The Students Union President Conan O’Broin has started his year off in the way he plans to continue it – in protest to fees.
The SU President was among 30 Union of Students in Ireland (USI) Officers who slept outside government buildings. The ‘sleep-out’ marked the eve of the deadline Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe had set his Cabinet colleagues, to submit their views on his proposed implementation of fees.
A USI press release anounced that “hundreds” of “angry students” would be taking to the streets to oppose Minister O’Keefe’s plans. However, official numbers estimate the crowd to be approximetly 150 people. O’Broin has admitted that turnout “could have been better” but has said that the protest was a success.
O’Brion, who has met with over 30 TD’s to voice his concerns, is adamant that Minister O’Keeffe’s plans for fees are not right for the current situtaion. “It just won’t work, it’s as simple as that” explains O’Broin. He continued saying the SU’s main concern is that no-one knows exactly what the Minister is proposing.
“The Minister is refusing to hammer down the particulars. We don’t know exactly what Batt O’Keeffe is proposing, and that’s a big problem.” Such ambigious particulars include whether the fees will be means-tested and which institutions will administer the fees.
“I get the impression that it will be a state-run scheme but from what I hear no-one wants to touch it”.
It has been suggested that either the Revenue or the National Treasury Management Agency will run the scheme but as far as O’Broin is concerned “neither state body wants anything to do with it”.
If it is a private institution, O’Broin is worried about the level of interest that will be charged and when the interest will begin. “If banks are running the loans, will interest be charged from the first day of College or after graduation?” If plans for fees go ahead, O’Broin has said that Junior Freshman could be asked to contribute fees as early as this month.
USI plan to continue their protest throughout the year. February 4th is being billed by the USI as a “Day of Action” however O’Broin declined to comment on what would differentiate this day from the other protest’s, saying “it was a matter for the USI”.
However many are concerned as USI protests appear to be becoming more and more hostile. USI VP Dan O’Neill has said that the USI “hope to heat up our campaign” and has admitted that the USI may resort to occupying offices if their objections are not heard.
SU President O’Broin was wary of the idea, when questionned about it, but agreed that “if it has an objective” he would “absolutely support it”.
Other signs of an increase in hostile action are the links being suggested between radical group Free Education for Everyone and the USI.
USI President Peter Mannion has recently said that co-action with such groups is “something we will definitely have to investigate over these coming months.”
While O’Broin has said that while he is realistic about the current economic situation, he believes that the intoduction of fees is “not only the wrong move for the students, it’s the wrong move for the country” and will be a “disaster for education in the country”.