Students occupy Government building to protest cuts

A GROUP of university students occupied a room in the Department of Finance for three hours in protest at education cutbacks yesterday morning.

Their peaceful protest came as thousands of students plan to take the streets of Dublin today for one of the largest demonstrations in years. The students entered Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy’s department at around 8.30am yesterday, and locked themselves into a ground floor office in the Merrion Square building. After three hours, gardaí entered the room and brought them out.

Simon Meehan-Gray, a student at Maynooth NUI, said they were trying to highlight a number of issues. “We want the Government to implement the report of the Action Group on Third Level Education, which recommended a massive rise in grants and free fees,” he said. “Our other demands are that tuition fees should not be introduced and that Education Minister Noel Dempsey should reverse the 69% increase in college registration fees.”

He said no damage was done to the department building as it was a peaceful occupation and the gardaí were very courteous to the students. The others included students from Trinity College and UCD, none of them student union officers.

A Department of Finance spokesperson said it was business as usual for staff during the occupation.

A group of Union of Students in Ireland officers spent a number of hours inside the Department of Education building in Dublin in September, but have not had any legal action taken against them.

USI campaigns officer Noel Hogan said, while USI did not organise yesterday’s action, they fully support it.

“It’s no surprise that people will do something like this, it’s an example of what happens when students are treated unfairly,” he said.

Today’s USI protest is expected to bring several thousand students from colleges and universities around the capital. They will converge outside Government Buildings around lunchtime, as Charlie McCreevy prepares to deliver his first Budget speech since the coalition was returned to power.

Students fear further cutbacks to those already announced this year, including a 35% drop in building and other capital projects for third-level institutes.

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