Roughly 20,000 students took part in the “Stop the Fees, Save the Grant” march organised by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) this afternoon, reports Katie Hughes.
The march started at the Garden of Remembrance, continued down O’Connell Street, through College Green and ended outside the Government Buildings, close to where the evening’s sleep-out is being held.
USI President Gary Redmond considered the protest a success and commended students on “[sending] the message very loudly and clearly to the Minister and indeed to the Government that pre-elections promises must be kept”.
The protest was for the most part peaceful, despite some egg-throwing incidents, which according to UCD Students’ Union Campaigns and Communications Officer Brendan Lacey, “isn’t the worst, we didn’t want that kind of thing but you know, a few eggs being thrown is a far cry from what happened last year”.
Redmond maintains that the campaign is far from over and that he intends to see the Labour Party honour their pledge of opposing and campaigning against “any new form of third level fees including student loans, graduate taxes and any further increase in the Student Contribution”.
Lacey echoed these sentiments, saying that “over 10,000 students have used tellyourtd.com and made their feelings known to TDs across the country … even Ruairi Quinn’s tune has changed, although the postgraduate cuts are a crippling blow … we’re taking cuts all the time, we’re taking hits all the time but we’re still campaigning towards the end result and we’re still hopeful and we’re still fighting and I think the campaign is having a telling result, the pressure seems to be hitting home”.
Redmond stated that the Gardaí were pleased with calibre of behaviour at the march, with the Chief Superintendent in charge of the protest intending to issue a press release commending student behaviour.
A breakaway group of Free Education for Everyone (FEE) members was reported to have been blocking the entrance to the Fine Gael National Headquarters at one point during the march. Lacey defended FEE, stating that he did not believe that “FEE, from UCD in particular, from the people that I’ve spoken with would have had any ill-intention towards the march, they seemed very genuine in that regard”. He acknowledged their status as one opposing third level fees and concluded that the only difference was that “they’re doing it in a way that I wouldn’t do sometimes, that’s their free prerogative”.
A sleep-out on Molesworth Street is scheduled for this evening. 1,000 students are expected to attend as that is the maximum capacity of the venue. Lacey is positive that the event will serve to “really drive home the message, it’ll give us that little bit more media attention all through the morning”.
Redmond is also eagerly anticipating the event, expecting it to go as smoothly as the afternoon’s march, “we had a very peaceful protest today, we were exceptionally well prepared, the protest passed off without incident and I expect the sleep-out to do the same”.