As the anti-fees offensive heats up, a recently formed student campaign group in UCD, Free Education for Everybody (FEE), staged a protest on Monday the 20th of October against the arrival of Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan, on campus. Mr. Lenihan was chairing a function at the Clinton Institute in Belfield. President of the UCD SU, Aodhan O’Dea, said that “UCD Students’ Union supported the protest.”
Students obstructed the entrance and the minister was forced to enter the building via a side door amidst chants of “No cutbacks, no fees, no Fianna Fail TDs” and “This government has disgraced themselves”. The protest turned violent when students attempted to break through a metal fence surrounding the building. Scuffles broke out and three people were arrested for breaches of the peace. Dan O’Neill, Deputy President and Campaigns Officer of UCD SU, was one of the three targeted by the Gardai. His version of events was, “We sat down on the road to block the Minister’s car as had been planned and then the Gardai dragged me and two others out of the line and threw us into a patrol car.” However, they were released immediately with only a caution. No charges were made.
Government ministers and TDs had previously been warned by students to expect protests if they decide to visit UCD while the debate on third-level fees continues. Speaking to the University Observer in UCD, Paul Murphy, a student campaigner said, “If these ministers are going to try to block students’ access to college, then we’re going to send them a message when they come out to colleges.” He added that, “political guests shouldn’t be able to just waltz into colleges, speak at meetings and not hear the response of students which is opposition to fees.”
Prior to Monday evening’s events, a protest had been planned against a proposed visit by Minister of State, Martin Mansergh, on the 7th of October. Mr. Mansergh had been due to speak at a Law Soc debate. The campaigners had envisaged a “peaceful protest of students angrily giving a message to Minister Mansergh.” However, half an hour before the debate, word reached Belfield that the Minister had pulled out. Deciding to persevere with the protest nonetheless, over 50 people marched from outside the Library, up through the concourse and into the Arts Block where they rallied outside Theatre M.
A meeting was held afterwards to organise an official student campaign group, which was christened Free Education for Everybody (FEE). A member of the new group, Julian Brophy commented – “Martin Mansergh withdrew from the debate at the last minute upon hearing of the student mobilisation against fees. This is a clear indication that the government and its representatives are unable to provide adequate answers for the students whose education is going to be compromised if fees are reintroduced.”
In 2002-2003, the then Minister of Education Noel Dempsey had to withdraw his proposal to bring back college fees after a wave of student unrest.
Julian Brophy added, “For too long we have had our backs against the wall fighting against the step-by-step increase in the privatisation of education. We need to start forcing the government to respond to our agenda rather than responding to theirs. It is up to the students to send out a strong message that they are not prepared to have their education right based on their financial circumstance.”