Members of the Free Education for Everyone student campaign group and the Occupy University movement have expressed displeasure and annoyance over the actions of the Union of Students in Ireland during the national student protest on Wednesday 16th.
Initially marching with the main protest from the Garden of Remembrance, try the FEE group broke away and headed towards the Fine Gael headquarters on Mount Street, medicine arriving at around 3.45pm. A prominent member of the group, thumb Joseph Loughnane, estimated that there was between two hundred and two hundred and fifty people there. He stated that there was support from “other people not involved in FEE and the Occupy Dame Street group.”
Gardaí were present at the scene and reported that it was peaceful. Many spectators drifted back to the main protest and there were around fifty people involved in a sit-down outside the building.
Stiofáinín, a student activist from Rossport, Co. Mayo, stated to the College Tribune that she felt the organised march was “pretty ridiculous, like we’ve just had people marching from A to B and then a couple of speeches by the same old people.” The activist believed that “more direct action is needed if [students] are really going to get anywhere,” a thought echoed by the surrounding people.
After twenty minutes, the protesters vacated the area and moved in the direction of the main protest. There, a line of USI stewards and a number of Gardaí prevented the breakaway group from re-entering the protest. The USI claimed that the passage was a fire exit. At this time, the main body of the protest was in front of the stage, listening to speeches from prominent members of the Union of Students in Ireland.
In a statement released the following day the breakaway group said, “it is deplorable that Union of Students in Ireland stewards collaborated with Gardaí in restricting the freedom of movement of people.”
The Equality Officer of NUI Galway and a member of FEE, William O’Brien told the College Tribune that because the breakaway group “made an attempt at peaceful direct action, [they had] been alienated by our own union.” In his view, protesting outside Fine Gael headquarters was what all of the protesters should have been doing, “not standing around listening to these idiots speak.”
Similarly, Loughnane stated that he did not understand why they were obstructed from rejoining the protest, “there was no violence, no illegality in anything we did.” He felt that the actions taken by the USI had created a division in student activism.
The faction moved towards Merrion Square North, at this stage, their numbers dwindled. There were members of both FEE and the Occupy Dame Street movement present. Shortly before 5pm the remaining protestors headed to and subsequently entered Trinity College Dublin. It appears that they had the intention of gate crashing a debate which was due to be held there.
The people in the group entered Edmund Burke Hall for a short period of time before leaving. The message ‘FIGHT FEES f**k the USI’ was written on a blackboard by a member. The group also occupied Room 3074 in the Arts Block of Trinity College Dublin for a period of time before they agreed to leave after speaking to Ryan Bartlett, the Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union President. After this, the group disbanded.
Speaking to the College Tribune following the events of the day, Joseph Loughnane stated that he felt the USI did not “really know where it’s going with regards action in the future,” as exemplified by complying with Gardaí requests to switch the location of the camp-out. Loughnane believes that the USI needs to approach FEE in taking more dramatic steps. “We need to be pushing for actions across the country to show that we are not just displeased but absolutely horrified by the measures the government plan to bring in in the next budget.”