TCDSU and TCD BDS encampment persists as support from local groups grows

Image Credit: Tessa Ndjonkou

An encampment was started on Trinity College Dublin Fellows Square in the name of Palestinian solidarity as previously reported by The University Observer. The encampment started on Friday, May 3rd, has since grown to welcome over 100 students and garnered national and international support, prompting a reaction from the college.

Encampment Day 1: Friday, May 3rd

An encampment was started on Trinity College Dublin Fellows Square in the name of Palestinian solidarity as previously reported by The University Observer. 

Encampment Day 2: Saturday 4th of May

10 am

Trinity College Dublin has entered a lockdown Saturday 4th May at 9 am.  

Gates to access the premises were closed except for the main entrance and the Book of Kells, too, was shut down. A sign was placed in front of the main gate apologizing to visitors of the Book of Kells experiences for the inconvenience. As of noon today, a Palestinian flag was draped beside the sign. 

Only staff and students with valid Trinity ID have been allowed access to the premises. 

TCDSU President László Molnárfi was also denied access this morning. Speaking to The University Observer outside the main gates holding a Palestinian flag, Molnárfi reiterated the demands of the groups involved in the encampment: further pressing Trinity to cut ties with Israeli institutions; having the college acknowledge the Gazan genocide; and “commit to reparations.” 

Also standing outside Trinity’s main gate, Student Representative of Trinity Stage 3 Psychology Caoimhe McSharry Daly told The University Observer that they want “more people coming”, and invited others to join a solidarity protest at half noon today.  

Protesters have also urged people to donate to the people in the encampment. Items needed include reusable water bottles, flashlights, boycott-friendly wipes, bin bags, yoga mats, power banks, generators, and hanging lights.

On Saturday morning, Trinity News reported that the College had issued a statement condemning the encampment, reiterating that protests “must be conducted within the rules of the university”.

12.30 pm

At 12:30 pm, a demonstration in solidarity with the Trinity encampment began from the Spire and made its way to the front gates of Trinity College and College Green. A congregation participated in the march organised by IPSC and spoke outside the college’s front gates expressing their solidarity with those involved in the encampment. 

After reaching Trinity’s entrance on College Green, TCDSU President László Molnárfi addressed the crowd further condemning the silence of institutions, including Trinity, on the ongoing genocide in Gaza. Molnárfi also mentioned the €241k fine issued to TCDSU and stressed once again that the Union “will not be intimidated”. He then continued, “We have seen that they ignored us, then they made fun of us, they said, oh, we don't have numbers, we don't have support. Now is the time that they have begun fighting us. And after that, we will win.”

Former TD Ruth Coppinger also addressed the congregation. In her speech, she mentioned how Harrison Ford once said, “There is a new force of nature at hand, stirring all over the world. They are the young people, who frankly, we have failed. Who are angry, who are organised. They are a moral army. [...] The best thing we can do is get the hell out of their way.” To Coppinger, this quote “sums up the encampment”. She also condemned Trinity issuing a fine to TCDSU and argued that the current situation in Trinity “is a wake-up call to the other student unions, USI, all of the student unions.”

Coppinger also called out UCD President Orla Feely’s pledge to neutrality whilst also awarding Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi with an honorary doctorate - and the escalation that ensued. The former TD also urged workers and members of trade unions to join the fight. 

According to Trinity News, people in the encampments have been widely praised by those present at the protest, and their courage was especially commended. 

3 pm

TCDSU President László Molnárfi shared a video on X after the protest, thanking the congregation for the support and showing the large gathering on College Green. 

Concomitantly to the demonstration, Irish Healthcare Workers for Palestine and Mothers Against Genocide organised a vigil outside the Central Bank of Ireland on College Green to shed light on the uncovering of two mass graves where two hospitals stood in Gaza.

According to Trinity News, Trinity’s mishaps over Palestinian solidarity in the past week have led to a surge in memberships of campaign groups including TCD BDS. Trinity News reports that TCDBDS had over two hundred new sign-ups since the beginning of the week, with more people deciding to join since news of the encampment broke national and international media. 

Members of UCD BDS have shown support for the encampment commenting: “What we’ve seen in America and other parts of Europe is that people, not just students, who are supporting Palestine joined the encampments; we are hoping to see the same solidarity, and community built here. Everyone is welcome.” While the college has denied access to those who do not have a Trinity ID card is an obstacle in this regard, “if we can circumvent that, it would be great to have people from other universities.” 

The spokesperson also told The University Observer that the encampment is indefinite, “until College accepts our demands or until the police come and take us out.” They also emphasised the disruption that the encampment is causing by blocking access to the Book of Kells. 

5 pm

That same evening, TCD BDS informed the public that student facilities inside the Trinity campus had been shut down. Specifically, the library, was detrimental to students during final assignments and bathrooms were closed to discourage protesters from overstaying their welcome. Students were removed from all libraries on campus, including the 1937 Reading Room. The College has issued the following statement: “We regret this decision but the safety of all is our priority and unfortunately it has had a direct impact on students and staff”. At the time, only the bathrooms in the GMB were open and meant to be used by over 70 students all while being inaccessible to students with disabilities. To justify this decision the College said: “Trinity supports the right to peaceful protests and there are many good reasons why the university’s policies [...] must be followed when doing so”. TCD BDS has qualified the closure of library and study spaces as “an attempt from Trinity to turn students against one another”. 

The Union of Students of Ireland (USI) has made an official statement confirming its solidarity with Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union encampment and pledges support to other student protests. USI Vice President for Campaigns, Zaid Al-Barghouti said: “Protests that the college deems to be in line with their ‘rules’ would not work. That is not a real protest. [...] Management is punishing students for caring about the university’s complicity in genocide and future students who cannot afford to pay high rents or more fees.”

Member of European Parliament, Clare Daly, was seen in Trinity College Dublin speaking to students and staff participating in the encampment. She brought words of support, encouragement, and resilience: “I have never seen a student movement like this [since then]. You are an inspiration and it makes me so proud and quite emotional to see what you’ve done. Because what you have done is what the political leaders, business leaders, adults, “so-called'', in Ireland and across should have done”. 

Academics for Palestine also expressed their solidarity for the Trinity encampment. In a press release, AfP commended the students for “showing a degree of moral courage and leadership that has been distinctly lacking among our university administrations.” They further expressed their admiration for the courage of students in Ireland and beyond to protest “against a US-funded, EU-assisted genocide and we join them in demanding that their universities take similarly principled stands.”

In the press release, AfP also denounced Irish universities that excused their ongoing silence “by asserting that they are holding a neutral position in defense of academic freedom. To remain silent in the face of this genocidal war on occupied Palestine is not neutrality, but complicity.”

Monday, May 6 th

On Monday, 6th May, Trinity College Dublin released the first official statement since the beginning of the encampment. This statement follows a meeting between the Senior Dean and the Dean of Students to discuss the protesters’ demands. Following this meeting, TCD made its first public acknowledgment of the Gazan genocide, stating, “We fully understand the driving force behind the encampment on our campus and we are in solidarity with the students in our horror at what is happening in Gaza. [...] The humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the dehumanisation of its people are obscene. We support the International Court of Justice’s finding that ‘Israel must take all measures within its power to prevent and punish the direct and public incitement to commit genocide about members of the Palestinian group in the Gaza Strip. A real and lasting solution that respects the human rights of everyone needs to be found.”

In the statement, TCD also expressed its commitment to divest “from investments in companies that have activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and appear on the UN Blacklist in this regard” by June, and laid out strategies to support Palestinian students to continue their education in Trinity. As regards the ongoing times with Israeli institutions, TCD “is setting up a Task Force, including student representatives, to discuss how we continue to preserve academic freedom while understanding better how we engage - or not - with states that are in contravention of human rights.” A new meeting is set to take place today, 7th May. 

Although TCD’s statement was overwhelmingly received, TCD BDS and TCDSU deemed it only a “partial victory”. In response to the statement, student groups argued that more needs to be done, and expressed their commitments to continue the encampment until all their demands are met - including the rescindment of the €214k fine issued to TCDSU to counter financial losses that derived from protest actions throughout the past academic year, and “the retroactive amnesty of students involved in protests on campus”. 

TCD BDS’ statement also clarified Trinity’s decision to treat the encampment as “an internal matter, thus ruling out the involvement of Gardaí or legal action.”

Different spokespeople celebrated the power of students’ mobilisation, which is what led TCD to make its statement and take action in support of Palestine. Specifically, TCD BDS Chair Isobel Duffy stated, “The engagement that we have received from students, staff, and outsiders on this encampment has been unprecedented. [...] We must not cease to push and pressure the College to end all of their complicity with the genocide in Gaza. We will never be satisfied with half-measures. The students united will never be defeated.”

Echoing Duffy’s words, PhD representative of Trinity Encampment, Conor Reddy stated, “[...] today’s announcement shows the power of student protest, paired with public and staff support. It is a start and will hopefully inspire others to follow our lead, on campuses and across the country.”

TCDSU President László Molnárfi also spoke about Trinity’s statement; although he welcomed the College’s commitments to divest and recognise the ongoing genocide, Molnárfi clarified that “we cannot stop yet. This is the time to push Trinity College Dublin to divest from all Israeli companies in the endowment fund as well as suppliers and exchanges. We call on all students and staff to participate in our encampment, for which we have committed that there will be no penalties. Negotiations will continue.”

Wednesday May 8th

Following a meeting at 1 pm between Trinity representatives and representatives from TCDSU and TCD BDS, the College has agreed to fully divest from Israel. This is the first development of this kind since the escalation of the students’ movement in solidarity with Palestine. Protestors voted to end the encampment after accepting Trinity’s terms and only after an official statement on the agreement was issued by the College.

The Chair of TCD BDS told Trinity News that this victory is not the end of the fight. Similarly, addressing the crowd after the announcement, TCDSU President László Molnárfi urged people “not to stop talking about Palestine, because the cause of Palestine is the cause of humanity.” Molnárfi also acknowledged that “the only reason we reached this agreement is because of people power, grassroots student and staff power, and they [institutions] are terrified of that.”

Speaking to The University Observer, TCDSU President-elect Jenny Maguire praised the student buy-in of the encampment and encouraged “every single student in every single university to get out and demand better of their education.”