USI stage demonstrations as budget looms

Thousands of students joined Union of Students in Ireland (USI) demonstrations on Tuesday last, October 1st, calling on the government not to cut student maintenance grants.

The student contribution fee is already set to increase by €250 in Budget 2014, which will be revealed next Tuesday, October 15th. This will bring the total charge to €2,750 for the next academic year, while it will increase further next year, bringing the fee to €3000 by 2015.

Some 800 students took to Molesworth Street, outside Dail Éireann, while 1,000 students from UCC and Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Carlow and Tralee ITs took to the streets of Cork. According to organisers, some 2,000 students marched in Sligo.

USI President Joe O’Connor explained that this was but the first in a series of planned ‘Fight For Your Future’ campaign events, with members gathering at Buswells Hotel today, October 9th.

“Students themselves are prepared to fight, argue and lobby for their future”, he said adding “we’re keeping communication open with government and opposition TDs”.

“Higher education is not public spending it is public investment and we’re calling on the government to prioritise that in the upcoming budget”, he said.

Their action follows their introduction of new student voter identification system SERD (Student Elector Registration Database). The new system will help politicians to target student voters amongst the population and will instantly match student votes to constituency and local TDs.

A recent Ipsos MRBI poll published in the Irish Times indicated that just two per cent of the public believe that cuts should come to the student maintenance grant, while 18 per cent feel that university lecturers’ pay should be cut.

When asked whether he felt the USI thought they would be successful in getting their message through to the government, O’Connor said he felt the organisation’s approach was better this year compared to previous years. “Thousands of committed and engaged students came together for the march last Tuesday”, he explained.

UCC student and Government and Politics Society committee member, Lisa Marie Sheehy is passionate about the USI’s intention and took part in the Cork protest.

‘Everyone was buzzing’, she said of the atmosphere on the day. “They all wanted to go out and fight for their education. Everyone was very energetic and passionate about their reason for being there.”

She feels it’s important for students to make a stand and show that they are serious about their education.

She hopes the message of the protests got through to the government, however is unsure whether this has happened as there have been many such demonstrations from various groups in recent times. “At the end of the day it is their grant, they’re the ones being affected”, she added.

Nicole O’Connor and Seán Defoe

Image Credit: Annemarie Kelly

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