Thousands protest over education charges

 

Gardaí estimate 15,000 students took to the streets of Dublin this afternoon to protest against increases in college registration charges and the potential reintroduction of third level fees.

The protest, organised by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), saw students from across the country gather in Parnell Square ahead of a march to Leinster House, where student leaders and Opposition politicians addressed the masses.

The protestors were angered by the 67 per cent increase to the student registration charge announced in last weeks budget and recent allusions to the reintroduction of third level fees by Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe.

Chants of "no cutbacks, no fees, no Fianna Fáil TDs" and "more fees means less degrees" were repeated by the protestors as they marched through the city centre to the beat of steel drums before congregating on Molesworth Street at around 2.30pm.

USI President Shane Kelly said he was delighted with the response from the students but that bhe was unimpressed by the response of the Government and the Minister for Education.

"There is an appetite among the student population to have their rights and their voice listened to," he said.

"The reason we are here today is because of the Ministers refusal to sit down and talk to students. He is very happy asking for our money but he doesn't want to listen to what we have to say on the subject. We are here as a representative organisation of 250,000 people demanding to meet with the Minister and the Department."

Mr Kelly said he was disappointed the Government had not sent a representative to address the rally and accused the coalition of using the extra charges levied on students to bulk up the State coffers rather than investing them in education.

Addressing the students, Labour Party education spokesman Ruairi Quinn said he was encouraged by their passion and that the Government should be wary because students are not prepared to lie down on this issue and accept the return of fees.

"It just shows how many students value free access to education and how wrong the Government would be to reverse the decision to bring in free fees," he said.

Mr Quinn urged students to take their concerns to their local Government TD and said they should be willing to listen as the potential for a number one vote was the currency that drove them in life.

He said the Government had buckled on the income levy and medical cards in recent days and that he believed with the right approach they would buckle on the education cuts contained in the Budget also.

Fine Gael education spokesman Brian Hayes also stressed the need for students to take their protests home and make their feelings known at grass roots level.

"Education is a right that should be extended to all, not just those who can afford it," he said.

"Young people should not have to pay the price for Fianna Fáil incompetence over the last 11 years," he said.