UCD Festival Cancelled For "Operational Reasons” Amid Ongoing Palestinian Solidarity Encampment

Image Credit: Ilaria Riccio

In an email seen by the University Observer, sent on Thursday 30th May, UCD announced it would be cancelling the upcoming UCD Festival for “operational reasons”. The cancellation comes amid continued escalations of the UCD Palestine Liberation Encampment on UCD campus, organised by UCD BDS and UCDSU.

In an email seen by the University Observer, sent on Thursday 30th May, UCD announced it would be cancelling the upcoming UCD Festival for “operational reasons”. The festival was originally scheduled for Saturday, June 8th, and was due to take place across a number of UCD venues, including O’Reilly Hall, the Tierney building, O’Brien Centre for Science, and the James Joyce Library. 

The cancellation comes amid continued escalations by the UCD Palestine Liberation Encampment on UCD campus, which is located directly beside O’Reilly Hall, organised by UCD BDS and UCDSU.  UCD Festival’s main sponsor is Intel, a company currently on the boycott list of the Palestinian-led BDS movement due to its investments in Israel during the ongoing genocide in Palestine. 

UCD Festival Crew Lead Ria Flom said in the email that “despite extensive planning and collaboration with our stakeholders, we have encountered challenges that prevent us from holding the event as planned.”

The UCD Festival takes place annually, and showcases innovation and research taking place within UCD through performances, talks, and interactive exhibits. Scheduled events at the festival included literary talks, poetry readings, and an array of family-friendly workshops and events across sports,  science and innovation, and mind and body. UCD Festival further prides itself on giving festival goers an insight into how UCD is "addressing societal challenges".

The email continued, “We fully appreciate that this news is disappointing, especially considering the dedication and hard work that has already been invested in preparing for the festival.”

Although the event has been cancelled indefinitely for 2024, the email affirmed UCD’s commitment to resuming the festival in 2025, adding “We will use this time to explore new ideas and improvements to make the next festival more memorable.”

The cancellation follows escalations on campus from the UCD Palestine Solidarity Encampment, led by representatives of UCDSU and UCD BDS. On Thursday 30th May at around 3:30pm, a group of around 30 students staged a protest in the foyer and cafe of the UCD University Club. 

Speaking exclusively with the University Observer, UCDSU President Martha Ní Riada described the intent behind Thursday’s escalation, “The response from the university hasn't been satisfactory. We continue to escalate because the university isn't following our demands and they're not doing what they need to do in a genocide.”

She continued, “the university still refuses to say the word genocide”, and cites the University’s current position on demand seven of UCD BDS, which calls for the “release of a public statement” that acknowledges “the ongoing genocide in Palestine”. Ní Riada says, “Hopefully they'll say mass killings and they're going to recognise the ICJ case, South Africa's case against Israel under the Genocide Convention.”

The UCDSU President continued, referencing another protest staged by the SU and UCD BDS on Monday 27th May, in which members of the UCD Encampment similarly entered The University Club to engage in a peaceful protest. 

A joint statement published by UCDSU and UCD BDS to Instagram timelined the proceedings of Monday’s protest. The statement began by saying, “In a non-violent direct action, we [UCD BDS] occupied the lobby of the University Club, chanting and waving flags to protest the ‘business-as-usual’ attitude rampant on this [UCD] campus during this ongoing genocide.”

The statement said that “UCD staff used excessive force” to prevent the “non-violent sit-in”. The statement claimed, “One staff member was heard saying ‘stop recording’ and ‘there are no cameras here, we can do whatever we want’ to another staff member”. The statement further claimed that “One University staff member inappropriately touched one protestor on the breast, they asked them to remove their hand and they refused to do so.” 

The statement described “UCD’s use of excessive violence against students” as “deplorable”, and called for it to be “addressed and acknowledged by the President and the University Management Team.” A student involved in the protest was asked on Wednesday afternoon by the University Observer if the encampment had received a response, to which they answered, “not as far as I’m aware”.

The group said they were “shocked by the violence used by UCD staff” in response to the “non-violent protest”, and cited a previous occasion in which UCD BDS “gained entry to the cafe, chanted, waved flags and left.”

Also referenced was the forceful removal of UCDSU President Martha Ní Riada from the “honorary conferring” of former US Speaker of The House Nancy Pelosi in April.

The statement noted a particular incident of “excessive violence”, when “a member of staff of the University, not wearing a security or estates uniform, put his arm around the neck and throat of a protestor while using his elbow to perform a choke hold for about 5 seconds. After reducing the pressure of the hold, the staff member laughed in the protestors face.”

In a statement to the University Observer, Jack, the protestor who the statement refers to, said “I remember seeing my friend was up the side of the stair rail, and this guy was pushing her, but weirdly touching her, and she looked pretty uncomfortable. So I jumped over the railing and there's this guy there, I believe he's a staff member, not security or Estates… As I jumped over the railing, he kind of then jumped on me, and he just sort of was over me, and got me in a choke hold, and then just started squeezing, and then I was actually choking.” 

Jack continued, saying “I managed to get out within about three or four seconds, and he just looked at me and laughed, and that was pretty gross.”

Jack, amongst other protestors at the encampment, believe that security and UCD estates staff have tried to reverse the narrative of Monday’s protest, stating “I think they were very much clearly trying to manufacture this idea that we'd used violence to then bring the guards in to get rid of us, because they don't want us here.”

In her comment to the University Observer on Thursday afternoon, Martha Ní Riada referenced the above incident and said:

“The manhandling by students in the university club on Monday, that really has angered a lot of students and the President [of UCD] said she recognises the right of students to protest, but then when we are protesting one student was put in a chokehold, another was sexually assaulted, and so that isn't okay, that's not acceptable for students.”

UCD has not responded to a request for comment on the incident. 

Ria Flom, UCD Festival Crew Lead, has been asked for a comment on the cancellation of the UCD Festival.

This story is being updated...