“Nancy Pelosi is a War Criminal” : UCDSU and UCD BDS Protest Nancy Pelosi's Visit to UCD

Image Credit: Tessa Ndjonkou

UCD BDS and UCDSU are currently protesting Ex-White House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s presence in UCD.

On Monday, 22nd April, University College Dublin Students’ Union and the UCD division of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement joined forces to protest the visit of the former speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.

Ex-speaker to the White House Mrs. Pelosi was awarded an honorary degree from UCD and will receive a Sutherland Leadership Award during a Gala Dinner held at O’Reilly Hall at 6 pm. 

In a joint statement, UCDSU and UCD BDS have denounced portrayals of Mrs. Pelosi as a “feminist icon” given her silence on the ongoing genocide in Gaza. Furthermore, the statement recalls that in 2021, Mrs. Pelosi stated that supporting Israel “for many of us, it is in our DNA”, and that she urged the FBI to investigate pro-Palestinian support in January 2024 - three months into the ongoing genocide. Mrs. Pelosi has also been vocally against a permanent ceasefire in Gaza. 

UCD BDS and UCDSU called on students to join them in protesting this succession of events: “We will not stand by while our University celebrates and awards a war criminal and imperialist leader”. The gala dinner was particularly called out as an occurrence that would see Mrs. Pelosi “shaking the blood-soaked hands of corporate and political leaders interested in maintaining good relations with powerful murderers.”

Speaking to The University Observer at the protest, a spokesperson of UCD BDS stated, “As a student, I want to be proud of the university that I attend, and I'm not. [...] I'm at a loss for words at this... it seems to be a very recurrent thing that American politicians come to the city and are rewarded.” 

They went on to say, “UCD cares more about profits than anything else. I think that's clear in many ways with the high fee rent, the accommodation, the high fee prices for food on campus.” They also reiterated the importance of student mobilization: “We have to keep going and keep being there - no matter how long it takes. [...] If the Irish government helps, we’ll be there.”

Jupiter, an American citizen who came to UCD to express solidarity with the pro-Palestinian cause, told The University Observer that, “the fact that Nancy Pelosi has been invited to speak here on campus is quite a strong reflection of how the words of many of Ireland's leaders don't match with their actions.” 

Jupiter then added, “Today, a couple of us were disrupting Eamon Ryan, asking him why the Department of Transport and the Department of Foreign Affairs are continuing to grant exemptions to U.S. warplanes to bring weapons through Irish land and Irish airspace. So long as Ireland is allowing business as usual with the greatest supporter of Israel, it feels hard to claim meaningful solidarity with Palestinian resistance and Palestinian people.”

“It's equally heartbreaking to be in a place like Ireland where the people's support for Palestinian resistance is so strong but the government is so unwilling to follow through in meaningful ways.”

The congregation gathered by the O’Reilly Hall- where Mrs. Pelosi is due to receive her honorary doctorate in Law. The incoming UCDSU sabbatical team was present at the protest. Furthermore, around twenty Gardaí were at the scene, creating a barrier between the protestors and the area where Mrs. Pelosi was due to appear. 

Alongside the chants typical of pro-Palestine demonstrations on campus, “Nancy Pelosi, Out, Out, Out”, and “Nancy Nancy, you’re a plague/You belong in The Hague” echoed through a grey afternoon in Belfield. 

Upon arrival, Mrs. Pelosi was promptly ushered into the venue to avoid engaging with the congregation. 

Attendees of the event revealed that they could hear the disruption from inside the venue. The honorary ceremony continued as planned, with Colin Scott replacing UCD President Orla Feely in conferring the award to Mrs. Pelosi. 

Incumbent UCDSU President Martha Ní Riada was present at the protest and followed Mrs. Pelosi's acceptance speech. She revealed that while inside the University Club, she attempted to inquire about Palestinian women to Mrs. Pelosi; at that point, Ní Riada was physically brutalized by Gardaì present at the scene, and forcibly removed from the premises. Addressing the crowd after the incident, Ní Riada stated, “[Nancy Pelosi] is a war criminal, she is not someone to support. [Her honorary degree] is nonsense, this is not what our University stands for. Everybody in that room should be ashamed.”

Shortly before Nancy Pelosi was awarded her honorary diploma, LnH auditor Aymon Memnon spoke about the tense climate that has been felt in Ireland and UCD. He said: “This is a time of extreme polarisation and populism.”

Later, barricades were placed outside the O’Reilly Hall to prevent protesters from entering en-masse and avoid an escalation similar to the visit of Senator Bernie Sanders in February 2024. 

Protestors are currently heckling attendees heading inside O’Reilly Hall to hear Speaker Emerita Pelosi. Exclamations of “shame” and “she’s a Zionist” can be heard.

Despite being barricaded from the premises, protesters made their voices heard inside the O’Reilly Hall by chanting and sounding alarms. Furthermore, a series of speakers addressed the crowd to continue protesting the presence of Mrs. Pelosi on the UCD Campus.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd-Barrett expresses his gratitude for the congregation, stating “people power is erupting everywhere against these horrible double standards.” Boyd-Barrett also argued that the Speaker Emerita “has brought shame to the idea of feminism”. 

Addressing the crowd, Zaid Albarghouthi of USI particularly emphasised the problematic nature of awarding an honorary doctorate to Mrs. Pelosi: “Honorary degrees are the most prestigious way for an institution to get someone's name associated with that institution. It is a decision that should reflect the values of the student body. It influences the student body to seek inspiration from the recipient of such awards, and it implies the values of students and staff aligned with the values of this recipient. Nancy Pelosi's name has now become a stain, a bloody red stain on the name of the UCD.”

He further added, “This stain on the institution's history does not reflect the students that study here, or the staff that keep this institution on its feet”, recalling the demands of UCDSU, UCD BDS, and the overall student body to call for a ceasefire and cut ongoing ties with Israeli institutions since the escalation of the genocide in October 2023.

“This stain on the institution's history does not reflect the students that study here, or the staff that keep this institution on its feet. They have made a statement that it is more important for them to be associated with this person for the commercial good that comes with such an association [...] than honouring the values and wishes of students which could not have been made clearer.”

Albarghouthi concluded his speech by saying that UCD’s endorsing of Mrs. Pelosi “is a spit in the face of those who are seeking an education and those who have committed their lives delivering one, to align them with such a war-bomber and a genocide-enabler. And for that raid, for that provocation, the blatant undermining of the values of students and staff alike, we must agitate like never before. We must make it more obvious than ever that the students do not share the same values this plague management has.”

The word ‘shame’ was scrawled on a window of the O’Reilly Hall during the demonstration.