Student-led protests continue amidst UCD’s ongoing refusal to take a firm stance on Gaza

Image Credit: Ilaria Riccio

The ongoing refusal from UCD to take a firm stance on the ongoing genocide has led UCDSU and the UCD chapter of the BDS movement to call for another Palestine solidarity rally outside the Tierney Building.

At 1 pm on Wednesday, 6th March, a Palestine solidarity rally took place at the Main Lake by the Tierney Building. Organised by University College Dublin’s Student Union and the UCD division of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, the demonstration continued the ongoing student mobilisation to call out UCD President Prof. Orla Feely on her refusal to take a stance on the genocide in Gaza and call for a ceasefire. These protests have increased after The University Observer unveiled the existence of research ties with Israeli institutions, despite calls for a complete academic boycott.    

This protest shared the leitmotif of the flash demonstration called for Friday, 23rd February. As reported by The University Observer, this protest saw the debut of chants “Orla Feely, Shame on you!” and “Stop the Lies, Cut the Ties!” to denounce the refusal to acknowledge the existing research ties between UCD and Israeli universities - some of which involve the advancement of military technology.

Several speakers addressed the crowd, including Associate Professor Anne Mulhall, UCDSU President Martha Ní Riada, UCDSU Campaigns and Engagement Officer Miranda Bauer, and members of the UCD BDS group. 

Before the demonstration, UCDSU issued a Press Release stating the ongoing intention of the student body to voice their support for Palestine. The statement reads: “UCD BDS, Academics for Palestine, and UCD Students’ Union (UCDSU) will renew their calls for the university management to call for an immediate ceasefire and sever all academic ties with Israeli institutions until the crisis is resolved peacefully and justly.”

The Press Release also features a statement by UCDSU President Martha Ní Riada, who said, “The UCD community refuses to remain silent in the face of genocide and its leadership needs to recognise that. If UCD is truly a global university, it cannot turn a blind eye to the moral imperative of confronting genocide with integrity and ethical responsibility.” Ní Riada also expressed her disappointment at UCD’s referencing the Kalvin Report to justify their refusal to take a stance, which “essentially aligns UCD with the Netanyahu Government and its powerful backers in Washington DC, London, and Brussels.” The UCDSU President further clarified her position during the rally, where she called out the “cowardice” behind UCD’s refusal to publicly call for a ceasefire. 

Speaking to The University Observer after the demonstration, UCDSU Campaigns and Engagement Officer Miranda Bauer expressed her full support for Ní Riada’s position: “The Kalvin report is completely outdated and it talks about general geopolitical matters; we don’t believe that this is a normal geopolitical matter.” Building on Ní Riada’s accusing UCD of “cowardice”, Bauer argued that UCD is “afraid that their recruitment rates might drop. Many American institutions send exchange students here: we believe that if they take a stance, those things might be compromised. They are terrified of that because international students are a massive source of income for the University.”

The Campaigns and Engagement Officer then the primary demand the SU and UCD BDS ask of the SU is to call for a ceasefire, thus taking a firm stance on the matter. On this, Bauer suggested that UCD’s unclear stance is not fostering an inclusive environment across campus as hoped, since “I don’t think that any Palestinian student or staff member feels safe and supported in this situation.”

Bauer also stated that the refusal of UCD’s administration to make their position on Gaza public means that UCDSU will “continue to build momentum and encourage students to speak out.” She then added: “By doing these events what we want is to show students how UCD is reacting and more importantly, what they’re not doing.” Bauer also echoed the chants by claiming that “management should feel ashamed of their stance.” 

Associate Professor in the School of English, Drama & Film Anne Mulhall also spoke at the rally on Wednesday on behalf of Academics for Palestine. She revealed that the group had sent statements to Prof. Orla Feely, the Head of College of Humanities and the Head of the College of Social Science, but received “limited response. The silence is hard to take.” Mulhall is also quoted in the UCDSU Press Release saying, “The people of Gaza are on the brink of famine because Israel is denying access to vital humanitarian aid. People have been reduced to eating animal feed and grass, and as we have seen in the last week, people desperate for food have been shot and killed by IDF soldiers as they try to get food to feed themselves and their children. Impending famine is in itself cause for an immediate, lasting, and unconditional ceasefire. The UCD president’s policy of neutrality in the face of this cannot be reconciled with UCD’s purported commitment to EDI and the sustainable values that the university is pledged to uphold.”

The neutrality of the UCD administration on Gaza is not an isolated case in Ireland. Indeed, a recent press release by Technological University Dublin showed correspondence between TUD President David Fitzpatrick and TUDSU President Brian Jordan. In response to a letter from TUDSU and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland asking for the institution to take a public stance, President Fitzpatrick acknowledged the gravity of the situation but argued that “universities should take the lead in providing a neutral setting to bring all members of society into a conversation. This is all the more important as our country becomes increasingly diverse. I, therefore, do not propose to make a public statement at this time.” TUD President David Fitzpatrick also expressed his unawareness “of any institutional-level links with Israeli academic institutions or companies.” 

A counter-response from TUDSU expressed concerns over the President’s words, particularly about the willingness to maintain neutrality. Furthermore, an FOI request revealed that TUD is involved in collaborative research with Israeli universities - within the Horizon project, of which UCD is also part -, whilst partnerships with Domino’s remain intact. 

In a statement shared with The University Observer, the UCD BDS group said: “Thousands of Palestinian university students, lecturers, academics, admin staff, chefs, cleaning staff, security - people that breathe life into third-level institutions like this one, allowing it to thrive - have been murdered by the Israeli regime since October 7th. People just like us.”

They continued to say: “We find it incomprehensible that UCD has not said a word about this in the 153 days since October 7th. The lack of solidarity between our university and those in Gaza is deplorable - the lack of official solidarity between our university and the people of Gaza, under a vicious regime, experiencing genocide, is reprehensible. We implore President Orla Feely and her colleagues to do the right thing, by calling for a ceasefire. Our solidarity with the Palestinian people is unreserved and unequivocal, and we will protest and picket for as long as we have to. Ceasefire now.”