It is estimated that between 10,000 – 15,000 students from around Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland attended USI’s #EducationIs March to rally for a publicly funded education system, and against student fees, loans and debt. The USI has indicated that the delegation from Trinity reached between 1250 – 1500 students, making it the largest delegation present.
Joining TCD were the USI’s other affiliated groups comprising NUIG, UCD, DIT, Maynooth, IT Tallaght SU, DCUSU, IADTSU, NCISU, IT Blanchardstown SU, CDCFESU, WITSU, UCCSU, CITSU, LITSI, LSADSU, IT Tralee SU, Carlow College SU, IT Carlow SU, GMITSU, LITSU, STACSSU, AITSU, MSU and DkITSU. Colleagues from Northern Ireland attending included QUBSU, UUSU, St Mary’s SU, Stranmillis SU, and NUS Scotland were also present.
Prior to the March, USI President Annie Hoey spoke of this to Trinity News, giving her reaction to the Budget. “Any investment in education is something USI welcomes, and the small steps in the Budget 17 are in the right direction but are hugely insufficient in the long-term. The government failing to prioritise adequate funding for third-level education is the government putting barriers to the futures and potential of thousands of students. There are some positives in the budget but the funding is still inadequate and won’t solve the rotating problems currently in third-level education, which are largely funding-based.”
The #EducationIs campaign has also rallied support from national groups, such as the Irish Rugby Union Players’ Association, National Parents’ Council and Irish Congress of Trade Unions Youth and the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT). Mike Jennings, General Secretary of the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) said that IFUT fully backs the USI demonstration, stating ““In the UK, the University and Colleges Union says students will continue paying student loans until their early 50’s. For a country with a tradition of emigration, do we really need one more incentive for graduates to go abroad – and stay there?”
Since July, these groups and the campaign have coalesced in response to the Cassells report, a government commissioned investigation into education. The report concluded that the current system was “not fit for purpose” and advocated the need for increased funding to the sector. However the report advocated as a resolution for student-contingent loan system which USI have predicted will create a €20,000 upwards debt for students, increase fees and further disadvantage students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
Students marched the streets of Dublin with banners flying, shouting “Degrees, not fees” and “No ifs, no buts, no education cuts”.
The March concluded outside the Dail with speeches from Irish Second-Level Student’s Union Jane M. Hayes Nally, Second year TCD Law and Politics student Carly Bailey, Gina O’Brien, Chairperson of the Education Divisional Executive Committee of the Impact Trade Union and USI President Annie Hoey. Blind Boy from the Rubberbandits MC-ed the event.
Taking to the stage, Blindboy Boatclub commended the students in attendance, stating “Fair play to ye for coming out because at the end of the day you’re the future of this country… Education is a human right; it’s that simple”. He expressed that it would be unacceptable for education access to become “defined by class on how much money you have”.
Law and Politics mature student Carly Bailey was the first speaker to take the stage. She declared “Decisions are being made in government that could impact students today and impact them for decades to come.”
“I faced many obstacles to education growing up… I couldn’t even study History or Geography at Leaving Cert… Nobody in my family went to college. I’m the first, I don’t want to be the last.”
“I’m terrified. I really don’t know if I’m going to be able to finish my degree; I’m only in second year.”
Gina O’Brien, speaking on behalf of the Impact Trade Union, affirmed the Union’s support of the aims of the march, expressing “We fully support the USI’s position on no return of fees and no student loans… No young person should have to go out into the world with a debt hanging around their neck.”
ISSU President and 17-year-old Transition year student in St. Mary’s High School Midleton, Co. Cork spoke of her desire to study Science at third level, ardently insisting “ I want a future. I want the chance to stay in Ireland and to study in Ireland… There is no justification for a scheme which will limit access of Irish people to education… No justification to burdening our students. Let us not deplete the number of mature and part time students who study in our universities… We’re saying no to student debt.”
By the time USI’s Annie Hoey took to the stage, her voice had already begun to become hoarse from an afternoon of impassioned chanting. “Hello students, my name is Annie Hoey,” she began “and my debt will be well over €20,000 in order to obtain the education that I should rightfully be able to access… You are the foundation of this country and this economy and [multinationals] clearly know this… We cannot take this anymore. How dare they play with our future? How dare they toy with our opportunities?”
Rounding off the afternoon, Blindboy declared “They need to fucking fund [education]… No fucking fees…Thank you everyone for coming out here today and showing that you have a voice. Go in peace, don’t cause any trouble. Yurt.”
Speaking after the march, TCDSU President Kieran MCNulty characterised the event as “superb” and expressed that he was “really proud” of Trinity students. When asked about what’s next for the movement against fees, McNulty explained “We’re going to keep lobbying. I’ve met with a lot of TDs since I’ve come into office, so we’re going to keep meeting with them. We’re presenting to the Commission of Education and Skills in December when they’re actually deciding the outcome of the Cassells report. We’re going to keep lobbying, keep fighting and making sure that student fees aren’t increased and that investment comes. And it will come – it is our fight, it continues all this year, and it’s said the decision will be made by June. We’re going to keep going.”
Additional reporting by Eva Short, Deputy Editor