In the wake of a recent SU Council meeting at NUI Galway, Sarah McCarthy writes of the dangers of apathy in the wake of the extreme circumstances we find ourselves in today.
On Monday January 30th, there was an SU Council meeting at which Equality Officer William O’Brien asked the student reps to mandate the SU Executive to ‘consider’ a number of tactics in the fight against fees. They included simple measures like marches and more intrepid steps such as a mass boycott of fees. During the debate that ensued I couldn’t help but wonder if I just hadn’t noticed the giant bubble encasing the NUIG campus. There were arguments against it, there were concerns of expulsion, there were fears for personal safety and futures – but most noticeably, there was a consistent use of the hypothetical. It was all ‘ifs’ and ‘whens’ and ‘this would only be in an extreme situation’. I was genuinely stunned to silence, trying to figure out; ‘how on Earth can they not see that we’re already in an extreme situation?!’
Exactly a week previously, Free Education for Everyone (FEE) had an open forum for students and others to come and speak about how the cuts have been affecting them. The stories shared were sobering. There were young people who were forced to drop out because they could no longer afford to support themselves, graduates who have been obliged to sign on (some with multiple Degrees), students whose siblings will not get the opportunities that they have had, and many more whose dreams of a Post-Grad are shot with the latest removal of the grant. Yet one week later, none of this desperation was translated into a semblance of urgency amongst those who supposedly represent NUIG students.
We have an average of 10 suicides a week in this country, the vast majority of whom are young men – part of that statistic we throw around; 15% unemployment. €543 Million was cut from our health budget this year – the latest wave of coerced retirements has health staff across the board warning that there will be a corresponding rise in fatalities. They’re trying to shut down nursing homes and emergency wings up and down the country. People are literally dying, yet the representatives of NUIG students dream of the day we might be in an ‘extreme situation’. I wonder do they know that we are the most indebted country in the world?
In Greece, they have had riots, general strikes, and innumerable mass demonstrations. They owe 252% of their GDP to foreign debtors; we owe 1,093% of ours. The Greeks hold banners with “EU, IMF – OUT” for they recognise the root of their problem. They know that their unbalanced and ineptly named ‘austerity’ packages are coming from international institutions run by unelected elites, who seek to place the burden of the crisis on those who had nothing to do with it. A fact which seems to elude our SU President, who questioned the part of O’Brien’s motion which sought to recognise the presence of the IMF in this country as detrimental to students. The wealth of the richest 300 in Ireland increased by €6.7 Billion in 2010. Meanwhile, Special Needs Assistants, student grants, and allowances for things like fuel and one-parent families are being relentlessly cut. It does not take much to see who’s suffering, and more importantly – who isn’t.
I don’t blame students for their attitude. Our conservative media does not want us to realise the extent of our troubles, the nature of these injustices. But if you read this and do not feel moved to act, then I do blame you. Today, the majority of the world’s citizens suffer. Historically, student movements have often been the spark for sweeping resistance. In Chile weekly demonstrations and widespread occupations have forced the Government to directly negotiate with students, who have the support of the population behind them. Ruarí Quinn and Enda Kenny have just confirmed that fees for undergraduates will be €3,000 by 2015. It is time for Irish students, for our SU’s and the USI to wake up – to engage in more than a yearly march, and to mobilise against those in Government, the IMF, and the ECB, who wish to compel us to inherit a future of desolation, or emigration.
-Sarah McCarthy is Branch Secretary of FEE Galway and student at NUIG