said that thousands of students had voted for the parties on the back of their education pledges and that students would not be slow to punish them if they proved to be empty promises.

He said the State spent about €70 billion per year and that less than €1.5 billion of this was directed into higher education, which offered a strong return on the investment.

Almost 200 buses carried students from college campuses nationwide to the USI demonstration.

Mr Quinn today told the Dáil he is examining the Higher Education Authority report on funding for higher education and will discuss it with Government colleagues “as part of our budgetary deliberations”. He declined to be drawn on his pre-election pledge to reverse the increase in student registration fees.

Fianna Fáil education spokesman Brendan Smith highlighted Mr Quinn’s “commitment and strong pledge” to the USI that he would in Government reverse the 500 increase in student service charges and 200 charge for post-Leaving Certificate course and the Tánaiste’s commitment “a year ago that he was opposed to third level fees by either or front or back door”.

However, Mr Quinn rounded on the Cavan-Monaghan TD. “I don’t know how many times this has to be conveyed to the FF party. This country has lost its economic sovereignty. It was signed away 12 month ago by the Government of which you were a member," he said.

Speaking yesterday, Mr Quinn has said it would be misleading for him to make any promises regarding the funding of third-level education or on student fees ahead of the budget.

Yesterday, The Irish Times reported Mr Quinn favours increases to the €2,000 student contribution charge – rather than the return of college fees averaging more than €5,000.

However, other options – including a graduate tax – are also under discussion. Cuts in postgraduate research grants and maintenance support are also being considered. Fine Gael’s election manifesto also promised no further increase in third-level fees.