After the protest day of action largely failed to come to fruition, Sarah Costigan examines the student perspective on the event.
Last month, an overwhelming proportion of students (81 per cent of those who voted) decided to hold a day of protest of a slightly different kind. Instead of pounding the city streets with banners, students voted to skip classes to show their dissatisfaction at the prospect of third-level fees.
This event was orgranised to coincide with a national day of protest which other trade unions around the country planned to participate in. Students voted not to go to class, however it was assumed that many lectures would be cancelled, as those teaching would be outside the university gates protesting against the government-introduced pension levy.
When it transpired that the other unions chose government talks over public protest, the students were left with an unshakeable call for action. Now mandated by the majority of students who voted, the day of inaction went ahead as planned. Students were asked not to attend class and instead join in organised rallies and a demonstration by the lake.
However, as the academic staff of the university were not striking, and with the countdown to exams beginning, many students chose to attend lectures and tutorials and the ‘day of protest’ admittedly lost a lot of its bit.
That said, approximately 200 students turned up to the lake during their lunch time, where President of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) Shane Kelly and President of the UCD section of SIPTU, Kieran Allen were present. However, considering the large percentage of students who voted for this ‘day of action’, The University Observer set about gauging the real feeling of students on the ground about this event.
A majority may have ticked the ballot boxes yet most students wavered in their support of the day of inaction. First year History and Politics student, Jason Armstrong, was skeptical about the very idea of such a protest. “You’re fighting for free education, but you’re willing to deprive people [of classes] who may not care as much about the fighting.”
First year Medicine student Benjamin Boyle echoed this point of view, stating, “I’d like to say it’s good but I think it just disrupted classes. For [medical students] anyway, we have exams coming up so it’s just going to put back a few of the classes.”
But there were also students who held an opposing viewpoint. First year Irish and Music student, Saibh Feeney student said that she voted in favour of the protest. She voted ‘yes’ to “show that the students have the right to state their opinions.”
One point of confusion in the minds of a large amount of students appears to be why the Free Education for Everyone group (FEE) encouraged students to skip potentially one of their last days of free education to stress the importance of free education?
Some students couldn’t “see the point” in a student strike, with one stating, “we’re the ones availing of free education. Striking is for workers providing a service, we’re availing of a service, and a very important one at that. I don’t think that it’s a good idea”.
Although students voted for a day of completed shutdown, the way the day transpired, the shutdown was barely noticeable to many.
First year Medicinal Chemistry student, Carole Quigley argued that, “it’s not a real shut down, my lecturers are still giving lectures and I attended them.” A similar comment was stated one class representative, who said, “Personally, I wouldn’t skip any lectures.”
Although they are running on different motivations, the point is that both of these students and many others attended lectures and tutorials that day, thus destroying the potential of a full shutdown.
The shutdown is presumably an event that FEE has given much time and thought but it’s also an event that many students were relatively oblivious to.
During this interview, it became clear that some of the interviewees hadn’t received a lot of information about the day of protest. However, some blamed the lack of information they had on their own initiative.
Many students appeared to feel that they left somewhat in the dark about the planned events of the protest day. While the amount of information on the subject was easily available to the student body, it appears that their interest in both seeking that information and protesting was less so.