Whilst over a million Irish people refuse to pay the household charge, and workers across the country take to sit-ins as their first course of action; the “leaders” of the Irish student movement operate as lackeys for this austerity government, using a vacuum of de-politicisation to foster fabricated support for a graduate tax or a student loan system.
There has been no groundswell of popular opinion calling for a change to USI policy. This “preferendum” ( a made-up word mixing referendum with preference) has been initiated solely by those within the USI with an agenda altogether different to that which they were elected on. It’s quite hilarious to hear Gary Redmond, USI President, condemning Ruairi Quinn for going back on his promise to not raise fees, when he himself is now openly advocating a graduate tax despite his mandate being to oppose fees in all forms. When news came out last week that Redmond and President-elect, John Logue, have been involved with the graduate tax campaign, it was very quickly realised that these people are not acting in the interests of the student body, but rather in the interests of the government – Fine Gael supported a graduate tax before the general election and student loans at their recent Ard Fheis.
To engage in this “preferendum” business, students are asked to visit a website, place their preferences beside a number of options (options which see the USI actually considering full fees as a reasonable mandate for a union) and then all these votes will be collated and broken down for each 3rd-level institution with each result being a mandate for the respective college delegation to a special congress of the USI on Wednesday the 23rd May. The fact that graduates of colleges who are now elsewhere can vote in their previous college has been met with little concern by the USI, with Redmond saying that it is the duty of the administration of 3rd-level institutions to work out who is and isn’t a student there. Surely this would mean delegations would then be going to this special congress with a mandate made up of votes of students who don’t even go to the respective college? To this the USI has responded and said that the online votes will be analysed and those who vote in a college they are not attending will be separated and ruled out, completely destroying the idea that this “preferendum” is being done by secret ballot.
Free Education for Everyone believes that this “preferendum” should not be taking place at all. To that end, we call on all delegates to the USI Special Congress on the 23rd to vote for a 9B. A 9B is a procedure which declares that the question (in this case the “preferendum”) not be put to students at all. There has been movement calling for a 9D at this Congress, which calls for the “preferendum” to be run in October when students are actually around college and can be informed. However, we believe that knowing the intentions of the current President and Vice-President and the President-elect, that options such as a graduate tax or student loans will be presented as favourable to students by these individuals, with no impartiality and to the complete detriment of the USI’s current policy – 100% Exchequer-funded or in other words, free education.
When we have a union whose vice-president attempts to call on delegates to National Congress in April to back a Yes vote to the so-called Fiscal Treaty, students should be aware of these people and their agendas. Colm Murphy is a member of Fine Gael, whilst both Gary Redmond and John Logue have been in Fianna Fail. In any other walk of life, these facts would not be ignored; in a Union where these individuals constantly have to liaise with the Government, they should be considered paramount. Individuals such as Pat de Brun, current UCD SU President who declared that the bailing out of unsecured bondholders was not an issue for students, will then gladly write in the national press that free education is unrealistic and then throw his weight behind a graduate tax, only a few days after exclaiming that ‘unions’ are holding the Government to ransom. One must call into question here this statement in conjunction with his role as a union President.
Free Education for Everyone is a grassroots campaign, organised across Ireland, composed of students, workers and parents dedicated to keeping education free at all levels. It has been proven in other countries that options such as a graduate tax and student loans only serve to worsen the problem of higher education funding.
‘It’s in this sense that the graduate tax proposal indicates a worrying attempt to ideologically entrench a consumerist view of taxation, as opposed to the historical use for which taxes have been used – redistribution. This consumerist ideology is contrary to the principle that any robust defence of a publicly funded HE system must adhere – that investment in our universities is good for the economy and therefore society, not just the individual. In this respect, the graduate tax is an ideological and rhetorical dead-end for the student movement.’
Education is a right, not a privilege. FEE believes 3rd-level education should be funded by a central progressive taxation system. FEE calls on all delegates to the USI Congress on the 23rd to 9B this “preferendum” and stop the right-wing ideologues at the top of the USI from changing USI policy to that of a neo-liberal government.