Thousands of students fill front square for USI’s National Walkout

Students lined Front Square to the Arts Building this morning during a student walkout protesting student conditions

Thousands of students walked out of lecture halls and classrooms this morning in protest against the combined accommodation crisis and cost of college which are affecting students all across the country.

The protest was organised by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), with student unions up and down the country taking part at 11.11am today.

Speaking at the demonstration this morning,  Trinity College Dublin Students Union (TCDSU) President Gabi Fullam highlighted the cost of living struggles faced by students: “We’ve been living through a crisis for so long. It almost gets really tiresome.”

She continued: “Any power we have comes from us standing together. This college exists for students, it doesn’t exist for tourists.”

“I believe education is a human right and we deserve to be able to avail of it as easily as possible.

USI President Beth O’Reilly also spoke at the demonstration, saying: “Today you have proved that we are still a threat to the government.”

“We have the power to change the systems that oppress us and we can do that starting today,” they continued.

O’Reilly continued that the €1,000 fee refund for student fees this year were “not good enough”, and that “we will continue to escalate our actions until our demands are met”.

USI’s demands include protection for renters, including immediate eviction ban, and the introduction of housing as a constitutional right, the introduction of rent caps, and public subsidisation of affordable purpose-built student accommodation.

Their demands address the cost of college, including the abolition of the student contribution fee, and protesting the funding gap of €285 million in the higher education sector.

In May, government identified a funding gap of €307 million in higher education. Budget 2023 allocated €40 million additional funding for the sector, just 13% of the identified gap, a measure which the Irish Universities Association called “disappointing”.

Senior Tutor Stephen Smith also spoke noting that the turn out of the protest was “extraordinary”. He said the last few weeks had been “unprecedented with students looking for help”.

“Virtually every tutor in the college has phoned me or emailed me,” Smith said.

He highlighted that “this has to change”.

David Tracey, from Trinity Access Programme (TAP), spoke at the protest, adding that if students cannot find accommodation, they are “stuck couch surfing”.

“There has been a 4% increase in the rent this year,” Tracey continued.

Tracey emphasised that commuting “the SUSI grant is not adequate”, and that the amount “needs to increase in order for students to have a better college experience”.

Students4Change chair László Molnárfi spoke next highlighting the “empty promises made by the government. “Those of us who are the most vulnerable in society are the most affected.”

Molnárfi called Budget 2023 “a spit in our faces” and noted a need to challenge the government “on the streets”.

“We will not stop until we have removed each and every one of them from power.”

Julie Marie Bekkevold, PGWA, also said at the demonstration that “we are not treated as workers in this country”.

Bekkevold added: “It is affecting our mental health. We are not being paid to teach.”

“This all comes back to the university’s lack of ability to fund their universities,” Bekkevold continued. “Pay us enough to live.”

Gender Equality officer spoke next saying: “I am the first person from my family to get to go to Trinity College”. She noted that in Ireland we take pride “in our higher education, but I see nothing to be proud of today”.

“If this is the future I don’t want it.”

She asked: “Who is the government serving? It’s not serving me, it’s not serving you … we must be united in our struggles.”

“We must keep fighting, we must take to the streets,” she continued. “This is not normal circumstances, so why should we comply?”

Across the country students walked out of their lectures at 11:11am to protest the cost of living.

Additional reporting by Evan Skidmore O’Reilly.

Kate Henshaw

Kate Henshaw is current Editor-in-Chief of Trinity News, and a graduate of Sociology and Social Policy. She previously served as Deputy Editor, News Editor and Assistant News Editor.

Shannon Connolly

Shannon Connolly is the Editor-in-Chief of the 69th volume Trinity News, and a Senior Sophister student of English Literature and Philosophy. She previously served as Deputy Editor, News Editor and Assistant News Editor.