Juvenal makes his return to The Observer, to discuss the kick-off of protest season.
The joke among politico students after last years Student Union election was that the meaning of the initials ‘SU’ were changing to Soviet Union. While students won’t be welcomed back to military style marches of might or imprisonment for the non-payment of library fees, last years electees have already made an important step that sets themselves apart from previous administrations.
While last years Exec (with the help of the Student Council) made some gallant strides last year (the introduction of debate on membership of USI for one), they often failed to make a stand on some of the more high-profile issues. One that caused much debate at the time was whether or not to support striking staff. While many students turned out on the day to show solidarity with striking lecturers, canteen staff and cleaners, the Student Union failed to either support or condemn the strike. While the Union felt it had kept its neutrality on the issue, some said that it was as good as condeming fellow Unions. Most of all, it was considered by many that their inaction was worse than anything they could have done.
The well publicised petition against Bertie Ahern’s appointment as Honourary Professor in Conflict Mediation was also stonewalled by the Exec, despite a strong reaction from the students across campus. Groups such as FEE Maynooth had often argued that as a member of Fianna Fail, which as a party has often been seen to take measures that go against student welfare as well as the possible re-introduction of fees, the Student Union should have taken an active role in the protest, to which it ultimately did not.
But this year’s Exec seems to be taking a different and far more proactive approach to the presence of Government TDs on campus. Thursday the 16th of September sees Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport Mary Hanafin arriving to open the new Iontas building and so far the Student Union has decided not only to boycott the opening ceremony but to have what it has described in a recent S.U Facebook Event as a “snubbing”. In reaction to what The Union has regarded as “The Government’s heartless treatment of students”, a guard of dishonour will be formed with students dressed in professional clothing in protest against the constant threat of the reintroduction of fees and education cut backs in general and lack of employment opportunities for graduates which is leading to a potential ‘brain drain’ in this country. Further still, a letter has been sent by the Union to the University President expressing its displeasure with Hanafin’s visit although as of now, no reply to the Union has been made although interim president Prof. Tom Collins has accepted the letter but without commenting on the issue.
The Observer contacted the President’s Office on Friday over the matter and outgoing President Prof. John Hughes responded to us by saying:
“This is a building dedicated to the arts and she is the Minister with special responsibility to the arts”
No comment was made on the Unions argument that Fianna Fail is a party that proposes cut backs to education or advocates the re-introduction of fees along with the its unsuccessful recent attempts at job creation which has not only students and graduates suffering but employed man and women nationwide. Further still, in his speech to graduating students last week, Prof. Hughes made note that much of the funding for the Iontas building came from private sources, through the hard work of the University and not Government coffers. The President’s response is similar to that made by him and the University in the wake of Bertie Ahern’s appointment last year distancing the appointment from Government association.
While Minister Hanafin is not directly responsible for the proposed cuts, the Student Union believe that she “is in a position to exert real influence at the cabinet table while cuts to education are being discussed in the run up to this December’s budget.” According to S.U President Aengus Ó Maoláin:
“The idea of a silent march is simple and effective……. Do not underestimate how unnerving it is to be greeted by complete silence when meeting people, especially to professional politicians”
DIT Students’ Union used this tactic in a protest last year when Minister Batt O’Keeffe visited their campus and which generated much media attention. O’Keeffe also spoke to DIT Union President at length after the ordeal, which is what Ó Maoláin and his Exec will be hoping to achieve as a result of Thursdays protest. Some however have suggested that such a type of protest is tepid and ineffective despite what Aengus believes. Skeptics would also say this is just an excuse to get on the news for being quirky rather than a protest for the right reasons.
It is also expected that opposition party youth wings such as Labour Youth and Ógra Shinn Féin along with campus grassroots organizations such as FEE will be involved in the protest and will no doubt bring their own flavour to the proceedings. When asked for a comment on the protest, a friend from FEE said the following:
“Personally, and speaking for most of the lefties I’m sure, I think this is excellent stuff. Aengus and the team have called this one right, and it’s light-years ahead from what we had two years ago when the SU secretly met Minister O’ Keefe (twice) on campus in their own building…. I’m sure the FEE banner will be out, but I’ll ask the SU what the policy is towards banners on the day. Building a mass mobilisation behind the current plan should be EVERYONES aim at the minute, so hopefully we can use our email contacts/facebook etc. to push the attendance up.
I wouldn’t call it wussy. I think in comparison to SUs nationwide, this is an excellent move. My sole issue is with the issue of costumes mentioned in the Facebook event, but that is far from a major gripe. All in all, ‘the left guard’ seem delighted!”
Among the student body already registered with the university, a generally positive response has been generated with over 115 said to be attending the event as of Saturday 11th. Whether or not this amount turns up is yet to be seen but with the academic year not even commenced yet, a number half that would be a great achievement. It is also likely that sympathetic staff may attend the protest as many lecturers and staff participated in the student march to deliver the anti-Bertie petition, which added an extra dimension to that days proceedings where the protest brought much media attention in print, on television and on the airwaves.
Ó Maoláin was quick to point out the motives for the protest and its method as not wanting to damage Maynooth’s or its students’ reputations.
“We are thrilled that the new building is open….but the points we are making are valid and we will not be applauding a member of cabinet at this time”.
For those of you who wish to attend the protest, the Union recommends that you attend in professional gear (builder, doctor, scientist etc) but it is by no means a necessity. Meeting on the day will take place at the S.U at 10.30 am.
For those of you who can’t attend or just don’t agree with it, you can follow us here as we will have news from the ground on the day bringing you the action as it happens be it silent or not.
Indo article on snubbing: http://www.independent.ie/national-news/hanafin-to-face-protests-at-her-former-university-2335240.html
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