It’s not a good time to be a student in Ireland. The country is deep in the throes of a funding crisis in tertiary education. Public funding on a per student basis is barely half of what it was a decade ago, and institutions are struggling to make ends meet. We have the second highest college fees in the EU (and we’re set to take the top spot when Britain leaves), and yet the provost of this very university has suggested the introduction of a student loan scheme as a potential solution.
As for housing, the word “crisis” scarcely does it justice. There are more than 10,000 people homeless in Ireland today, a number so big it becomes hard to make sense of the level of real human suffering it represents. People, especially students, are paying staggering percentages of their incomes in rent for even the most basic of accommodation. Stories of rental scams, deposit fraud and sudden drastic increases in rental rates are widespread.
These are not new issues; these crises have not appeared out of the blue to take the country by surprise. They are a result of many years of continuous negligence, mismanagement and inaction by those in the field of public policy. From the few proposals that have been made, it seems that the government would rather the public make sacrifices before even beginning to consider any kind of action on their part. Third level fee increases and co-living schemes are apparently more acceptable than simply increasing public investment in education and housing.
Our political class is either so disconnected from reality so as to be unable to understand the scale of the problem, or ideologically unwilling to take the steps necessary to alleviate the crisis. Either way, it is abundantly clear that an organic change in course isn’t coming, no matter how long we wait. No amount of horror stories will move this government to action.
We, as students, are left with only one option. Through advocacy, protest and direct action, we will have to force the government into action and defend our rights to housing and education. The lesson from Take Back Trinity was that, when staring down a powerful institution like a university administration or a government, we win by inflicting costs in disruption or public embarrassment that they are unwilling or unable to bear.
This will require a level of passion, perseverance and coordination that we have not seen in many years. Because it’s not as if there has been no expression of anger; protest marches through Dublin on some issue or other are, at this point, a monthly occurrence. But apparently this hasn’t been enough. It’s remained something that those in power are willing to wait out, to let blow over, before they continue doing exactly what they were doing before. If we are to achieve drastic change and fix these problems at their sources, rather than merely blunting some of their worst effects, students will have to mobilise like we never have before.
A look at history reminds us of what we should already know; from the 2010 Dublin protests against tuition fees to the four million-strong anti-war student strike that crippled the United States in 1970, when students truly mobilise en masse, they are a near-unstoppable force. But it can’t be a simple, one-off march in the street. Where change has been achieved, it has always been through the maintenance of constant pressure. Our government thinks that if they ignore us, if they stay steady in the face of the fury of their citizens, students will blink first. We need to prove them wrong.
Here at Trinity News, we believe that student journalism has a critical role to play in the fights to come. A bold and critical media has always been an essential tool of social progress, and now is no different. Whether it’s reporting on the latest conduct of the Department of Education or the provost, being a megaphone for frustrated activists and Trinity students, or taking a strong editorial stance on the issue of the day, we will continue the paper’s long tradition of uncompromising journalistic integrity this year. We intend to be a loud and consistent voice for the rights of students, and to hold national and educational authorities to account for their actions.
If anything lasting and meaningful is achieved in the coming year, it will be by students as a whole, not by us. But we, as journalists, have a duty to galvanise people and amplify their voices, and to be a conduit for the righteous anger of a generation who feel, quite rightly, left behind by those who came before. It is our hope that we can help channel those feelings of fury and betrayal into action, and thereby play some small part in changing this country for the better.