The Budget, 3rd Level Education & the Student Occupations


The changes to third-level fees and the maintenance grants system for new postgraduate students in Budget 2012 come as no big shock. The €250 increase in the student contribution charge means students will pay €2,250 from next September, with other increases likely to come in 2013 and 2014. In relation to postgraduates, no maintenance grants will be paid for new entrants from the 2012/13 academic year. These changes come into effect after months of campaigning by the grassroots student campaign group Free Education for Everyone (FEE) and the Union of Students Ireland (USI).

The €250 increase in the annual college registration fee will have a serious impact on families across the country, with the burden falling largely not on students themselves, but on families across Ireland who are already suffering from other Budget measures. 

FEE is a broad campaign group that campaigns for the abolition of all registration fees/student contributions in favour of it being funded by a central progressive taxation system, as well as opposing all recent cuts to the education system.

Following the large USI protest of November 16th, occupations began on November 29th, when representatives of the USI occupied two government department buildings. The group, including USI President Gary Redmond, occupied the Department of Enterprise and Jobs and then the Department of Social Protection. The students had brought enough food with them to last for several weeks, as well as a portable toilet, to the enterprise ministry on Kildare Street. The first occupation ended quite quickly with the threatened use of pepper-spray by the Gardaí on the occupiers. However the 2nd occupation lasted for approximately four hours, with the four occupants arrested and brought to Store Street Garda Station. FEE released a statement of support for these actions.

Actions continued the next day, when approximately fifteen members of FEE Galway  ( occupied the constituency office of Fine Gael TD Brian Walsh. NUIG Equality Officer and FEE representative William O’Brien stated that “protests, marches, lobbying are not working so we’re upping the ante, to obstruct TD’s and ministers as they are intent on obstructing us in the pursuit of education. Students are very angry, particularly at the Labour party”. Labour party Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn had signed a pledge promising to oppose any increase in fees or cut to the grant in the run up to February’s general election.

The Maynooth Students Union then occupied Fine Gael T.D Anthony Lawlor’s Naas office. The group of eight students said it had come equipped with a chemical toilet and enough food for a week. FEE Maynooth members also visited the occupation, which lasted for 4 days, before Gardaí ejected them at 2 a.m. on the morning of the fifth day. Come Budget Day, students in Dublin  ( occupied the Ranelagh offices of Eoghan Murphy (FG), urging him to vote against any education cuts and rises in student fees in the budget. 

Lorcan Myles commented on FEE’s support for student union led occupations that  “there is a need for a mass campaign that can win, and occupying is one of the best tactics at the disposal of the student movement”. 

This article is from Workers Solidarity 125, Jan/Feb 2012