“This can’t happen in Ireland” – TDs and senators condemn Trinity for €200k union fine

The Seanad Civil Engagement group, including Trinity Senator Lynn Ruane, has called on College to reverse its decision to bill the union for its protests

Politicians across parties have condemned College for fining Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) €214,000 for “disruptive protests”, including calls to reverse the decision.

Higher education spokespeople for Sinn Féin, Labour and the Social Democrats have criticised College, along with TDs from the Green Party People Before Profit and the Seanad Civil Engagement Group.

The invoice of €214,285 was sent to TCDSU Administrative Officer Simon Evans on May 2. TCDSU have been given until May 30 to pay the invoice.

The Seanad Civil Engagement Group, made up of Trinity Senator Lynn Ruane and Senators Alice-Mary Higgins, Frances Black and Eileen Flynn, have called on Provost Linda Doyle to withdraw the bill.

“Students have a right to engage in protest, which by its very nature can be disruptive”, they said in an email to students and staff.

Calling the fine issued by the College “designed to produce a chilling effect in Trinity”, the senators warned it will “will invariably have a similar effect in other universities in Ireland”.

“Across the globe we are seeing the space for students to engage in protest curtailed and university management resorting to increasingly extreme measures to end and prevent legitimate protest,” the letter said.

“This cannot be allowed to happen in Ireland and quite frankly the financial implications of such protests do not outweigh the rights of students to engage in non-violent disruptive protests.”

The letter concluded by urging Provost Linda Doyle to “immediately reverse this decision”.

In an individual statement to Trinity News, Ruane said: “I am deeply disappointed by the decision of the management of Trinity College Dublin to issue fines yesterday to TCDSU, in response to peaceful and legitimate protests which have taken place on campus this academic year”.

“To think that the College, a haven for inquiry, innovation and independent thought, would seek to suppress the voices of its student body through intimidation is hugely worrying”.

She went on to say “I am particularly concerned that the College has invoked the Student Assistance Fund, a critical support for students experiencing financial hardship, as a manipulative tool in its communications with the Union, which risks creating division within the student body.”

Sinn Féin Higher Education Spokesperson Mairead Farrell TD said in a statement to Trinity News that “student protests and solidarity have a strong and proud tradition” around the world.

“Here household names like RTE’s Joe Duffy were notable student leaders in Trinity College who led protests and direct action,” she said.

In a statement posted to the Labour website, Senator Annie Hoey said the “punishment is unfair, heavy handed and a way of silencing student protest.”

The higher education spokesperson also echoed Mólnárfi and Maguire’s statement that “the students united will never be defeated”.

Social Democrats Higher Education Spokesperson Gary Gannon TD said on X that “Trinity College Dublin should be ashamed of this blatant attempt to suppress student protest”.

He compared the situation to suppression of other protests “across the world”, such as the encampment in Columbia University, saying that this is “just another form of repression”.

In a tweet posted yesterday, People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett called the fine a “disgraceful attempt to silence and intimidate TCDSU”, while Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan called College’s decision an “extraordinary action” that brings the “organisation into disrepute”.

In a statement to Trinity News, the Department of Further and Higher Education said: “Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are autonomous bodies.”

“Issues in respect of student services, including student unions, are an internal matter for the relevant HEI.

College has previously defended the €200k bill, saying that “it cannot survive solely on Government funding” and that “income generated from the Book of Kells is vital to keep the university going”.

Aoibhinn Clancy

Aoibhínn Clancy is the Deputy News Editor of Trinity News and is currently in her Junior Sophister Year studying History and Political Science.

Kate Byrne

Kate Byrne is the Deputy Comment Editor at Trinity News and is currently in her Junior Sophister Year studying History and Political Science.

Ellen Kenny

Ellen Kenny is the current Deputy Editor of Trinity News and a Senior Sophister student of Politics and Sociology. She previously served as Assistant Editor and Features Editor