Happy now?

Dave Ryan discusses the events that marred the National Student Protest

“The organisation is deeply disappointed at the destructive behaviour of a minority of people at the Department of Finance, which occurred separately from the USI march. We do not condone destructive behaviour and believe that peaceful protest and open discussion and debate is the way forward for the students of Ireland.”

-Gary Redmond, USI President

It should have been an amazing day. Students showed up in their thousands, despite the rain, lining the streets of the capital in a protest against proposed hikes in registration fees and cuts in the student maintenance grant by the Irish Government. NUI Maynooth could stand proud as 3122 of them were ours. But what began as a landmark protest became mired and superseded by stories of violence.

Though details are sketchy, depending entirely to which camp you talk to about it (and I have spent the last number of hours hearing over a dozen stories, each contradicting another), what we do know is that at some point in the protest, a breakaway group of students, believed to be members of the Socialist Workers’ Party, Éirígí, Sinn Féin, and sundry other left-wing groups marched on the Department of Finance, away from the vast majority of peaceful protestors. It is estimated by various news sources, and people present that up to 50 people managed to briefly get inside before being ejected by Gardaí. Then, violent clashes occurred in the shadow of the department building, in which students and Gardaí alike were injured.

Though people will get lost in the argument of ‘who started it?’, what I will say is this: regardless of who struck first, the response from this breakaway group, firing missiles etc, even if whether Gardaí struck first, serves only to undermine the entire cause that was being championed on the march. In what world does firing cans at Gardaí equate to logical political debate? If the students struck first, it has disgraced and discredited students at a time where public support is badly needed. I really don’t want these cuts either, but when I was thinking about how best to stop them, amazingly ‘fling a bottle at someone’ didn’t occur to me. Regardless of who cast the first blow in these clashes, the students involved were not entirely innocent. This does not in any way justify the actions of the Gardaí if it was them, but there are better ways to deal with that situation. If indeed it was just wanton police brutality, without cause or provocation, which makes the better headline for students as a whole: “Garda hospitalised in violent clashes with students” or Gardaí attacking students who AREN’T fighting back? To speak coldly, if voters in this country saw Gardaí baton charging students who weren’t fighting or resisting, they would more than likely become widely sympathetic to our cause, which is supposed to be the idea.

I saw a point raised on the march’s Facebook page today that the only reason that we think the students were the bad guys were, and I quote:

“RTE is state funded. What does that mean? That means that if the state wants to get a point across/omit information, they can, with ease”

Amazing then that TV3, not only not in receipt of license fee money, but a competitor of RTE’s who would revel in proving them to be liars reported it much the same. You can check it out here. Also reporting the same story of student violence were the Irish Times, a left-leaning publication. That’s here. As did Yahoo news, here. Sorry, I just had to point that out. Media conspiracies bug me. And just so we’re clear, The Observer is not in receipt of Government funding either. I know, you’re shocked. And if you’re so convinced that the media is going to turn students  into the bad guys, don’t act like a wanker and make their job easy.

So where do these ugly images leave us? What next for the students of Ireland? It is likely that in regards to the cuts, one of two things will likely happen. Either they will be introduced exactly as planned, or a slightly smaller series of cuts will be. Not because of today’s events, but because that was the plan all along, and announcing a higher cut than the one you actually introduce is a good move politically. As for the student population, our credibility in the realms of serious political discussion has been dashed for now. A small minority has shown us up as the thugs some people say we are. As much as we may not have been taken seriously before today, all that’s out the window now for the time being.

I really wanted this article to be about how today was a landmark. The single biggest mobilization of students in a generation. The awakening and politicization of an entirely new social group. But unfortunately, it was ruined. Happy now?

[Some good quality photos of today’s events, good and bad, to be found here and here]

-Dave Ryan



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