The Budget Blues

Dave Ryan with some thoughts on Budget 2012 and the student movement

This morning, a group of occupiers will wake up on an office floor in County Kildare, knowing that by the end of this day, they may learn if their efforts over the past few days have been worth it.

Today, we will hear the opening act of Budget 2012, another budget of austerity, intended to walk a tightrope act: to appease the public and, perhaps more importantly, the troika. Enda Kenny’s address to the nation on Sunday night will have done nothing to assuage the fears of the former; the EU flag looming behind Kenny as he stated that he could not promise safety for those already in dire financial straits.

No one in professional politics seems to have the answer Fianna Fáil’s attempts to reign in our debts brought the IMF to our door, the Fine Gael/Labour appear to be ambling in the direction of further cuts, Joe Higgins’ budget proposals on behalf of the ULA were laughed out the door by Vincent Browne. Today we see Fine Gael’s first step on what our Taoiseach calls a four year recovery plan.

As students we lie in an unenviable position. Those closer to finishing may be the last to escape with relatively free education, but even they are being dumped into a barren labour market. Those few who could afford college with even greater fees will find themselves in a similar situation, with perhaps the added burden of student loans to worry about. Maybe one of the budget proposals is to begin awarding degrees in the departures terminal of Dublin Airport; saves time, don’t you think?

The rumour circulating since Saturday night is that as and from this budget, students will face a registration fee increase of €250 every year for the next four years. In addition to this, grants for postgraduate students will be scrapped entirely in favour of a student loan program, the details of which remain unknown.

The student movement has spent the last month or so vocally opposing any further cuts to education. The national march of November 16 brought thousands streaming through Dublin. In the wake of this, several student occupations have broken out to further protest against proposed cuts. USI themselves briefly occupied the Department of Social Protection, and FEE Galway occupied the office of Brian Walsh TD. Which brings us back to Kildare, where Maynooth SU have occupied the constituency office of Anthony Lawlor TD since Friday.

Have the students done enough? Many would say these occupations are too little, too late. In an interview with me on Saturday from inside the occupation, MSU President Rob Munnelly refuted these claims, saying that the student movement had exhausted all possible measures before having to resort to occupations. Nothing to this point has gotten the government’s attention, or put the student plight in the public eye for more than a day or two at a time; perhaps these occupations are the way to go. Some have gone so far as to call MSU occupiers ‘scum’ for occupying the office, and for encouraging people to contact Anthony Lawlor by providing his mobile number. We must, however, bear in mind, that Deputy Lawlor has gone on record as saying he was not concerned about the occupiers, save for his allegedly ‘frightened’ staff, who have not been in the office since Friday evening. If he so wished, he could have members of An Garda Siochana remove the occupiers by force, but for reasons best known to Deputy Lawlor himself, he has yet to do so. As for the phone number issue, and cries of intimidation by using this number, it has been pointed out in a number of emails to the Observer that this number is publicly available on Fine Gael’s website.

Rumours abound that student protests will escalate over the next number of days, and if so, it will be very interesting to see if the government can continue its deafening silence on the issue, or whether print media will actually take students seriously. One thing is certain: this isn’t over yet, not by a long shot.

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