Fianna Fáil tabled a motion in the Dáil in session on November 14th, calling on Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn to “keep his promises to students, protect funding for frontline education services and to take responsibility for the deepening crisis in the new centralised grant processing system, SUSI (Student Universal Support Ireland).”
The motion, put forward by Fianna Fáil’s Education Spokesperson Charlie McConalogue, demanded that Minister Quinn take full responsibility for the failures of the SUSI system, and called on the government to provide extra staff to SUSI in order to meet the backlog of applicants, as well as putting a stop to the planned rise in the student contribution charge.
Speaking before the meeting, UCDSU President Rachel Breslin made it clear that the UCDSU supported the motion fully. However she was not optimistic about the vote, saying she expected it to fail, but felt that it was important to remind the Labour Party, as well as some Fine Gael TDs, of their pre-election promises to protect students’ interests in the Dáil and to avoid raising the contribution fee.
The motion passed in the Dáil, however it was amended to exclude the call for the Government to maintain the student contribution fee at it’s current level. In response to this vote, Union of Students in Ireland (USI) President John Logue, along with the estimated 100 students in attendance at the proceedings, stood and turned their backs on the chamber. In accordance with the Dáil’s standing orders, security demanded that those who wished to remain to observe proceedings, sit down.
Logue refused to sit and refused to leave upon request. He was arrested by the Gardai for refusing to obey the Dáil’s standing orders and was removed in handcuffs. He was taken to Pearse Street Garda station for questioning at 9.30pm and was released at 10.45pm.
A USI spokesperson commented: “John Logue was arrested for the simple act for turning his back on a Dáil, which has turned its back on students. By voting down an amendment that would have preserved the current level of the grant and stopped fee hikes, this government has once again failed students and families. Logue was supported by over 100 students, including sabbatical officers from TCDSU, DITSU and NCISU. It was a peaceful act of civil disobediance, intended to highlight the issues facing students, especially as students face into €3000 fees, cuts to the grant and a grant system that has only paid out to a minority of students who qualify for it.”
Fianna Fáil described the plan to increase the student contribution fee by €250 each year for the next three years as “essentially reintroducing third level fees through the back door.” The party were also quick to point out that this would represent an increase of €1,000 during the lifetime of the current government.
Breslin, although supportive of the motion and glad for its introduction, claimed that the UCDSU would not be “ignorant of the fact that under the proposing party of this motion also increased fees. There are no misconceptions about that, but it’s the sentiment of this motion that we very much support.”