Almost 6,000 students from Munster gathered in Cork today to voice their united opposition to a re-introduction of third-level fees.
The action followed smaller-scale protests held across the country since August when the Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe hinted at the return of fees.
Students from University College Cork (UCC) and Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) teamed up with others in the region to create the alliance Munster Students Against Fees (MSAF), including student representatives from University of Limerick, Limerick Institute of Technology, Mary Immaculate College, Institute of Technology Tralee and Waterford Institute of Technology.
Representatives from MSAF along with the Union of Students’ Ireland (USI) president Shane Kelly gathered from 10am at CIT and UCC in a show of solidarity.
CIT students gathered at 10.30am at their Bishopstown campus where a giant paper machè model of the Minister for Education was loudly booed.
They walked down Model Farm Road and College Road to join UCC’s student body at 11am along with hundreds of students from Limerick, Waterford and Kerry.
The student mass then made their way down to Cork City centre, along Bachelors Quay and up Patrick Street, before convening on the Grand Parade.
Blowing whistles and brandishing placards, the protesting students wore orange T-shirts which read, ‘Munster Students Against Fees’ on the front and ‘No To Fees’ on the back.
CIT Students’ Union President Gearóid Buckley explained: “This protest is the climax of our anti-fee campaign so far. However, it is important people are aware that this is not the end.
“We will fight to protect the interests of our students both present and future and we will continue to campaign against the Minister's batty policies.”
UCC Students’ Union president Cal Dioliún said he feared any reintroduction of fees, no matter to which level of income earner, would trickle down through to all students.
He said: “I strongly urged all students to demonstrate their strength of feeling by marching on Cork today. Its important that students show they will not be scapegoats for Governmental and university misspending.”
The students’ union presidents have made clear that they felt the increase in registration fees this year at the colleges by €75 was also unacceptable.
Annie Duggan, 20, from Grange, Co Cork, a second-year CIT business student, said today: “If they bring in fees I won’t be able to continue my studies at college. I won’t end up doing the career that I want to do.”
Emer Barry, a 21-year-old CIT business student from Bishopstown, Co Cork, added: “The ordinary student costs including books and accommodation demand enough of money without having to pay fees on top.”
Brien Mullins, 19, a software development student from Ballincollig, Co Cork, said: “I work all summer to get by and pay the registration fee that goes up every year. I get by through living at home and driving to college, so I wouldn’t be able to afford the fees.”
A spokesperson for the Minister for Education said students should be aware any move to reintroduce fees would only affect students from high-income backgrounds where parents earned in excess of €120,000.
Commenting on the protest today, the spokesperson said: “The Minister welcomes all constructive and informed input from all sides in what is an important national conversation on the future of the higher education sector in Ireland.”
Article courtesy of The Evening Echo newspaper