Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) has said that its members were “hopeful for change and productivity” following conversations with Oireachtas members and other student representatives at a lobbying event held by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) today.
USI hosted a “pre-budget lobby day” to which students, student union representatives, and national politicians were invited. As internal conversations commence within government, the USI focused on six key issues to emphasise to members of the Oireachtas.
Conversations were centred around “student accommodation [and] finances”, access to public transportation, the wellbeing of international and postgraduate students, as well as funding for mental health and Irish language services.
In anticipation of the government’s 2024 budget, USI aimed to stress the importance of broad, systemic issues facing students – such as “the cost of college, the state of student accommodation, and funding for higher education”.
Representatives from major third level education institutions were in attendance at the lobby day. This included Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU), who said that “some conversations left some members of TCDSU hopeful for change and productivity with regards to advocating for students rights and needs.”
Despite this optimism, TCDSU President László Molnárfi noted that “lobbying is not enough”, saying that he hopes “to see future actions” arise from this lobby day and “will work with USI to organise beyond this”.
“We are in the midst of a worsening housing and cost of living crisis that leaves students and staff without secure accommodation, struggling to buy groceries, and dropping out of college.”
“This is a result of the policy decisions of the neo-liberal government – who are not acting to tackle these issues – that is FG/FF/Greens and we need to organise resistance in our communities and public actions to oppose them,” Molnárfi added.
Education Officer Catherine Arnold echoed this sentiment saying that “while a lot of talk was had at the lobbying day, the only action seen was from the student movement”.
“It is yet to be seen if the government reflects the demands presented to them in Budget 24,” Arnold said.
USI lobbied for students in precarious living circumstances, such as rent-a-room or Digs, to avail of a “comprehensive protection scheme” which would lead to ”a requirement to register […] with the Residential Tenancies Board”.
They further pushed for an increment in the funding for Purpose Built Student Accommodation and a more favourable tax credit for student renters.
Moreover, issues pertaining to students’ finances were a focal point of USI’s lobbying. They asked for a commitment to a phased abolition of the Student Contribution Charge, starting with a 50% reduction to €1,500 in Budget 2024, as well as raising minimum wage to be in line with the current living wage rate for all workers.
Free public transport for all students was a priority of the day, with the extension of the Bike2College scheme and Young Adult Travel Card to include 24 year olds also emphasised.
Improved working conditions of postgraduate researchers, and the abolition of the cap on international students’ working hours were both particular points the USI aimed to stress in front of members of the Oireachtas.
The USI’s lobbying handbook further advocated for “multi-annual, ring-fenced core funding for student counselling and support services”, and “increased financing of student disability service supports”.
The campaign wished to lobby members of the Oireachtas to increase the funding for third level education at large, and particularly an Tréimhse Foghlama sa Ghaeltacht.
A four week placement in a Gaeltacht, this is required by the Teaching Council for students of Gaeilge who wish to become a second-level Irish teacher. The USI lobbied for “full state funding” of this placement, which they priced at €2.8 million, “scholarships to the Ghaeltacht”, and support for Mná an Tí.
Taking place minutes from College, in the Buswells Hotel on Molesworth Street, the event lasted six hours.
TDs such as Holly Cairns (SocDems), Mick Barry (PBP-S), as well as independent Senator Eileen Flynn were in attendance, and all spoke with representatives of the USI and various student unions.
Staff representing Peadar Tóibín (Aontú) and Minister Roderic O’Gorman (Green Party) also appeared at the event to discuss with student representatives.
During the event, TCDSU took part in an impromptu counter protest of an anti-trans demonstration outside Leinster House, in what Arnold called “a true show of solidarity”.