UCD Students’ Union held a protest outside O’Reilly hall this afternoon, garnering the support of approximately 450 attendees, as well as the UCD branches of the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT), the Postgraduate Workers Alliance (PGWA), Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU), and Unite the Union.
The event, which had been heavily promoted around university and on social media in the last two weeks, welcomed speakers from IFUT, the PGWA, and members of the Union’s executive and campaigns teams. They all called for an improvement on key issues affecting students, including the price of accommodation, the issues with access to student support services and the treatment and conditions of post graduate workers in the university.
UCDSU President Ruairí Power addressed the crowd thanking students for attending and calling on the University Management Team to address the issues being raised by the Union. He spoke to the severe backlog the UCD counselling service is experiencing, and made demands for the UMT to meet in order to best serve the student and staff populations of UCD.
UCDSU Environmental Campaign Coordinator , Robyn O’Keefe addressed the crowd, and spoke of the vitally important work the UCD Counselling services are providing to the student population, and on reduced access due to backlog, argued that “every student in UCD deserves to be supported.” Welfare Officer Molly Greenough led the crowd in chants, including “when students' rights are under attack, stand up, fight back.”
Lennon Ó Náraigh, an IFUT representative, addressed the crowd, saying that “there is too much reliance on casual staff.” He backed UCDSU’s demands, as issues affecting students impact academic and support staff also, stating that “we need to recognise that universities are a public service,” and that “it is important that we have excellence not only in the classroom but in support services too.” Ó Náraigh urged students to mobilise on social media and get in contact with politicians to express their dissatisfaction in areas like funding and the commercialisation of third-level education. He encouraged those who live in the Bray, Greystones and the wider Wicklow constituency to educate their parents and other voters on Minister Harris’ work in the sector.
He went on to discuss the issues the post graduate population in UCD are facing, “post graduate students undertaking teaching need proper recognition of their terms and conditions.” The condition and treatment of post graduate workers is one of the pillars of the Union’s demands, with unfair contracts, hours and pay being subjected upon postgraduate workers for years.
Speaking more on this, Mary Naughton, a representative of the UCD Post-Graduate Workers Alliance addressed the crowd to reiterate the important role post graduate workers play in the day to day functioning of the university. One student spoke to the University Observer regarding the current state of post graduate students expectations in UCD at the moment “UCD treats them like shit. I know a friend was considering doing a post grad here but decided not to because of the poor conditions.”
Callium Hedderman, Residences Campaigns Coordinator spoke to attendees about the cost of living on campus, and how accommodation “should never be a barrier to education.”
Many of the students attending the protest took the biggest issue with the current price of accommodation. One attendee told the University Observer “The fact that people on lower incomes are subsidising the accommodation, there is no reason the ‘cheaper’ accommodation has needed to go up by so much, it’s ridiculous”.
Another student who spoke to the University Observer said “I’m actually going through homelesness now and it’s really important to protest the cost of living. With paying bills in the hostel I’m living in it’s really expensive to buy coffee on campus, to feed myself on campus. The Students’ Union shop is really good with cheap food but it all adds up during the week. I think it’s really important UCD cops on, I was a big fan of abolishing the student contribution charge. I haven’t been able to pay that so it might inhibit my ability to graduate which is adding a lot of stress.”
Another student said, “Commuting is just an awful, horrendous experience. I live on the Northside so my only opportunity to get into college is to wait an hour for a train to get onto campus. I can’t afford student accommodation and neither can my parents, so my ease of access into campus is atrocious.” When asked if they would live on campus if rent was lower, they said “yes, absolutely. It’s just too expensive for me.”
One student who lives in Belgrove added “€800 a month is not as bad as some of the other accommodation but is pretty bad considering the state of the accommodation we live in. There’s all kinds of technical issues with the apartments, things missing. It just isn’t what you’d expect for €800. We desperately need rent reductions. It just goes to show how irreconcilable the goal of profit and the need for housing are. People need proper, decent places to live for decent prices”
Power spoke to the University Observer following the protest, saying “we are delighted with the turnout, I think it was a very powerful demonstration of student staff solidarity. [We] make it very clear, we are not happy with how the limited finances provided to the University by the government are being appropriated.”
“We need to see investment in support services, we are sick of discriminatory and elitist accomodation stratergy, and the next step is to take this to the doors of the Department of finance.
“We are open to engage positively with Government ministers and University management, but if we don’t see the type of action we need to rectify the issues and spiralling cost of living we have to see an escalation. We have quite good backing from students today to give us a mandate on that front.