éirígí spokesperson Daithí Mac An Mháistir has slammed the Dublin government’s plans to cut funding to the education system. Speaking ahead of last Wednesday's (16th Nov) student demonstration in Dublin Mac An Mháistir said:
“The last number of months has witnessed a steady drip-feed of leaks from the government about its intentions for the education system. As recently as last weekend we had media stories about plans to cut grant and maintenance funding for post-graduate students. It is clear to the dogs on the street that the Dublin government are preparing the ground for major changes to the entire education system in this state. It appears that these changes will see class sizes at primary and secondary level increase whilst those attending third and fourth level will be forced to pay astronomical sums of money to complete their studies.
“When taken together these attacks on the education system represent a very significant blow to the very idea of free education for all. Without such a system the inequality gap in Irish society will continue to widen. Without access to a high quality free education system those from less well off backgrounds will face very real difficulties in attaining secondary level education, never mind third or fourth.
“The reason behind all of these attacks on the education system is, of course, the IMF/EU deal which the government has signed up to. The very idea of a free lifetime education system is anathema to the neo-liberal ideologues that run the IMF and the EU. They claim that austerity measures, including the slashing of education spending, are necessary for economic recovery – something which even the densest of Fine Gael and Labour ministers must be able to see through. How can the downgrading of an education system help with economic recovery? Where is the much talked about ‘smart economy’ going to come from if only the rich can access the higher levels of the education system?
“Cutting the budget of the education system is an act of social and economic vandalism which will be regretted for generations to come. A quality education system isn’t like a tap that can be turned on and off at will. It takes years of proper funding and planning to build the appropriate physical infrastructure and to develop the necessary pool of skilled and experienced teachers, academics, administrators and so forth. Cuts that take one budget to introduce could take decades to recover from.”
Mac An Mháistir concluded: “We in éirígí believe that a state-funded lifetime education system is an essential element of a just and stable society. We believe education to be one of the key drivers for the breaking down of class barriers as well as the ending of discrimination and inequality. We commend those students that are willing to bring the fight for a free education system directly to the government and encourage students and non-students alike to join the fight-back against the cuts to the education system.”
At least twenty thousand students took to the streets of Dublin during Wednesday's protest against government plans to drastically increase third level student fees in Budget 2012.
The government intends to reintroduce tuition fees and decrease the student grant, as well as further increase the registration fee which presently stands at €2,000 [£1,720]. Just last weekend further government plans to cut grant and maintenance funding for post-graduate students were revealed.
Increased fees will mean that fewer people will be able to continue their education into or beyond third level. Families are already struggling with job losses and cuts; many will simply not be able to find the money to support someone in college.
It must be reiterated that cutting education funding will not lead to economic recovery. We will not achieve growth by frustrating the potential of young Irish people and consigning them to emigration and the dole.
The attack on education funding is being driven by the EU/IMF. The commercialisation and privatisation of education is a key component of their neoliberal creed.
By taking to the streets, Ireland’s students showed they would not simply be another passive victim of EU/IMF ideology.
The body of students marched from Parnell Square towards Leinster House. The atmosphere was upbeat and assertive. Members of éirígí walked behind a banner with the slogan ‘Education: Your Right – Your Fight’.
At Merrion Square a section of students broke away from the march and made their way towards the Fine Gael Headquarters on Mount Street. This section was made up of students who had become disillusioned with the passive and meek tactics of the USI [Union of Students in Ireland] leadership over recent years. Under the banner of the student group FEE [Free Education for Everyone], this group of students staged a sit down protest outside the Fine Gael HQ.
After this short protest the students found their route back up Mount Street blocked by lines of USI Stewards. The USI stewards stood with linked arms in front of lines of Gardaí, and refused to allow the students to proceed up the road without confrontation.
Members of the Special Branch wearing USI t-shirts were also spotted among the crowd.
The USI leadership choose to work with the Gardaí to ensure that the student march remained merely a passive speechmaking affair for the USI leadership rather than a real expression of student dissent. The attitude of the USI leadership is nothing short of disgraceful, especially when one considers the number of students who were injured by Gardaí during last year’s march against fees.
The USI leadership would do well to reflect on the words of the Salvador Allende: “to be a student and not a revolutionary is a contradiction.”
Nevertheless, regardless of the position of the official union leaderships, Irish students and teachers will continue to resist the ever increasing attacks on education. Education is right, not a privilege.