Students clash with Gardaí over fees protest

by Kirsty Tobin

Irish students have been involved today, Wednesday, in clashes with Gardaí as protests in the nation’s capital took a less than peaceful turn.

Students storm Dublin in protest against the near-doubling of registration fees. Photo: Susan Ryan, 2010

An estimated 40,000 students took to the streets of Dublin to protest the raising of registration fees. The students marched, in a protest organised by the Union of Students in Ireland, from the northern end of O’Connell Street to outside the offices of the Department of Finance. Here, violence erupted between members of An Garda Síochána and protestors.

One onlooker, a recent graduate who faces emigration in the near future, describes the sudden change in the protest: “One minute people were chanting ‘no ifs, no buts, no education cuts,’ and throwing the occasional egg at the building, and then the next thing we knew, a line of six mounted Gardaí were driving their horses into the crowd. A cry of ‘sit down, sit down’ went up and forty or fifty people sat down on the road. More followed suit. The Gardaí, after a couple more attempts, retreated.”

Gardaí and protestors in lobby of Department of Finance building, Merrion Row. Photo: Susan Ryan, 2010

According to this eyewitness, a line of Gardaí in riot gear formed and, behind this line, protestors who had entered the Department of Finance were forcibly ejected. The Garda mounted unit also “rode the horses straight at the crowd. They trampled a number of students. The riot police started hitting the crowd with batons to get them to move,” the former student said.

The students present at the protest had mixed reactions to the turn the protest took. One argued that “it hindered the cause to the extent that the ‘violence’ is all that is being focused on by the media, here and abroad, but, on the other hand, shaking Fine Gael TDs’ hands, and applauding the Gardaí for their patience isn’t going to stop anything.”

Another student, who also declined to be named, claims that the escalation could be seen to have damaged the effect of the protest: “it was a peaceful protest until people, of their own accord, went against the USI and started to riot, which didn’t help our case at all.”

All of this comes in the wake of public speculation that fees are set to rise from €1500 to €2500 a year.

Ahead of next week’s student demonstrations in London against education cuts and increased tuition fees, the question becomes whether or not we can expect to see similar scenes here.