#stopfees – United We Stand

Dave Ryan muses on what he wants to see at tomorrow’s march

Tomorrow, the streets of Dublin will (hopefully) be filled with students, marching to protest against possible education cuts that this year’s budget may contain, in the latest yearly installment of ‘Let’s all walk to Leinster House and get ignored.’ And whereas in that regard nothing may change this year, that is not a reason to stay at home on Wednesday.

The student movement as a whole has suffered in recent years owing to the phenomenal amount of fair weather support these campaigns have at all levels. Between people thinking a one day campaign like this is sufficient, people who failed to make it much more than a one day campaign, and people who reckoned enough people were doing it already so they’d just stay in bed, students have hovered around the point of being a force to be reckoned with, without ever breaking through.

One year ago, I sat at my desk, sipping a beer, trying to work out the events of November 3, 2010 in my head. The two lasting visuals of the day were the sea of students in yellow, standing as one against the government, the other was of a small number of those students being assaulted on Merrion Row by the Gardaí.  In the end, I reckoned that for all the positives and negatives of the day, it would all live and die on what happened in the follow-up.

Scenes from the Garda Brutality March to Pearse St. Garda station last year

And here I am, back at the desk.

The follow-up didn’t exist. We’ve had the ‘Tell Your TD’ campaign, which has only achieved a large amount of copy & paste responses. A large number of the students that were on Merrion Row that day believe themselves to have been frozen out by the USI. Fianna Fáil have fallen, and been replaced by a new Government, a Government the USI are already wary of, before they even make their first budget announcement.

So are we setting ourselves up to do it all over again tomorrow? The signs are similar. A colour-coded USI contingent will march to Leinster House, a lefty bloc is assembling at the Ambassador, and students prove their political maturity by being the only demographic that has to be warned that bringing alcohol to a march probably isn’t for the best.

This is an occasion where, above all others, the student movement needs to present a united front. It’s not about left, right, or centre: tomorrow should be about ensuring that the financial barriers of entry to third level education remain as minimal as possible. In an ideal world, no party will fly its colours tomorrow. The methods employed by USI in forcing the hand of the State has been criticised by many, but Wednesday is not the day for that. Wednesday is where we all stand against, among other things, Government plans to scrap the grant scheme for post-graduates. Wednesday should be the day where we show that Fine Gael and Labour have a gun to the temple of the smart economy.

In his appearance on Prime Time last week, USI President Gary Redmond put it to Ruairi Quinn, the Minister for Education, that he had broken the pre-election promise he made to students that the fees and grants issues would not worsen if his party were elected. Quinn’s response was to say that he personally agreed with USI’s stance. This barely qualifies as an answer, the best he was willing to commit to was to ‘try’. Regardless of the accusation that Redmond and USI were naive in being used as an electioneering tool, Quinn has broken his promise. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Studentnews.ie has reported that many believe tomorrow to be a make or break day for the USI, and it’s true. It’s unlikely that USI will do itself any favours if we end up having a repeat of last year’s protests. Tomorrow may be the day that defines Gary Redmond’s presidency. But for all USI’s flaws, we must all march tomorrow. Daniel O’ Carroll summed up my thoughts in his aforementioned article.

Students have but one one way of trying to break the inevitable logic, and that’s by joining the student unions in their march on Dublin tomorrow.

Even if the odds are stacked firmly in the government’s favour that come Budget day some sort of fees increase will be announced, it would be remiss of students to pass up a chance to communicate to political leaders, for the second year in a row, that more costly third level education will have a massively detrimental impact on Ireland’s future, and the plight of young people in this country in general.

The decision may already have been made, the USI’s somewhat repetitive anti fees crusading sometimes difficult to agree with, but the prospect of increased fees and decimated grants will be too tough a cocktail for recession-worn Ireland to bear.

For that reason alone, students should certainly make the trip to Dublin tomorrow.

My hope on Wednesday is that it is not merely a one day effort. Whereas there is some debate over the inclusion of direct action in student protest, we can all agree that any progress we can hope to make requires a sustained effort from USI and the individual SU’s alike. We need to shatter the perception that if the government weather the storm for a couple of months, they hear no more from us for another year.  If we can do that, maybe we can actually achieve something.

Dave Ryan

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