Students March in Cork to Oppose Coming Budget Cuts and Fees Hike

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Over 1,500 students from Cork’s various colleges took to the streets to protest the fee increases and cuts to the education system anticipated in the upcoming budget. Students gathered at the UCC grounds, and when the marchers from CIT made it to the university grounds the protest moved off and headed to the city centre by an unusual route via Dyke Parade, the north Leeside quays and Patrick St. to the plaza at Grand Parade.

The spirit on the march was upbeat and students were in a determined mood, but the good turnout was marred by the near-total lack of political perspective or a progressive tactical outlook from the speakers (more like rock concert MCs), the exception being the president of the UCC students’ union Keith O’Brien, whose speech was a rambling stream-of-consciousness appeal to a wider solidarity with other sections of society under attack larded with appeals to get on to the voting register. The disgraced USI president Gary Redmond also spoke from the podium; his contribution was an unmemorable chant-and-response session topped off with a gratuitous thank-you to the Gardai present which was roundly booed by the protesting students.

A significant gesture of solidarity from third-level teaching staff was the presence of the Teachers Union of Ireland on the march with their branch banner. The Garda presence throughout the whole protest was intrusive and obnoxious, from their presence on the UCC campus (which means that the university administration had invited them on-site, they wouldn’t be there otherwise) and the unnecessary number of police vehicles used throughout to the presence of Special Branch cops photographing and videotaping march participants. A number of student activists and WSM members challenged one of the police spies and confronted him about his activities and attitude. He was last seen alongside uniformed Gardai pointing out people in the crowd. In spite of the over-the-top police presence, the whole protest passed off peacefully, and no arrests were made.

The turnout and the mood of the student body bodes well for future student activities, and a new campaign group called Students for Free Education were distributing leaflets at the march, which hopefully will be active before long in Cork student politics. From the evidence of the platform speeches today, this group will surely be needed in the near future.

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