ABOUT 10,000 placard-carrying and slogan-chanting students took to the streets of Dublin to protest the possible reintroduction of third-level fees.
The march, which brought Dublin’s city centre to a standstill, proceeded from Parnell Square to Leinster House where the students were addressed by Union of Students of Ireland president Shane Kelly and opposition TDs.
In a colourful protest, students carried placards with witty slogans, banged drums and blew whistles. Despite a heavy Garda presence, the protest passed off peacefully and without incident.
Although it was not part of the budget measures announced last week, university presidents have been pressuring the Government to bring back college fees. However, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan instead decided to increase annual the college registration fee by €600. But among the protesting students there was a clear sense of unease the return of fees was not far away.
The USI, which organised yesterday’s protest, claims that the return of fees would spell disaster for students and their families.
Shane Kelly, USI president, said the gathering proved the strength of student power. “We are under attack. The concept of universality is under attack. The concept of equality under attack. The concept of fairness is under attack. But we will fight back,” he said.
Fine Gael’s education spokesman, Brian Hayes, chided Batt O’Keeffe in his absence.
“They tell me the Minister for Education is in China today to see how they treat the students there. You know how they treat their students there,” he said.
He said the increase in registration fees was a threat to the policy of free tuition. “It’s the reintroduction of [tuition] fees through the back door.”
He also accused the Government of slipping in another cutback to third-level education in the budget by failing to sanction any increase in maintenance grants to keep pace with inflation.
Labour’s spokesman on education, Ruairí Quinn — Minister for Finance in the government that abolished third-level fees — reminded the crowd that student protest had a proud history in Ireland.
However, he told the crowd they needed to back up their street protest with action on the home front and at the ballot box. He urged them to flood the clinics of their local Fianna Fáil TDs with visits and letters demanding a reversal of the registration fee hike and told them to ask their parents and grandparents to do likewise.
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