Some 2,000 students took part in today’s Union of Students in Ireland (USI) pre-budget rally for education, according to Garda estimates. Traffic was brought to a standstill on O’Connell Street as demonstrators marched from the Garden of Remembrance chanting “education is a right; we won’t give up without a fight” and “no ifs, no buts, no education cuts”.
Trinity College Students’ Union (TCDSU) communications officer, Sam Riggs, estimated that 250 Trinity students joined the event after congregating on Front Square. They were accompanied by an estimated 130 students from NUI Maynooth and over 50 from DIT. Around 120 IADT students took part, alongside 120 from UCC, who saw low numbers due to the weather, and 30 students from UL. GMIT brought over 300 students, and IT Carlow and DCU also had contingents at the protest.
Addressing students at the end of the rally, USI president, Laura Harmon, called for the protection of the student maintenance grant and the back-to-education allowance. She pointed out that Ireland now has the second-highest student fees in Europe, after the UK, and said that members of the NUS-USI, the umbrella body for Northern Ireland students’ unions, have seen how the cost of college has created “a culture of crippling debt” among UK students. “Education is the key to sustainable recovery,” she added. “Education is key to our recovery.”
The rally was supported by unions including the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT), Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI), SIPTU, ICTU Youth, Young Workers Network, We’re Not Leaving, and the Irish Second Level Students’ Union (ISSU).
Speaking to Trinity News, TUI president, Gerry Quinn, said that the union joined students today to highlight the need to invest in education and ensure equality of access. Education cuts have put pressure on academics, forcing them to work hours way above international norms, Quinn said.
Addressing the rally, Ethel Buckley of SIPTU said she is proud to be part of the “coalition” fighting to protect the future of education, calling students “the future of the Irish trade union movement.”
Today’s rally was the USI’s first national pre-budget demonstration in three years. Speaking ahead of the event, Laura Harmon said that the student maintenance grant “helps thousands who otherwise could simply not afford to enter third-level education. It was protected for the first time in five years in Budget 2014 and needs to be protected again now.”
Reporting by Catherine Healy and Eva Short.
Photo by Matthew Mulligan.