National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG) student union president Muireann O’Dwyer said the Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Minister stepped away from a security guard who was bringing him and one of his constituency staff through a door and grabbed hold of the student by his jacket.
She said there was no threat of violence or assault against the minister, as he had claimed there was, in the lead-up to the incident.
“He [the minister] was telling him, ‘You’re not making your point’ and ‘You’re acting like a child’.
“It went on for about a minute and at one point he was pushing him [the student] back,” she said.
The unnamed protester could not be contacted yesterday. Ms O’Dwyer said he was shaken up about the event but it is understood he has not made any complaint to gardaí about the matter.
The young man had climbed a railing to the top of a ramp which the minister and his female assistant had just walked up to gain entry through a small door, after being blocked by students at a number of other doors.
Mr Ó Cuív told RTÉ he was preventing himself and his assistant from being squashed into a corner. “We couldn’t allow ourselves be squashed in the corner. I had to hold somebody back while they got the door open and let us in a door of the university to get away from the mob,” he said.
The minister said there could have been an assault on him or his assistant. His spokesperson said Mr Ó Cuív would not be making a complaint to the gardaí but she reiterated last night that he was protecting himself and his assistant.
Another student Breandán MacGabhann also contested the minister’s account.
“Mr Ó Cuív turned around and grabbed him and tried to push him back. There was no question of him being pushed into a corner,” he said.
Mr O Cuív claimed some of the students involved were among a group who occupied his constituency office in Galway city last Thursday, which left many of his staff distressed, including the woman accompanying him on Tuesday night.
Mr MacGabhann claimed he was earlier pushed out of the way by Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe as he was being escorted into the college to the same function. He said it was not forceful enough to warrant a complaint to gardaí, but that he was surprised a minister would behave in what he described as “such an undignified manner”.
However, Mr O’Keeffe’s spokesperson denied he pushed anybody and said it was unavoidable that there would be physical contact as he was faced with a crowd of protesters blocking his entry to the college.
The university has started an investigation and strongly condemned the actions of those involved in the incident, in which it said both ministers were put in a threatening position.
A spokesperson said disciplinary action will be taken in line with NUIG’s code of conduct if the minority of protesters who behaved aggressively can be identified and if they are students of the college.