UCDSU attended the Cost of Living Coalition March on Saturday, September 24th, which travelled from the Garden of Remembrance to Government Buildings on Merrion Square.
The march was also attended by the USI, community activist groups, and opposition parties.
The SU marched with a number of the demands ahead of the release of the 2023 budget, including the abolishing of the Student Contribution Charge, increases to wages and student financial assistance, the cutting of rents, reductions on the price of energy and food, and commitment to building affordable and adequate cost-rental student accommodation on university and college campuses.
A follow up march was announced at the rally, dependent on the demands of the Cost of Living Coalition (COLC) being met in the budget, which was to be formally announced the following Tuesday. This march is due to take place on Saturday, November 12th.
The University Observer spoke to UCD students attending the march about why they felt the cause was important.
Arisha, a final year student in an Engineering Masters, spoke about the weight she feels trying to simply live while in postgraduate studies. “I’m here because I just worked an internship in one of the more “well paid” courses and I got minimum wage, and I still came out of a seven month internship with no savings because the cost of living meant that I couldn’t save because I was too busy paying for things like rent or food and like, laundry.”
Thomas, a stage three Engineering student, had a more environmental focus. “I’m here because I’m mostly worried that the government is not giving up fossil fuels, not giving anyone a just way to do that. There’s no plan for it. There’s also no plan to support anyone paying their electricity bills at the same time.”
Corey, a final year Masters student in Engineering, had a less university-focused response, instead drawing from their worries for their grandmother. “I live with my grandmother, it’s just the two of us. She’s on an old age pension, and I can’t work because I’m a full time student in my Masters. It’s quite scary seeing her worry about how she is going to pay the electrical and gas bills. I know they’re saying that they won’t cut anyone off for the winter, but I just keep thinking what happens when the winter is over, are they going to cut her off then if she still can’t pay? Because they’re not going to stop asking for the money, so it’s worrying, I worry for her a lot.”
Speaking to Molly Greenough, UCDSU President, at the march, she had this to say: “Today we are with UCD students, standing in solidarity with other student groups, trade unionists, a variety of opposition political parties, groups like the Community Action Tenants Union (CATU), to demand better for every group impacted by the cost of living crisis ahead of this year's budget. We're delighted to see the turn out from UCD students and see people across the country standing together, but this is just a starting point and with the government's track record this will need more than one protest, but it’s a good starting point.”
She went on to describe the first hand experience the union has had with students impacted by the crisis. “I suppose the largest one would definitely be accommodation, we’ve seen students effectively being homeless. I was working as the Welfare Officer last year and I've never dealt with so many students facing homelessness, or currently experiencing homelessness. We’ve seen students taking out private loans, just in the pursuit of an education. Whether that's to help pay for fees, help pay for their rent, or even to put food on the table or pay for electricity. (...) It’s tough enough being a student in the best of times, students always work part time jobs to make ends meet, but now it's gotten to a stage where we have students working two plus part time jobs, taking out loans and still struggling just to survive. I think it's important to reiterate that it's not just about getting by, we should be holding the government to account so that everyone can have a higher quality of life, just scraping by is the bare minimum.”
Speaking about the march retrospectively, Greenough had this to say: “The Cost of Living march sent a strong message to the Government that students are fed up with successive inaction and failures and are demanding action. We brought a cohort of passionate UCD student activists along to the march and we were proud to stand in solidarity with workers, pensioners, opposition political parties, trade unions, disability rights groups, and more. While we advocate strongly for student interests, we are acutely aware that the cost of living is having adverse impacts on countless individuals from all walks of life. We stand in solidarity with these groups as we are all victims of the Government's lack of political will to tackle this crisis. Despite the success of the march, there's more work to be done. This is reflected especially in the Budget, which was filled with quasi-performative once-off measures that will not make a material impact to people impacted by the cost of living crisis in the long-run. Students are well within their rights to be outraged.”
This sentiment was echoed by Campaigns and Engagement Officer, Robyn O’Keeffe, also speaking retrospectively. “The turnout at the protest was impressive with an estimated 20,000 in attendance and this was largely due to students and young people taking part. There was a notable presence of UCD students there. (...) UCDSU remains a proud affiliate member of the Cost of Living Coalition and we will be taking part in the upcoming protest on November 12th and encouraging students to join us again. We will be holding more town halls on issues surrounding the cost of living as well as holding voter registration drives to ensure all students are registered to vote in the next national elections.”