Protesters split at visit of Minister

SU “Silent Protest” against Batt O’Keeffe:
FEE group attack concept,
SU criticised for not publicising event enough,
Reilly shakes hands with O’Keeffe.

SU “Silent Protest” against Batt O’Keeffe
FEE group attack concept
SU criticised for not publicising event enough
Reilly shakes hands with O’Keeffe

A “Silent Protest” against Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe in Trinity College last Tuesday ran into problems when protesters were divided as to whether they should stay silent or chant. SU President, Cathal Reilly, was unwilling to protest loudly as it would disturb the launch that Mr O’Keeffe was attending. The Students Union has been criticised by student activist group, FEE (Free Education for Everyone) for failing to publicise the protest effectively.

Approximately 100 students attended the rally, organised by the SU. A large presence from FEE (Free Education for Everyone) chanted, |”Batt O’Keeffe, hear us clear, keep your fees out of here!” and “They say cutback, we say fight back.”

However, the protest revealed important tactical differences between the two organisations: the SU had called for a silent protest, while FEE had brought their megaphones. The poster advertising the protest read, “He won’t talk to us, so we won’t talk to him.” Mr O’Keeffe was attending a launch of the programme for excellence in PhDs in the humanities.

I t only became clear that Mr O’Keeffe was visiting the College late on Tuesday. Posters arrived in the Arts Block on the morning of the event, but were not visible on boards in the Hamilton Building.

FEE leaders thought the SU should also have issued a general email to students informing them. The SU felt it was wrong to send more than one that week. The regular circular email contained information about the Student Activist Summit, which was to have been held in College, but was cancelled.

A SU desk in the Arts Block was publicising a Voter Registration drive on the day of the protest. But it was not publicising the protest, as FEE members felt they should. A person at the desk told Trinity News that he was “aware” of the protest.

T o the annoyance of some of the protesters, Mr Reilly was on the far side of the Garda barriers, and shook hands with Mr O’Keeffe.

Aidan Beatty of FEE called the meeting “pretty despicable”. Mr Reilly defended greeting the Minister, saying,“he has agreed to sit down and meet with me and discuss the issue of fees.” Members of FEE led the chants. They believed it would create a bigger impression as numbers were not great enough to create the effect of massed rows of silent students. They also wanted to ‘let O’Keeffe know what we think of him.’ Scenes of loud protest were carried on TV3 News. Mr Reilly said, “I think the silent protest would have worked with the amount of protesters there.”

Twenty UCD members of FEE were also openly present at the demonstration, carrying UCD FEE posters. But they were forced to leave by security guards, who also asked other Trinity students for college ID cards. FEE leader Aidan Beatty said he asked Mr Reilly to protest the ejection but Mr Reilly says he was not aware of the conspicuous fall in numbers until “long after it had occurred.” Journalists from the Irish Independent called Mr Beatty asking if the UCD students had been arrested.

FEE members had announced that they intended to blockade or otherwise disrupt Mr O’Keeffe’s visit. FEE leader Aidan Beatty said this was cancelled due to “an intimidating Garda presence”.

FEE are now highly critical of the SU, saying that it did not do enough to publicise the event. They are expected to tell Mr Reilly that they intend not to depend on the union to organise protests in future. Mr Beatty said, “The union leaders have no experience in organising effective protests, it’s not the kind of thing they do.”

They also point to the SU in UCD, where the Vice President is now officially also the Campaigns Officer for such as that on student fees. Dan O’Neill, who currently holds the office, was among those blockading the Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan when he visited the college last month. Activist groups in UCD also feel that they can work more closely with their SU on fees than groups here.

Meanwhile, the Provost, who greeted the Minister, has clarified his position on fees, saying that it is important that colleges are properly funded somehow. Reintroduction would “solve the Government’s funding problem, but not ours,” he said.