“Take Back Trinity” resounds around Front Square at rally against fees

Students will now block Front Arch and the Long Room

Photo Credit – Sarah Meehan

 Hundreds of students gathered in the latest protest against the introduction of supplemental exam fees, at rally is currently underway in Front Square.

Students gathered at the steps of the Dining Hall to listen to several speakers. Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) President Kevin Keane opened the rally proceedings and was followed by Trinity Senator David Norris, People Before Profit (PBP) leader Richard Boyd-Barrett and Sinn Fein Senator Paul Gavan, among others.

At the conclusion of the rally, Keane announced that students will now block Front Arch and the Long Room.

Keane said: “This university is for us. It’s not for the people who have mansions at Number 1 grafton street and holiday in Boston every week. This is the most powerful movement that has happened in Trinity in years. We are rejecting the money-grabbing and we are here to take back the university for ourselves.”

Richard Boyd-Barrett, leader of PBP, then gave an impassioned speech and commend Trinity students on reviving the great tradition of student protests. He spoke about his own memories as a college student of occupying building against student fees.   “There should be no price tag at all associated with education. There should be no repeat fees, registration fees, or postgraduate fees. Trinity students are setting example for all students across the country.”

“This is an attempt by corporate vultures to rob the future of the young people. Education should be nothing to do with the size of your pocket.”

“Even if you can get a job, you can’t afford a roof over your head… housing should be affordable in this country. As students, you should reach out to the staff, and students in other universities… reach out to young teachers and nurses, reach out the homeless, because their fight and your fight are the same.”

Laura Beston, Disability Officer for TCDSU, said: “We come from varied backgrounds, different places…Some of us have 2, 3 part-time jobs. Some of us still struggle, even with the SUSI grant…We are not cash cows. I am sick and tired of fighting these fees. I am so proud of us today. 82% of us voted against this in the preferendum and College didn’t listen. It’s time to Take Back Trinity!”

David Norris, a Trinity Senator: “This in my opinion is real democracy. Last week, I thought student protesting had gone away… I was wrong,” he said. “You should concentrate your efforts on one movement… There is solidarity on the rejection of these fees for repeat examinations. So stick together! Stay united!”

“I will support you, along with my colleagues in Leinster house, in every way I can,” he concluded.

Paul Gavan, a Sinn Fein Senator, said: “My background is as a union organiser. When you take a stand like this, make sure you win. Do not back down. Students around the country are watching. Let’s stand firm, and teach this university a lesson!”

Stacy Wrenn, a campaign organiser, said: “I urge you to share this around, and let people know about it. We’re all just students, doing this for each other, taking time out of work and College.” She was followed by Ciaran Perry, a shop steward for the Unite trade union, who said: “The unilateral decision by college management to introduce to fees are the same as the attempts to deny promotions to staff last year. This dispute is very similar to last year’s dispute with college staff. This college is far too concerned with revenue and commercialisation.”

Elise Ryan, Dublin Workers Party Country Councillor said: “I’m shocked at how college has defended these fees. There’s an impression that if you fail an exam and have to repeat, it’s your fault. Such blaming occurs across Ireland… like saying if you need an abortion, it’s your fault.”

“Keep working… in weeks, this crowd will be four or five times larger,” Ryan concluded.

Oisin Vince Coulter, Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) President-elect, concluded the rally with a booming speech, saying: “It’s fantastic to see a whole variety of students gathered here to say enough is enough. This isn’t just a question of finances, this is a question of democracy.”

“Who makes the decisions in this college? A board of unaccountable faceless bureaucrats, he told the crowd. “They don’t care about any of us. They don’t care about undergrads, postgrads, staff. The only thing they care about is making a profit so that Paddy can buy a third house,” Vince Coulter said. 

“We will continue to escalate until we bring them to the negotiation table. We are here because we have no choice but to take these actions until our voice is heard. I will call on those not directly involved to get involved… this movement will change education in Trinity and nationally. This is a battle for the essence of what education is; that everyone should have access to it. Education is a human right that should be available for many, not the privileged few,” he concluded. 

Students are holding banners with the slogans “Get me out of this dystopia,” “Degrees not Fees,” and “Pay my fees sugar Paddy” chanting “the students, united, will never be defeated” throughout the rally in response the speakers words.

The rally is the latest in a series of direct actions against college organised by the students, in protest against the proposed introduction of supplemental fees at a cost of €450.

The rally follows this morning’s occupation of the Dining Hall, with an estimated 50 students are set to occupy the Hall indefinitely. Some students told Trinity News that they intend on staying overnight in the Hall. As of the time of publication, students are able to move freely in and out of the Dining Hall, although it is expected that access into the building will become more restricted.

According to staff who spoke to Trinity News, Dining Hall staff will be affected by the Dining Hall occupation, as their work hours have been cancelled today. The Dining Hall staff will not receive compensation as they currently have no official contract of employment.

As stated by the Take Back Trinity campaign: “This rally is to support our dedicated team occupying the Dining Hall. Students, staff members, alumni and the general public are invited to attend the rally which will include various speakers who support the campaign.”

“We will continue to protest until our demands are met. We will escalate our protests until our demands are met,” they said in a statement.

Prior to the rally, students were engaged in a number of organisational activities. Some students in the Dining Hall made banners, while others organised the welfare, social media and marketing elements of the march. Water, strepsils, and other supports are being provided by a dedicated group of Welfare volunteers.

Further actions are planned to take place later in the week in Front Square and around campus in support of the occupation of the Dining Hall and the Take Back Trinity Movement.

Hugh Whelan

Hugh Whelan is the current Comment Editor of Trinity News. He is a Senior Sophister English Literature and Film Studies student.