In recent days and weeks students have taken to the streets across the Twenty-Six County state to show their opposition to the proposed introduction of student fees, an increase in university registration fees and a widely expected cut to student grants, which was announced in the Budget today.
This year the student protests against the Budget began on Wednesday November 16 with a Union of Students in Ireland [USI], organised march attracting upwards of 20,000 onto the streets of Dublin city centre. The march was a relatively tame affair and made its way from the Garden of Remembrance to Merrion Square.
However it was clear on the day that there was real anger among students that the measures contained in the budget would negatively affect their prospects of a good education. As the march got to Merrion Square a section of the student body, disillusioned by the meek tactics of the USI leadership, broke away the march and led by student group Free Education for Everyone [FEE], staged a sit-down protest outside Fine Gael headquarters, sending a clear message to the Government that students would not take attacks on their education lying down.
Since the sit-down protest on November 16 there has been a notable rise in the militancy of the student movement. This has been expressed in a wave of occupations across the state.
On November 29 members of the USI occupied the Twenty-Six County department of jobs, enterprise & innovation and the department of social protection. At the department of jobs, enterprise & innovation, Students were threatened with pepper spray by members of the Gardaí, once again intent on using intimation and physical violence to confront any opposition to the state.
On November 30 members of the FEE campaign group in Galway occupied the constituency office of Fine Gael TD Brian Walsh. Two members of the group climbed onto the roof of the building with a large banner which read ‘Free Education – Nothing Less’ while several others entered the office and chained themselves to desks. Nine Students were arrested at the occupation and charged with ‘criminal trespass’. A FEE press statement on the occupation said: “We are engaging in non-violent direct action in a bid to make our voices heard. Marches are not enough, the different movements resisting austerity need to unite and engage in tactics that are not ignored.”
On Saturday [December 3] eight students from NUI Maynooth occupied the constituency office of Fine Gael TD Anthony Lawlor. Rob Munnelly, the president of the Students Union at NUI Maynooth said the students intend to stay there until their demands are achieved:
"We've got wood, nails, a toilet, enough food to last a few weeks, a change of socks, a change of clothes…We've even got a chimney,” he said.
“If it comes to Christmas and we're still here, family can come and visit us. We are here for the long haul.
"One of two things will happen. One is that (Kildare North) Deputy Lawlor will keep his campaign promise and not vote for a Budget that will raise student fees or cut the grant. The other is that the Gardaí will come and drag us out. Those are the only two ways we're leaving.”
Welcoming the rise in student militancy, éirígí spokesperson Daithí Mac an Mháistir said, “For some time now we in éirígí have said that a campaign of mass civil disobedience and direct action is needed to resist the neoliberal agenda of the Twenty Six County Government.
“éirígí welcomes the direct action that has been taken by students and the rise in student militancy. We fully support the demand for a free education for everyone. The direct action taken by students in defence of their education should act as an inspiration to all those struggling against cutbacks imposed by the government.”
Daithí continued, “We also welcome the statement by the FEE campaign that ‘the different movements resisting austerity need to unite and engage in tactics that are not ignored’. We agree with this analysis.
“éirígí commends the action of the students and calls for them to get involved in the growing fightback that is currently being built ,street by street, community by community. The student movement should not to stand aloof from the struggles of workers, the unemployed, the elderly, but become actively involved with them and join the wider struggle for the establishment of an Irish Socialist Republic.”
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