More than 2,000 students from NUI Galway and GMIT and their supporters are expected to descend on Spanish Arch at lunchtime today to protest against proposed Government plans to increase registration fees and impose cuts to the student maintenance grant.
Student union representatives says students are not afraid to show the Government they are angry and concerned about their future education, but, they say, the violent clashes which took place at the national student protest in Dublin on November 3 between gardai and a small minority are not expected to occur in Galway.
“We certainly don’t expect similar scenes,” says NUI Galway SU president Peter Mannion. “We have been working closely with gardai to ensure our demoncratic right to protest without adversely affecting the people of Galway. Unfortunately, some of the coverage put too much emphasis on the unfortunate events at the Department of Finance, but it was a very small number involved when you consider that 40,000 students were there and demonstrated peacefully. The gardai actually commented that the majority of students were well behaved and co-operated,” he says.
Mr Mannion says a significant turnout is expected considering that 1,000 NUI Galway students and up to 700 GMIT students paid for bus tickets and took time out of classes and work to take part in the national protest.
“One thousand from NUI Galway is greater than anyone here can remember taking part in a protest. It shows the detrimental effect this will have on students, that they would give up a day to go up to Dublin. This could put them or their friends out of third level education... Students are not afraid to show the Government that they will not accept any further hikes in the registration fee and that education isn’t something the Government should take chances with,” said Mr Mannion.
The protest, which is due to begin at the Spanish Arch at 1pm, will not only highlight the threat of hikes in registration fees and cuts in maintenance grants but also the current graduate unemployment and emigration crisis.
GMIT SU president, Colin Canny, urged all GMIT students to join and support today’s demonstration. He added that “already there are signs that the Government is beginning to sit up and take notice of students in this country, so now we must keep the pressure on. Galway has always been a strong voting constituency in past elections, and the students of Galway and the west of Ireland must let the politicians know that they are a vote.”
According to the Union of Students in Ireland (USI ) since the national protest the Government has abolished its plans to double the registration fee however, the fees are still excessive and act as a barrier to many students entering third level education.
USI president Gary Redmond, who will be one of the speakers at today’s Galway protest, said: “The students of Ireland are angry and concerned about their future education. Many face having to drop out of college if they are targeted by the Government in the budget. The exceptional turn out for the USI national march is testament to the level of panic among our students. USI has organised the regional protest marches to ensure that students and higher education are not earmarked as easy targets for Budget 2011.”
Student leaders are calling on anyone interesting in safeguarding education to turn up to support the demonstration or alternatively to join the Tell Your TD campaign which urges the public to lobby their local TDs. Log on to www.tellyourtd.com for more information.