The history of student activism is heroic, forceful, naive, idealistic, and often bloody.
But even today the heroic displays of the Chinese at Tiananmen Square, the mass protests against the war in Vietnam, and the continued push against theocracy in Iran, make not just students, but everyone, believe that their actions, no matter how small, can mean something.
In recent years in Galway student activism has been limited to (predictably enough) Palestine and to a lesser extent, environmental issues. Both important yes, but over-exposure and the perception of student support for Palestine as no more than a trendy left-wing fad gives the activism little legs and even less press.
But are times changing?
The collapse of the financial markets allied with a disastrous budget has people worked up. The dole queues lengthen and the Government looks helpless. The country continues its descent into a doom and gloom, one most of today’s students have never experienced. And these past months a notable section of students in NUIG have “woken up”, becoming more forceful, and certainly bolder than ever before.
The stakes are high. But more importantly the stakes are local: third level fees. As the Government scrounges around to save money, third level fees, the students say, must not be re-introduced.
And into the firing line has come FF Minister Eamon Ó Cuív.
Already in November students from group FEE (Free Education for Everyone) occupied the Minister’s office in Flood Street before being moved on by gardaí.
Two weeks back students turned out at NUI Galway to mount a protest at an official visit by Minister for Education Batt O'Keeffe, along with Frank Fahey, and again Minister Ó Cuív.
The protest, organised in collaboration between the NUI Galway Students' Union, and the once again FEE, which is supported by the NUI Galway Labour Youth, Ógra Sinn Féin and Young Greens, even saw some handbags between the Minister and protesters. Interestingly members of Ógra Fianna Fáil and Young Fine Gael also turned out in support of FEE.
Kevin O’Connor, editor of the SIN newspaper in NUIG, said, “A core group of students is mobilising. There is a hardcore group within the university. They are not out to be violent but are interested in direct action and civil disobedience.
“In general there are more and more students that feel very strongly about third level education fees. And if the exams weren’t on there would have been a bigger turn out at these protests.”
But Kevin says there is still a degree of apathy among students, even regarding the possible re-introduction of third level fees.
“Among the people I talk to, the Student Union strata, there is of course strong feeling against a possible re-introduction of fees. But I think among students in general there is a strong sense of apathy.”
Since nothing has been formally announced, Kevin says, it is difficult to convince those on campus to protest against something that might happen, rather than will happen.
And he adds, “The interest in student politics has been trailing off in the last number of years, The voting numbers in student union elections have been going further down and down. But I do see an increase this year especially with the interest surrounding the third level fees.”