Cillian Byrne apologises for his part in blockade
By Aishling Phelan
The Union of Students in Ireland broke the law on the day of the ‘Stop Fees, Save the Grant’ protest by excluding certain groups from joining the rally, according to a member of FEE (Free Education for Everyone) DCU, Derek McKenna.
McKenna claims he was “shocked” when he witnessed USI stewards refusing to allow the groups entry into Merrion Square and stating “they are not welcome in here.”
He called on the Students’ Union to condemn the actions of the USI after their stewards linked arms forming a human chain stopping members of FEE and Occupy Dame Street from re-joining the march after they staged a sit down protest outside Fine Gael headquarters.
Education Officer and Vice President of the SU, Cillian Byrne, apologised for his part in the blockade which blocked some DCU students from re-entering the march. He stated that it was a case of “the wrong place at the wrong time” and said he showed “great naivety after being instructed by the Gardaí and USI stewards to block the road.”
Although he wouldn’t be drawn on whether the blockade was right or wrong, he apologised for any offence to DCU students caused by his actions.
Members of FEE DCU and two class reps were blocked from re-entering the protest.
Student Seán O’Ciardubhain posted on the SU Facebook page, “funny that one of those blocking people re-joining was a member of DCUSU who aren’t even members of the USI….”
McKenna posted on the evening of the march, “The most disturbing sight of today was students wearing USI vests forming a human roadblock to block members of Fee and Occupy Dame Street from joining the protest and exercising their democratic right to protest. The human roadblock included a member of the DCU Students’ Union executive… A sad day.”
Deputy President and Campaigns Officer for the USI, Colm Murphy, insisted that no group was discriminated against but said that some of the stewards may not have been aware that they were blocking the road for health and safety reasons.
“The USI will have to work at making sure all of our stewards in future are fully briefed on the plan.”
Speaking to the College View he explained, “When they came back to Merrion Square [after the sit down protest] they came back to the front of the march again where the area was already filled. They were asked to go down to go back to the back of the march like every other student.
“Now certain students decided not to do so and they maintain that they were blocked from entering because they were members of FEE. They were not allowed to enter that area of the march because it was not an entry point.”
USI have said that the section of the march that FEE and members of Occupy Dame Street tried to re-enter was a fire exit.
McKenna said, “People on the blockade didn’t realise I was a member of FEE because we had slightly broken away from the main group when we tried to enter the blockade we asked what was going on here, they said we don’t want them coming in here, pointing to the group with the banners (FEE) trying to cause violence. They are not wanted here.
“I said that I want to walk down this barrier and which point I was let through because I was not recognised as a member of FEE. This whole idea of a fire escape is nonsense; the blockade was only for a certain group.”
He added, “USI has a monopoly on its protest. They say who they let in and who they don’t.”
He accepted Byrnes apology stating, “Cillian has already apologised on Facebook, he didn’t realise what he was doing. I think if he had of thought of what he was doing he wouldn’t have engaged in the blockade. I accept that he knows that he did was wrong and he’s apologised for it.”
One student at the Class Representative Council meeting claimed he heard members of FEE “verbally assaulting” USI Officers shouting “USI bitch” and “USI fucking idiots” and said FEE had tried to lead the march.
He added, “They were closed off because they had to re-join through the designated entrances. The USI blocked everyone’s access getting in.”
Another student claimed that it was nothing to do with fire exits and that it was a case of “we don’t agree with you, we don’t support you.”
McKenna asked to pass a motion that condemns the actions of the USI on the day in the form of a public letter. The motion failed to pass by 17 votes to 14 votes.
He argued that the actions of the USI broke the law by collaborating with the Gardaí and restricting freedom of movement.
Under section 9 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994: Any person who, without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, wilfully prevents or interrupts the free passage of any person or vehicle in any public place shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £200.