Last week was an eventful one for USI, one in which they organised a national march that saw over twenty thousand students take part it. Although some were seen to be excluded for, what remain to be mysterious reasons. As the week came to a close USI President Gary Redmond and Deputy President Colm Murphy while in Galway met with many of the prominent members of FEE Galway and nationally.
The meeting was requested by FEE as there was a number of concerns that had arisen on the November 16th march, the most grave being the alleged exclusion of members of the FEE movement and other students on political grounds.
Both parties were aware that the interview was being recorded and FEE were told by Redmond that ‘every-body was welcome to the march’ at the very beginning of the meeting. What followed this was a calm exchange as FEE asked for answers as to why many of their members were not allowed back into the march ‘when others clearly were.’ The interview continued with FEE airing their protest at what had occurred to their members.
The response from USI on the matter of ‘discrimination on political grounds’ was that it was untrue, Redmond repeated that ‘everyone was welcome’. The reason stated for the blockade was that of safety as it was an exit. It was also stated by Redmond that himself or Murphy were not there as they were on the stage and could not comment on the events personally, but only in the capacity of their position in USI and what they had been told by other USI officials and members.
Both sides went on the claim that there was intimidation form either side. USI claimed that the #Occupydamestreet group along with FEE members posed a significant and intimidating threat, and have also been accused by USI members of the USI blockade as being insulting and abusive in the insults they received. This was countered by the FEE representatives by stating that a blockade is fundamentally more intimidating than a group of student activists participating in a peaceful protest and a sit-down outside Fine Gael Headquarters, and also stating that there were abusive comments hurled at them with reference to their political affiliations. There is a clear antagonism between both sides that is further accentuated by exclusive language.
Singling out FEE as an unwanted part of the student populace by individuals is worrying as they are a group that is fighting for the cause of every student. While some may not agree with direct action, there is very little recourse left for the student body. Regardless of this objection an operation of exclusion in any form is deplorable.
FEE requested a number of times an apology for the treatment they received. None was forthcoming. Redmond suggested that the complaints would have to go to council. The overall response by the USI was as ambiguous as the plans for today’s ‘fifth step’ in the now infamous Seven point plan, to Freeze the Fees, sorry, Stop the Fees.
Redmond also stated that he spoke to the Gardaí and that they were ‘very happy with how the situation went’. This is in reference to FEE members who spoke to Gardaí who ‘did not know why these FEE members were excluded from the march.’ Redmond stated that the commanding body of officers knew about this on the day.
The conversation then moved onto a more general discussion of involving FEE with the USI more generally to help coordinate the effort to fight fees. Redmond was not opposed to this and it seems that there will be further discussions between the two parties. When discussing this, the issue of FEE UCD asking could they speak at the protest arose. The response from USI was that that ‘they wanted to keep the speeches as brief as possible.’
Later today there are rumours of national events or what this Observer has heard called from a source in the know, a ‘national day of protest’. However not one FEE member contacted by the Observer was aware of any day of ‘national protest’. Surely a national protest on behalf of the student body needs students to participate? I have said it before, perhaps USI’s plan is the fight fees with ambiguous statements policies.
Gary Redmond is on record as saying, ‘Not a single cent is tolerable for us. Ultimately that €2000 charge should be abolished’, ‘USI policy is for complete free education. According to Redmond’ and finally a quote from an article in the Irish Times, ‘Seán Flynn reports in this newspaper that Quinn is backing off the idea of fees averaging €5,000. What was that I was saying about the power and influence of the USI?’
There are inherent contradictions in what USI president Gary Redmond states the policy of USI is. Is it to fight fees or to ensure a ‘freeze’ at the current rate, or is it in fact a victory if every student in this country has the privilege of not paying €5000. This combined with a ‘willingness to work with FEE’ in an effort to combat fees, by not informing them of any protests is an interesting approach to an already strained relationship.
Ambiguity; Quod Erat Demonstratum.
Shane Mc Nally and Thobias Inkblot
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