Today, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) staged a demonstration calling on government to use its €65bn “rainy day” fund to tackle the student accommodation crisis and the cost of going to college.
This coincides with the USI pre-budget submission, which included calls for 30,000 new student beds, and free public transport for students.
USI have also pledged to “escalate” in their action based on the outcome of Budget 2024 which is due on October 10.
The protestors gathered at noon outside the Garden of Remembrance and marched towards Merrion Square carrying umbrellas. The crowd took part in a number of chants including “It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old men are snoring” and “fuck the fees”. Some protesters carried signs that said “where’s our umbrella” and “we are drowning”.
USI has said that “while government intends to hoard €65 billion in the “rainy day” fund, it is raining now for third-level students who are suffering financial hardship or dropping out of college due to the lack of affordable student accommodation and other costs”.
Speaking before the protest, USI President Chris Clifford said that it is “inexcusable” that students are couch surfing, commuting long distances, and “have no hope of a future in Ireland, while government has the capacity to fund that future”. He called for long-term investment in the “unstable” higher education sector, saying: “Finance can no longer be used as the excuse, but rather it’s down to the priorities of politicians.”
Speaking before the march, USI Vice-president (VP) for campaigns Zaid Albarghouthi said: “We are out here marching today one week ahead of the budget to make sure the government uses its budget surplus correctly, to invest in third-level education.”
“We’ve all seen the email from the provost saying there is a lack of funding” he continued. “But that’s not the only issue, there’s a lack of student accommodation,there is a lack of student supports. This government unfortunately doesn’t seem to put the student on top of the priority list and we’re just here to make sure of that”, he added.
Speaking to Trinity News, Technical University Dublin Student Union (TUDSU) President Brian Jordan said the union was protesting “years of government inaction”.
“They have a budget surplus of over 65 billion yet they refuse to abolish college fees even though that would amount to less than 0.01 % of that surplus.” He said that this is “depressing because we’ve now had a massive increase in students who aren’t attending college because they just can’t afford it”.
When asked what brought them out protesting today, one protester from University College Dublin (UCD) told Trinity News: “It really wouldn’t cost that much money, it’s about €250 million to remove fees entirely. We need SUSI to be upped, we need more money for people in student accommodation, and the government just needs to take action to make college more affordable.”
On Monday, it was announced that students’ absence from class would be excused for the demonstration “with no negative consequences for their absence from lectures, tutorials and laboratories”. Provost Linda Doyle mirrored the same sentiments last week as she called on government to address the “chronic underfunding” of the third-level sector.
Speaking to Trinity News today Trinity College Dublin Student Union President László Molnárfi called the decision from the Provost a “positive step”.
“I know that our interests as long as the extra funding, if we lobby successfully, goes towards student services, alleviating staff precarity and affordable accommodation”, he added.
The demonstration ended with a promise that “this is not the last time you’ll be seeing us” by Albarghouthi. He said: “We’ll wait, keep our eyes on the budget until October 10, and after that, re-evaluate, our unions are ready to escalate”.