UCD Students’ Union Campaigns and Communications Vice-President Pat de Brún has expressed his anger at the rioting that erupted at the November 3rd USI protest.
De Brún said that while the march itself went well, it was overshadowed by the acts of minority groups on Merrion Row: “I was delighted with the event, but the point was undeniably overshadowed by violence and the riot, which is really unfortunate.”
The turnout on the day was said to have been close to 40,000, making it the biggest student demonstration since 1964. De Brún says this “shows that students do care about this and they’re willing to act”.
The protest, which was intended to be peaceful, took a chaotic turn when a group of students broke off from the main crowd and caused disturbances outside the Department of Finance. This incident, among others outside the Dáil, led to Garda intervention and the outbreak of a small riot. However, it is still unknown whether or not the gardaí intervention was warranted due to mixed reports.
It is understood that these were members of student activist groups Free Education for Everyone (FEE) and Students in Solidarity (SIS). FEE organised a peaceful protest on November 10th against what they regarded as Garda brutality at the USI protest.
SIS member Conall O’Dufaigh, a witness to the event, described the members of the gardaí present as “acting like animals.”
O’Dufaigh said: “We were amazed by the number of students who joined us,” and estimated the breakaway group at almost 2,000 students. O’Dufaigh said the breakaway was organised in protest at the “failures” of the USI leadership.
When asked to comment on the matter, de Brún said: “These groups can talk about leadership and doing the right thing for students, but they’re not elected, they represent a tiny minority,” he said, before adding: “USI and students’ unions act on a big mandate from students and we represent the majority.”
However, de Brún did not deny that the riot had an impact: “In my opinion, the general public still doesn’t have a clue about the issues, because every headline was about the riot.”
De Brún says that it is too early to say whether or not the gardaí overreacted: “I’ve seen videos which have led me to believe that the police out of nowhere attacked students. Some others would lead me to believe that the police reacted after things were hurled at them, but at the end of the day, I can’t really make a definitive decision on whether the police overreacted or not until I see the Garda Ombudsman report.”
It was estimated that 25,000 students took to the streets of Dublin for the demonstration, which was to protest against the proposed rise in the registration fee, which is currently €1,500.