After the march on the Dail of October 22, 2008, this newspaper said that “each student’s time will have been wasted if the one voice that was heard on the day of the march isn’t turned into 10,000 voices, all clearly making their disparate, individual thoughts felt.
Minister for Education, Batt O’Keefe’s visit on Wednesday proved exactly how students have already diverged in their opinions on how to further the fees debate. As reported on the front of this paper, the minister was treated to a strange sight on that Wednesday evening, as one section of students had their mouths taped over in silent protest, while the other was equipped with a megaphone. the source of this contrast was th difference in opinion between TCDSU and FEE, “Free Education for Everyone”, the nascent direct-action organisation set up by students and staff in UCD to campaign against the re-introduction of fees.
FEE also saw matters differently to another students’ union, ULSU, last Monday when minister Martin Cullen did a U-turn on meeting student protesters before walking down a different route to his destination, as reported on page 6, where they accuse ULSU of “unacceptable” behaviour.
In these episodes, FEE have proved themselves to be a significant minority that are undoubtedly affecting the discourse around the issue of fees. Their very existence, and actions so far, reveal that student’ unions around the country have failed a portion of their electorate. Indeed, the accusations that ULSU struck a deal with Minister Cullen which allowed him to enter campus do not inspire confidence at all. Further, they raise suspicions about the level of collaboration between our own SU and College authorities, especially given the revelation that a silenty protest was chosen so not to disturb the launch that minister O’Keefe was attending.
All the students’ unions around the country, but especially our own, now ace the not-insignificant task of convincing their electorate that they still retain the political capital and impetus to keep up with their charges’ obvious gour and passion around the issue of fees.
This newspaper is sceptical. The students’ unions are giving an impression of institutionalisation that undermines their position. The whole saga so far further illustrates the fallacy that “students” are an interest group (or indeed that the “elderly” are either). Why should it be the case that there be just one union to represent thens of thousands of students? Under what circumstances is it likely that a body such as that would be homogeneous?
FEE have certainly taken at least part of the initiative over the last weeks: that much is not in question. What remains to be seen will be how the campaign continues to pan out. Could some relative blow-ins like FEE pull-off a Libertas style coup, where they hijack the debate away from the establishment? Only time will tell.
Editorial from Issue 5, Volume 55 of Trinity News.