Student protests and scuffles with the Gardaí on Monday night resulted in the cancellation of former taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s visit to NUI, Galway, leading to condemnation of the student protesters by some of their campus colleagues.
Mr Ahern was to speak at the Literary and Debating society. As a former taoiseach and still serving Fianna Fáil TD, a protest was to be held regarding the controversial proposal to reintroduce third level fees.
Free Education for Everyone called the protest under the slogan ‘They’re trying to block our access to college so we’ll block theirs.’
As well as protesting against the proposed third level fees, the students were also demonstrating against the hike in the registration fee, and the general education cuts being introduced by Budget 09.
Some 50 students staged a sit down protest at the University Road entrance. The FEE group allege that the gardaí engaged “in heavy-handed tactics” and of “flinging students away” and “dragging them by the hair” in order to clear the entrance for Mr Ahern’s car.
Mr Ahern’s car came in by another entrance. Students then became intent on completely blocking Mr Ahern’s access to the college.
“This involved students standing in front of doors and being shoved out of the way,” according to a spokesperson for FEE, “but at no point did protesters take violent action against the gardaí.”
When Mr Ahern arrived at the speaking venue students gathered in front of the lecture theatre door and FEE has alleged that students - both protesters and those attending the event - were forced into a tight corner by the numbers of gardaí.
According to others present on the night several gardaí and FEE protesters were seen to be engaged in “serious physical confrontations” as well as abuse and small missiles being hurled at the former taoiseach. The event was called off at this point.
After the crowd dispersed one protester was arrested and later charged for using insulting words and obstructing gardaí. The protester was released later that night.
FEE accepts that the protest did not go as planned, but sticks by the initial attempt and reasons behind blocking Mr Ahern from coming onto campus.
Afterwards a discussion was held by the Literary and Debating Society and several students voiced their disappointment and embarrassment about what had happened. They aslo said that while they had sympathies with the FEE cause, they could no longer support the group after its actions on the night.
Speaking to the university newspaper Sin, Students’ Union president Muireann O’Dwyer said the SU condemned the actions of a “small number of people which led to the cancellation of Bertie Ahern’s audience with student society Lit and Deb”.
She said: “The union believes violent protest is never appropriate, and strongly condemns attempts to stifle the activities of any student society on campus. Some students were hurt tonight, and more were afraid. The actions of both gardaí and a small number of protestors were unnecessary.”
It is understood that NUIG has launched an investigation into the protest.
Student rebellion will be the topic of discussion at the Literary and Debating Society this evening. The society will debate ‘That This House Believes Student Protest Has Gone Too Far’ in the Kirwan Theatre at 7pm.
Guest speakers are set to include Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Éamon Ó Cuív and Muireann O’Dwyer. Minister Ó Cuív encountered student protest on the NUIG campus last semester. A reception will follow in Paddy's Bar on Prospect Hill.